Cities Provide Safe Havens for Resisters
by Nikki Hatza
Currently, thousands of G.I. resisters to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have deserted or gone AWOL in a stand for justice. However, with federal warrants out for their arrest, they need a safe place to exercise their first amendment rights. The best way to help G.I. resisters refusing to fight is to provide them with a safe zone to live without fear of arrest, known as a sanctuary city.
What is a Sanctuary City?
Sanctuary cities offer refuge to G.I. resisters who have refused to perpetuate unjust war by deserting the military. G.I. resisters often face federal charges, and with no place to go, sanctuary cities protect these heroes from arrest.
Why do we need sanctuary cities?
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the A.P. notes an 80% increase in Army desertion rates. Tens of thousands of GIs have resisted illegal war in many ways such as going AWOL, seeking conscientious objector status and discharge, speaking out against injustice, and publicly refusing to fight. As civilians who truly wish to support the troops, we can do so by opening an alliance with GI resisters who are risking everything to reject this destructive system and providing them with a safe haven.
How do they work?
AWOL soldiers are most often turned in to military police during routine traffic stops for minor infractions. When local police run a soldier’s license and find a federal AWOL order, they have the option to detain the soldier and turn them over to the military. However, within the limits of a sanctuary city, the city council has issued an ordinance asking city police not to turn over G.I.s seeking refuge. In this way, a sanctuary city provides a measure of security to GI resisters.
What cities in the U.S. have declared status as sanctuary cities?
Currently, two cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities: Berkeley, CA and Ithaca, NY. However, Ithaca only protects the first amendment rights of soldiers to speak publicly about the war, and is working toward full sanctuary city status. In addition, Portland, OR and Bellingham, WA are both in the process of considering declaration of sanctuary city status. Both cities have spoken out against the war in Iraq, and both cities house movements hoping to initiate sanctuary status.
How can I turn my city into a sanctuary city?
The first steps to turning your city into a sanctuary city are forming a group of concerned citizens and petitioning your city council. For more information, visit www.sanctuary-city.org to read about the movement to turn Bellingham, WA into a sanctuary city.
Check out the full Fall'09 Peace Letter- Eye on GI Resistance Issue here.