Issue Date: November 16, 2007
By PATRICK ONEILL
For 10 years Teresa Stanley has lived in the shadow of Blackwater USA, the private contracting firm that has brought in about $1 billion in contracts to protect U.S. officials in Iraq.
Stanley, a member of Kitty Hawks Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, said she brought her whole family, including her grandchild, and members of her parish JustFaith group with her when she heard a demonstration was being organized at Blackwaters headquarters Oct. 20. Seven people were arrested for civil disobedience at that protest. Stanley said she was there to support them.
Located on 7,000 acres in the northeast corridor of the state amid the Great Dismal Swamp, Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Blackwater Worldwide, has been under intense scrutiny since Sept. 16 when one of its security details fired on civilians in Baghdads Nisour Square killing 17 civilians, an attack Iraqis say was unprovoked.
Im here because I welcome the opportunity to finally speak truth to power, to something thats been going on in our name, Stanley said as she stood in vigil near the end of Puddin Ridge Road at Blackwaters main entrance as local sheriffs deputies arrested the protesters. To be a sign of solidarity and witness is just vital to making sure that we dont continue to have these atrocities done in our name.
Stanley, who is employed in the Richmond, Va., diocesan Office of Justice and Peace as Tidewater liaison for about 30 parishes, said Blackwater is allowed to carry out its work without accountability.
This is the first time that anythings been done right here on the property, so yes, I feel like its in our backyard and in some ways Im ashamed that we havent spoken sooner.
Fearing a counterprotest by Blackwater supporters, Stanley said she put the word out quietly, but with great conviction that this is an important thing.
The protest, which was designed as a reenactment of the Nisour Square shootings, began when the protesters drove a station wagon riddled with faux bullet holes and red paint past Blackwaters gate. Wearing clothes stained bright red with paint, one person slumped over the steering wheel of the car, while others placed red-paint handprints on Blackwaters sign. All six then pretended to be dead. A seventh person was arrested for kneeling in prayer near the others.
Arrested were: Steve Baggarly, Norfolk, Va.; Beth Brockman, Durham, N.C.; Mark Colville, New Haven, Conn.; Peter DeMott, Ithaca, N.Y.; Laura Marks, Ayden, N.C.; and Bill Streit, Louisa County, Va. The six were charged with second-degree trespassing, injury to property and resisting arrest after refusing to walk to the police cars. The seventh protester, Mary Grace of Madison County, Va., who prayed, was charged with trespass only. Because they were North Carolina residents, Marks and Brockman were released without bond. The others were held in the Currituck County Detention Center for five days before a judge released them on unsecured bonds. They have a Dec. 5 court date.
Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrrell said the company did not release a statement about the arrests because the protest didnt get all that much attention. She had no further comment other than to say Blackwater would cooperate with the prosecution of the seven if necessary.
For retired Catholic school teacher Vince Martin of Holy Redeemer, the Blackwater demonstration was his first. Martin said he and his wife attended the parishs JustFaith program (see accompanying story), and that led him to join the action.
In the past year since his retirement from Paul VI Catholic High School in Arlington, Va., Martin said he was inspired after reading JustFaith materials and Catholic social teachings.
Blackwater and other contractors have to be better supervised and organized and held accountable by our State Department. Thats the biggest reason Im here, to call attention to whats happening and the little supervision, he said. I guess I always held these opinions, but Ive never acted on them. I never felt it was proper in my career to do these things. I think Im more enlightened, more aware, more conscious of whats going on.
Kim Williams, wife of Steve Baggarly, one of those arrested, said, Seeing him splattered with the [fake] blood really took my breath away, and it makes real for me what ordinary people in Iraq must be feeling when they have to see this every single day.
Tim and Renee McCarthy of Holy Family Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, Va., joined the group. I just feel like we should be here, Renee McCarthy said. We need to have a voice and say what we think.
Tim McCarthy said Blackwaters lack of accountability allows the United States to circumvent the rule of law and human rights standards.
Blackwaters presence in Iraq undermines our own militarys accountability, he said. What weve done in Iraq has just been a horrendous deed in the world, and Blackwater has been a part of that.
A man who refused to identify himself stopped mowing his lawn and sat on his riding mower and watched the action unfold. He said the protest was the most excitement hed ever seen on the street.
Everybody has a right to their own opinion, he said. I dont get involved. They [Blackwater] are my neighbors. Without them that road youre standing on wouldnt be there, and theyve never given me any problems since theyve been here. So I dont get involved against them.
Patrick ONeill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.
National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007
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