“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dear Media and National Park Service Staff:
As residents of Atlanta and as pro-life Catholics, my husband and I attended the Pro-Life Freedom ride event at the MLK Historic Center today (7/24/10) in Atlanta. The Pro-Life Freedom Ride 4pm prayer service was to be hosted by Alveda King, Martin Luther King's niece, who is a pro-life activist. The Pro-Life Freedom Ride activists had taken a bus from Birmingham to Atlanta and their purpose is to demonstrate that abortion hurts women and minorities and that unborn children deserve civil rights. This event had been planned for weeks. I was very disappointed to see so few members of the media present especially since the federal Park Service staff incorrectly told pro-lifers that we weren't allowed to be on the public sidewalks near the center. Simultaneously a group of about 40 pro-abortion protestors were allowed to be on the actual grounds of the MLK center shouting and yelling. I've attached photos and a narrative of what happened. It wasn't until the Atlanta police came and informed the Park Service that we had every right to be on the public sidewalks did the Park Service stop taking signs away and threatening the pro-lifers.
When my husband and I arrived at 445 Auburn Street around 3:30 pm, we were told by the Park Service superintendent that the pro-lifers were not going to be allowed on the grounds. As more pro-lifers started to arrive for the 4pm service, they were told by the Park Service staff that they were not allowed to be there and then they started taking signs away. I told the Park Service staff that we had every right to be on the public sidewalks near the center. I told them that they might be able to prevent signs from being on federal property but they could not prevent people from walking on public sidewalks in the City of Atlanta. I also questioned why they were allowing a pro-abortion counter rally to occur on the grounds when we weren't even allowed to be on the sidewalks. (These protestors had pro-abortion signs and were speaking through a megaphone on the actual grounds of the MLK historic center. They were only there because they had learned that Alveda King was coming to conduct a pro-life event.) The Park Service coordinator said she had granted the pro-abortion group permission to be on the grounds. She went on to say that the Freedom Ride people had only asked for a prayer service and a tour and therefore would not be allowed to have any signs. As people started to question her logic and her authority, she then went on to ask every one to leave the entire area. The group of a couple hundred had mostly congregated on the public sidewalk in front of MLK's grave waiting for Alveda King to arrive. I told her that as an Atlanta resident (without a sign) I had every right to bring my camera and take photos of an event and walk up and down a public sidewalk. She couldn't tell me to leave especially since I had no sign and I had every right to walk on a public sidewalk. When I told her that, she told me to "shut my mouth" and instructed her colleague to call 9-1-1 on me. I told her in response that I was calling CNN right away to cover what they were doing.
I called CNN and spoke to the breaking news reporter. I explained to her that the Park Service was treating two different groups of protestors differently and that they were incorrectly telling people that they couldn't congregate near the MLK center on public sidewalks. She asked if the local news affiliates were there. I responded it didn't look like it and she gave me their phone numbers because she said she didn't have a crew available. I called NBC and CBS and they said they didn't know about the story and didn't know if they could send someone out. It sounded like Alveda King and Priests for Life previously sent out official press releases inviting local media because the local reporter from the Catholic Archdiocese newspaper told me he had received a press release earlier in the week announcing the event. He might be the only reporter that can cover what happened because it seems like none of the other local media were willing to be fair and cover an issue that is not politically correct.
Eventually when the Atlanta police came, the Park Service allowed the pro-lifers to walk up and down the sidewalks around the center. Had the police not come, who knows what would have happened? At one point, I overheard one of the Park Service guys say, "Should we get our clubs out?" Are you kidding me? We're at the MLK Center for Non-Violent Social Change and we're having to deal with federal employees who are ignorant of free speech issues? The pro-lifers also weren't the ones yelling and screaming.
After the Atlanta police notified the Park Service of the free speech issue, I told the Park Service staff that I would be taking all of their photos so that perhaps someone in the federal government could inform them how inappropriate it is to harrass MLK's niece and other pro-lifers at his memorial site and center.
The media is supposed to be the force in this country to cover and document what is going on. Where were you today? Do you care that MLK's niece wasn't allowed to conduct a peaceful prayer service at her uncle's grave? She was threatened with arrest by the Park Service when she tried to bring flowers to her uncle's grave! She had to give her talk across the street while 40 protestors were on the MLK property yelling at her.