By Eric Holmberg
Published November 1, 1988
By Eric Holmberg
“Chicago has slain its thousands and Atlanta its tens of thousands.” Whether we are speaking figuratively about the per capita ratios of murdered children or the number of people jailed at their respective Democratic conventions, the bough has broken for the cradle of Southern hospitality.
- Baby John Doe, #8849161
Written while in the Key Road Jail
- Joe is a 57-year-old grandfather, recently retired from the Navy. Like me and over 400 others, he is in an Atlanta jail for placing his body between a killer and his intended victim. Though he is smiling, Joe looks freshly mugged. There is blood on the right side of his face, a black-eye, contusions everywhere. Bruises, deep and violet with yellow halos, have spread across the inside of both his upper arms.
It is hard to tell, he says, which wounds he got from being slung around by the arresting officers, or from when one of the “Red Dogs” (an elite “special forces” unit) stood on his chest. But Joe insists he feels fine; God is good, and anyway, “what an honor that He would allow me to identify with the Cross to this extent.” I’m smiling now, too.
- I don’t get a chance to smile with Doyle, a pastor from Indiana. He has been in the hospital since the day we were all arrested, slipping in and out of consciousness. He received a concussion when a policeman tested the relative density of his head with a steel fire extinguisher. Doyle’s jaw was injured as well, the result of a supposedly harmless “come-along” hold.
- Plump and avuncular, Police Major Burnett is the officer in charge of dealing with Operation Rescue. Joe and Doyle’s arrests, as well as the violence used against them, was the major’s idea.
At a press conference the month before, Burnett had testified that he too was a follower of Jesus Christ, though he echoed all our thoughts when he wondered aloud if his Jesus was the same one we were following. “My Jesus,” he said, “never tried to physically intervene in order to save someone’s life.” (So there was a difference; his Jesus had never been crucified!) “My Jesus is a God of love and my job is to demonstrate that love,” he concluded with a wave of his hand.
A month later, Joe, Doyle, and many others found out the hard way that the world’s love means “never having to say you’re sorry”.
- Dan Little, a pastor from Binghamton, New York, is no stranger to intervention on behalf of justice and life. Ten years ago he broke into a house in order to drag out a burning couch. Instead of a breaking and entering charge, the police told him he did a good job. A few years later, he tackled an armed man who had just robbed a gas station. Instead of an assault charge, again the police told him he did a good job. The other day, however, he attempted non-violently to shut down a facility where dozens of children were scheduled to die. This time he was dragged by his neck and thrown into jail. They didn’t tell him he had done a good job.
- Hosea Williams isn’t in jail with us, but says he is thinking about giving it a shot. An Atlanta city councilman, he, along with Andrew Young, was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and is familiar with non-violent direct action. He can’t believe that a man like Mayor Young, who was once on the receiving end of establishment bullying, would now be responsible for dragging praying grandmothers through the streets of Atlanta. He doesn’t buy the Mayor’s feeble excuses either.
“I think what is happening in Atlanta right now is just terribly anti-American,” Mr. Williams told the press. “It hurts me so bad that we who were the leaders of the movement in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, are now the political leaders, and we are doing the same things to demonstrators that George Wallace and Bull Connor and others did to us.”
- Father Norman is a missionary from Rome who spends a lot of his time with Mother Theresa on the mean streets of Calcutta. His clerical shirt is hanging from his body like David Banner’s on the Incredible Hulk; scabs run up and down his arms. For five policemen, it was like trying to pull hell up by the roots, dragging this Scotsman away from his appointed post as a defender of the pre-born.
His is the first homily shared in what were to become twice a day meetings for the Unlawful Assembly of God Church at the Key Road Jail. Father Norman’s message is simple and direct, affirming the qualities of compassion, truth and identification with the poor and weak. He calls us men as everywhere the sounds of crying can be heard.
As we weep, worship, and listen to the words of Scripture, we realize that though we are in jail, we have never been more free. Our prayers, infused with a new power that seems to ionize the very air around us, erupts like a volcano, punching a hole through the ceiling of our prison and the dense blanket of oppression caused by the bloody slaughter of Atlanta’s pre-born.
Another Man, one who had also committed Himself into the hands of sinners, is suddenly walking among us.
Eric Holmberg, director of Reel to Real Ministries – a Christian media company based in Gainesville, Florida – was a recent participant in Operation Rescue’s pro-life demonstration in Atlanta, Georgia. Holmberg recorded some of his thoughts while spending several days in the Key Road Jail with other rescuers.
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