- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Pro-life demonstrators protested yesterday the D.C. government's plan to use surveillance cameras during the March for Life tomorrow, holding signs saying, "Big Brother is Watching" and "King wouldn't support spying."
About 25 high school students from California, Colorado and Virginia protested for an hour yesterday morning in front of City Hall. The students were part of about 250 loosely affiliated pro-life young people in town to demonstrate and attend seminars before the march tomorrow, which will include prayer vigils at Planned Parenthood offices and the Supreme Court.
Surveillance cameras are "one small step toward removing our freedoms," said Dan McCullough, 30, director of Survivors, a California-based Christian, pro-life activist group for high school and college students. "Our freedoms are not going to be taken in one lump, but in small steps."
Sauna Layman, 16, a Survivors member from Crestline, Calif., said police had "no probable cause" to monitor the demonstration with surveillance cameras. "It's a scare tactic to scare people who want to express their First Amendment rights," she said.
"Now my government will have my face on file even though I've never committed a crime," Sauna said.
The Metropolitan Police Department has said it would not target individuals with the 18 cameras to be used to monitor demonstrators during the 30th annual pro-life march, which has been held since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. The march typically draws participants in the hundreds of thousands, organizers say.
All 14 permanent and four temporary surveillance cameras will be turned off after the protests, police said, because they are activated under regulations passed by the D.C. Council in November. The cameras are operational only when the city is in a heightened state of alert, according to those guidelines.
Pictures from each camera are fed into the police department's Joint Operation Command Center in the $7 million Synchronized Operations Command Complex in Judiciary Square.
The police department used the system during the weekend to monitor anti-war protesters. There were no violent incidents.
Police report few problems with pro-life marchers in the past decade. During the March for Life demonstration in 1993, police arrested 307 members of Operation Rescue. In 1994 they arrested 73 members of the organization. The arrests were for blocking entrances to clinics where abortions are performed.
In the past five years, 15 arrests have been made during March for Life rallies, three of them in 1998 and 12 in 2001.
September 11 changed the way authorities must treat large crowds, police say.
"We need to be cognizant of the fact that terrorists could use these events as a target or cover to attack other areas," police spokesman Kevin Morison said.
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the District-based Christian Defense Coalition, disagreed. "I don't think they can make any cogent point that putting these young people under surveillance has anything to do with al Qaeda or [Osama] Bin Laden," he said. "It would be a tragedy if the second victim of the 9/11 attacks was the First Amendment."
Mr. Mahoney said he considered seeking an injunction in December to stop the police department from using the cameras, but he said lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Center for Law and Justice advised him to wait until the council revisits the cameras issue in February.
The council voted 7 to 6 to oppose cameras before approving their use 7 to 6 in November for large-crowd events, and Mr. Mahoney said a failed attempt to get a restraining order would "strengthen the hand" of council members who favor the cameras.
Mr. McCullough said camera surveillance "seems harmless, but we feel like it's a step in the wrong direction."
Seth Lancaster, 17, of Willis, Va., asked, "What makes them think we're going to be violent?"
But one passerby said he understood the police department's decision.
"These are dangerous times," said Bruce Huertas, 48, a businessman from central Florida who witnessed the demonstration. "I'm not saying these kids would do that kind of thing, but people have been killed at abortion clinics.
"You can't tell what people are going to do sometimes," he said.
Mr. Mahoney said the protest yesterday in front of an empty City Hall had been scheduled weeks before, without the knowledge that it would fall on a federal holiday, and could not be rescheduled because of the numerous other protests and events the Survivors group was scheduled to attend.

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