Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Free Speech, what's that?

http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx? headline=Veterans+for+Peace+group+pulled+from+city+parade&articleId=1a6b 09d3-baff-4ce0-b9ad-a6eb1e838e92 Veterans for Peace group pulled from city parade By PAT GROSSMITH AND MARK HAYWARDUnion Leader StaffMANCHESTER – Members of Veterans for Peace yesterday were pulled out of the Memorial Day parade in Manchester and threatened with arrest for refusing to march without banners identifying themselves.They were later allowed to participate carrying their banners, one of which read, "Veterans for Peace Honor the Fallen."Melanie Martel, a Manchester resident, said she saw a police cruiser pull up with its lights on. She said the officer, identified as Sgt. Peter Bartlett, stood in front of the Veterans for Peace group and would not let them continue.For a few minutes, the parade behind the police officer stopped. Eventually, the officer forced the Veterans for Peace marchers to the west side of Elm Street, near the Brady Sullivan Tower. =Members of Vetrans For Peace, from left, James Romer, Joseph Turcotte, John Sanders and Will Thomas bring up the rear of Manchester's Memorial Day parade after being briefly denied entry into the parade over a sign they wanted to carry calling for troops to be brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan. (BOB LAPREE)"They were red-faced, screaming at each other," said Martel, a professor of general studies at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord.Eventually, other people in red shirts came and talked to the police and Veterans for Peace, Martel said. Once the last marchers passed, the Veterans for Peace marchers fanned the banner across Elm Street and continued down the street, the police car following behind.Martel said her 10- and 13-year-old daughters were shocked."They thought it was something that would happen in Russia," she said. But one spectator shouted a compliment to the police officer."The people in the crowd were as polarized as the whole country," Martel said.Joseph Turcotte of Manchester, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who took part in the invasion of Iraq, was one of the Veterans for Peace members pulled out of the parade.He explained some of them were carrying protest signs that said, "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home."Turcotte said parade officials considered the signs politicial and inappropriate for the parade.Robert A. Howe, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served as one of the parade's coordinators, said he told Mike Lopez, master of ceremonies and an at-large alderman, and parade chairman Ronald Boisvert, about the protest signs.Howe said Lopez told Manchester Police Lt. Richard Valenti, who had Sgt. Bartlett talk to the peace veterans.Boisvert, when asked about the controversy, maintained the order came from Valenti. Both he and Lopez referred a reporter to Tony Karam, commander of the Manchester Veterans Council which sponsors the parade.Karam said protest signs are not allowed. Veterans for Peace, which has participated in the parade for several years, is aware of that rule, he said.Will Thomas of Auburn, a Cold War veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, said two years ago the group agreed not to march with protest signs. Last year, he said they did not bring protest signs.However, he said with polls showing 66 percent of the American people are against the war, some of the marchers brought signs stating, " Support the Troops, Bring them Home."Thomas said they agreed to put those signs away, but Bartlett insisted their Veterans for Peace banners were verboten as well."They actually threatened to arrest us," said Thomas, who last week was convicted of trespassing in Concord District Court for a peace protest sit-in at the office of Sen. Judd Gregg.Howe said it was all a misunderstanding. He said he talked with Bartlett, straightened out the situation and the small Veterans for Peace group, which included those who served during World War II as well as the Korean, Vietnam and Iraqi wars, was allowed back in.By then, however, they were at the tail end of the parade.They completed the march down Elm Street, from Webster Street to Veterans Park, and were met with sporadic applause.The desert camouflage Humvee and motor transport vehicle, however, were crowd pleasers and drew the loudest applause.

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