Memphis lawmen say high-profile visit to protest was to keep peace center peaceful

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Marc Perrusquia
The Commercial Appeal

When a police SWAT team and an FBI anti-terrorism squad showed up Tuesday at a Memphis church where peace activists were staging an event, a scene reminiscent of the turbulent 1960s ensued.

The activists, members of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center who oppose the war in Afghanistan, characterized the encounter as police intimidation and a case of illegal surveillance.

FBI and Memphis Police Department representatives countered it was all a misunderstanding. They said they were there to protect the activists from potential harm by extremists who might oppose their views.

“We don’t buy that at all,” said Jacob Flowers, executive director of the nonprofit center.

“Never (before) have we encountered the situation where we’ve had eight to 10 marked and unmarked police cars, including tactical units, sitting there monitoring us. We find it too coincidental.”

About 15 to 20 activists gathered Tuesday afternoon at First Congregational Church, where the Peace and Justice Center rents office space, to fill out Freedom of Information requests aimed at discovering if the FBI or MPD is keeping surveillance files on the activists. Flowers said 16 individuals filled out FOIA forms at the event.

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