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(York, PA) Weather Spoils Local Protest. More Than 1,000 Expected, But Only About 40 In March

A few dozen protesters braved the cold and snow to hold a demonstration at the York County Prison and the former Caterpillar parts distribution plant yesterday afternoon.

The Convergence for Human Rights originally expected more than 1,000 people would attend the protest, but the weather kept many away, said organizer Keith Dobson, a York activist.

"New Jersey and New York got a lot more snow," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, 'You have to come,' and then if they get in an accident."

The activists were protesting the post-Sept. 11 detention of immigrants. York County Prison is one of the largest detention centers for the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, holding 500 detainees.

They were also rallying against Caterpillar's sale of bulldozers to Israel, which they say assists in Israel's "illegal occupation of Palestine."

Peaceful March: A coalition of anarchists and communists had originally planned to hold the protest on Oct. 18, but it was rescheduled and more groups were included because organizers said they were worried the event had lost its focus. In addition to controversy over a permit from Springettsbury Township to hold the rally, organizers had to contend with at least one racist who said he would try to get a group together to join the protest.

In the end, a peaceful group of about 40 protesters, many of them local to York, marched from Springettsbury Park, where they assembled at noon, to York County Prison, and then on to Caterpillar.

As they began marching along the road out of the park, two men who identified themselves only as "agents of the Commonwealth" videotaped the proceedings.

Police followed protesters along the park road in an unmarked vehicle, telling them to get off the street. As the demonstrators made their way through the snow at the side of the road, they sang "We Shall Overcome."

Craig Ilgenfritz, another of the demonstration's organizers, said he was not expecting to be asked to move from the road "when we're not blocking traffic."

"We didn't think that they would complain about us marching in a reasonable progression," Ilgenfritz said.

Police referred all calls about the rally to Springettsbury Police Lt. Scott Laird and Springettsbury Township business manager John Holman, neither of whom could be reached for comment yesterday.

The protesters, carrying sings that read "No Profit from Human Misery" and "Cater Killer" marched down Mount Zion Road, across the entrance ramp for Route 30 and down Concord Road, where the prison is located. Police officers ensured the demonstrators' safe passage across major roads.

Tight security: Before being allowed by helmeted police to rally in front of the prison, each protester went through a security checkpoint.

They could then pass through to a fenced-off area, which the media were not allowed to enter or approach. A sign on the fence read, "All bags, backpacks, etc. and containers of any kind are strictly prohibited in rally demonstration area."

Once in front of the prison, they spoke and chanted "Being Arab's not a crime, why are these people doing time?"

At the Caterpillar plant, their chants were not audible to members of the media, who were ordered by authorities to remain across the street.

Paula Knudsen, an attorney with the Harrisburg office of the American Civil Liberties Union, also stood across the street from the protesters in front of Caterpillar. She questioned the constitutionality of police keeping the media away and out of earshot of the protesters.

"The permit did not say anything about the press and other interested persons being cordoned off," she said. "I know that's troubling."

Protester Harold Penney, of Akron, Pa., agreed.

"We are a group of taxpaying citizens who are concerned about and interested in social justice," he said shortly after the protest ended around 3 p.m. and protesters made the long walk back to their cars.

He wondered why there were so many police, and why they made such an effort to keep the protesters away from any onlookers.

"Maybe they were expecting a much larger crowd," he said.

He said the weather kept many people away from the protest.

Baltimore activist Mark Salotte said he thought of staying away because of the weather but decided to climb in his truck and drive up to York yesterday morning despite the snow.

"I figured everyone else would have the same idea, so I figured it would be better to have 15 people than five," Salotte said.