Highway 45 N in Columbus turned into a parking lot around Noon yesterday. People were slowing down and sometimes stopping to look at the signs that lined the roadway around the 18th Avenue intersection. Those signs, adorned with photos of fetuses (both in the womb and aborted), were held by members of Pro-Life Mississippi.
The group, based in Jackson, MS, was in Columbus as part of their two week-long tour of Mississippi. At every stop of their tour, the organization posted themselves at busy intersections to voice their opposition to abortion. Members ranged in age from as young as seven years to as old as mid-seventies.
The tour, which started in Memphis, TN on March 21st, has taken the group from the northern reaches of the state to as far south as Hattiesburg and across the full width of the state. Today they move on to Tupelo and then tomorrow takes them to Corinth. Beside their anti-abortion message, the organization encourages people to vote “Yes” on an upcoming Personhood Amendment (#26). The amendment states, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivilent thereof.
“On their stop in Columbus, however, Pro-Life Mississippi ran into some trouble. When the spectacle of their signs and message interferred with the flow of traffic, Columbus Police Officers arrived to shut down the show in the name of public safety. Just after 12:00, several officers arrived on scene and Captain Fred Shelton spoke with Matt Trewhella, whom he was told was in charge of the group. Capt. Shelton explained to Trewhella that the group was impeding traffic flow and would have to pack it up. After a short debate on the Freedom of Speech, Trewhella ceded the point and and agreed to pack it up and move on. [Their next stop was scheduled for West Point later in the afternoon. - JD]
While officers spoke with members who were spread out around the area, Pastor Stephen Joiner of The Church of the Nazarene in Columbus joined part of the group on the southeast corner of the intersection, in front of Walgreens. After pledging his support for their cause, Joiner decided (with the help of a few of the members) that he would “stand up for their rights”. [When Joiner found that I was from The Packet, he said he wanted to make sure I got a photo of someone standing up to "the jackboot thugs of a tyrannical police force" - JD] When Capt. Shelton returned to the corner, Joiner held a sign (provided by group member Dan Holman) and refused to move when told he was told to leave. He was warned repeatedly that if he did not stand down, he would be arrested. Joiner stood his ground, (though he was obviously nervous) and was arrested and charged with Disobeying an Officer.
While being cuffed, Joiner stated, “See how this works? If we were out here protesting for gay rights, the police would be out here protecting us, not arresting us. But they come out to arrest good Christian folks.” To this, Shelton responded, “Sir you are being arrested by a Christian and a Chaplain.” Joiner just said, “Well, you’re not a good Christian.” and got quiet. [I was impressed by Capt. Shelton stepping up and arresting Joiner himself. He could have had other officers on scene do so. I think it was a good example of him not letting his personal beliefs get in the way of doing his job. - JD] Several members of the group gathered around the two (with other officers close at hand) and began to sing ‘Stand up, Stand up for Jesus’. [Unfazed, Capt. Shelton sang right along with them! - JD]
After the arrest, the Pro-Life members gathered in front of Kroger to wait for their transport van and trailer to arrive. At this point, the owners of that property told the group that they could not stand on that property. So, ironically the goup had to stand on the side of the street with their signs and wait for the van.
Once packed up, the members of Pro-Life, led by the very vocal Cal Zastrow, decided that they would go to the jail in support of Pastor Joiner. So, they packed up and wagon trained their way to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center. Once there, they stood in front of the jail, singing and praying until Joiner was released. [That was a long two hours. - JD] Finally, at 3:00 pm, Joiner was released from custody on his own recognizance. When he exited the building, he was greeted with open arms by the group, who rushed forward to thank and congratulate him. [Several car loads of the members were just leaving the parking lot on their way to West Point and were called back to meet the pastor. - JD]