- FEBRUARY 23rd, 2009
Students assemble to obstruct protesters from memorial services
|Students and other community members lined the streets around St. Joseph University Church to show their support for the families of the victims of Continental Flight 3407.|
Protests planned by the Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for thanking God for disasters like Sept. 11, 2001 and the recent tragedy in Clarence Center, were carried out on Sunday while memorial services and community prayers at the Zion Lutheran Church and St. Joseph University Church went on as scheduled.
Before the minute hand struck noon, many UB students and Buffalo community members were already gathered outside of St. Joseph where the memorial service for Continental Flight 3407 crash victim, Alison Des Forges, a prominent human rights activist with ties at UB, was taking place.
This was the second stop for the members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and the counter demonstrators alike during the freezing morning in Buffalo.
The WBC, known for their demonstrations at funerals of war veterans and for their condemnation of homosexuals, announced on their Web site www.godhatesfags.com last week that they would be in Buffalo to condemn those who were mourning the loss of 50 lives in the crash of Flight 3407.
First, the protesters went to Clarence Center to picket a block away from the crash site, near the Zion Lutheran Church.
Community members in attendance included area university students, police and a motorcycle brigade that revved up their engines to mute the shouts from the three WBC picketers present.
In an interview with The Spectrum, Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the WBC, explained that the protesters were willing to disturb the peace of memorial services to send an overall message to the global community.
Phelps-Roper stated that it was the job of WBC members to inform the world that there have been signs from God that people have "ignored." She compared the aftermath of the US Airways Airbus A320, which landed safely in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, with the Clarence Center incident that occurred on Feb. 12 in her explanation.
"When the plane came out of the sky and landed in the bay in New York in the Hudson, the people were all alive. From that day to this day, they have talked about how the pilot was a hero... no one is giving that to god," Phelps-Roper said. "Now we get a fiery crash with every one dead. It our job is to help you connect that dot. That is one tiny example of how they flip off God."
Phelps-Roper explained she would not be present at the demonstrations in Buffalo, she would be with a group of 13 people protesting outside of local churches and cathedrals with a similar objective.
"They need not be mourning and instead repent for their sins. This nation has so angered their God. It's not about them; they brought that wrath about themselves," Phelps-Roper said.
Alex Meglin, a senior media studies major, showed up this morning with friends to show support for her community and her disapproval of protesters.
"I came to stand up for people, for families and everyone mourning. I think it's completely ridiculous that this group is coming when people are trying to mourn," Meglin said.
Standing in front of the church waiting for the WBC picketers to show up, Tim Allman, a senior philosophy major, explained that he wanted to be here in support of the Buffalo community.
"It transcends political agendas... it's more about having an appreciation for human life. It's about the oneness between people and about supporting one another," Allman said.
Many people in service uniforms were holding up American Flags as others held up white sheets that they planned on using to shield the WBC protesters from sight. Others held up piping and plastic on their shoulders in the shape of angel wings and stood together during the demonstration.
Amy MacGregor-Morrisey and her group of fellow counter protesters were some of the first people to arrive on the scene.
With a flag in hand, she explained that she was a Gold Star Mother, explaining she had lost her son who was serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. She said she was present to be a part of the human barrier between the protesters and mourners.
"We happen to know the one of the victim's family, our next door neighbor. We're here to act as a buffer... and to pay respects to the family," MacGregor-Morrisey said.
People safeguarded the church by forming a line of over 150 people, spread out thin on the two opposite blocks of Main Street, from Niagara Falls Blvd. to Englewood Avenue.
The van of the protesters was spotted around 1 p.m. driving by the line of people, by the organizers of the counter demonstration. The three WBC protestors however left as soon as they showed up on the scene, having been apparently overwhelmed.
Counter demonstrators cleared the scene shortly after 2 p.m. after WBC members were escorted back to their vehicle, according to eyewitnesses.
The counter protest was peaceful and silent. People that were a part of the non-confrontational demonstrations were told that that were not to talk to the WBC and were warned by members of the Erie County Sheriff's office to ignore the three picketers. One police car was seen throughout the entire demonstration.