(abridged from Ralph Hutchison's report in OREPA News, August 2002)
"There are times when we must be found guilty of a crime."
The words were originally Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, but they held the same power when Patrick Liteky stood before Federal Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley in Knoxville. Liteky went on to say, "I believe nuclear weapons are diabolical. God has commanded us not to kill. We must destroy our nuclear weapons, all over the world, so that children and all other living things may grow and flourish in peace."
The judge listened passively, as Patrick concluded: "I want to say that I was raised by working class Catholic parents who raised their boys to tell the authorities if they see anything wrong. By my action, I was telling authorities something is wrong."
The judge pronounced a verdict of guilty and sentenced Patrick to two months in federal prison - on August 9, the 57th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Liteky is the first person sentenced to prison for a nonviolent protest at the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. (Four more resisters will come before the same court for sentencing September 16.)
Patrick Liteky's arrest came in the middle of a day when the silence about nuclear weapons that prevails in Oak Ridge was broken. On Sunday, August 4, hundreds marched through town, carrying banners, signs, and posters, pulling wagons with children in them, mock missiles wrapped around their waists.
Dozens more people were waiting for the marchers as they arrived at the Y-12 gate. More than 500 were celebrating life in the face of death by late afternoon, enjoying snow-cones, music by Peggy Seeger, David Rovics, and others, and a table filled by Food Not Bombs.
A giant death machine puppet marched to the blue boundary line, spewing out stuffed bodies of victims to the low grumbling sounds of death on a didgeridoo. At the blue line, the death machine faltered, then collapsed. Its operators broke out in bright colors, celebrating the victory of life and hope over death and destruction.
Patrick Liteky then climbed over the barrier, carrying the "body" of a victim to the authorities, as Buddhist monks and others, many who had walked 300 miles from Atlanta to join the protest, chanted a peace mantra. He walked thirty yards into the bomb plant before he was arrested on federal charges, cuffed, and led to a waiting van.
Fifteen minutes later, amidst singing and dancing, eleven people engaged in a second direct action, forming a human blockade to stop all traffic into the bomb plant. This group was arrested shortly on state charges, and released later in the evening.
As they were being led to a van, Willie Wilson began to scale the tall light pole with a ten foot banner that read PEACE, a notion deemed so offensive as to be illegal by the authorities, so he was also arrested and charged with trespass. (Presumably vertical trespass, since people surrounding the pole on the ground were not arrested.)
Earlier in the day, Bob Poeschl, former Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA) intern, was singled out by police and arrested in front of waiting media for not having completed community service from an April trespass conviction. The case was dismissed a week later, when Poeschl reported to the court that he had completed his service.
In all, fourteen were arrested. Those taken into custody on state charges of obstructing a highway entered pleas in General Sessions court and were given fines or community service (their choice). David Miller and Judy Ross pled not guilty and returned a week later to make statements prior to sentencing.
Liteky's arrest came three days before expiration of his probation for repeated trespass at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of the Americas. He expects to be taken directly to the federal court in Columbus, Georgia, upon completion of the Y-12 sentence on October 4. There he will face a probation violation hearing.
The day before the march and rally, over eighty people attended a nonviolence workshop. On Hiroshima Day, August 6, many were back at the bomb plant. From 6 - 9 a.m., as traffic poured into Y-12, the names of Hiroshima victims were read into the morning air.
For more information, contact the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, POB 5743, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, (865)483-8202, email: email@example.com web: www.stopthebombs.org.
Letters of support should be sent to John Patrick Liteky, Blount County Justice Center, 920 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville, TN 37804. He will be there until October 4.