Staten Island protester arrested at Philly army recruitment center

Saeed Shabazz | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

Elaine Brower, 53, a member of the board of directors of the Peace Action Center of Staten Island, was one of seven people arrested at a Philadelphia mall on May 2, while protesting against the U.S. Army's Experience Center (AEC). Brower has been unavailable for comment. Brower is a mother of a Marine who just returned from Iraq after serving his third tour of duty there.

"The seven were arrested while conducting civil disobedience exercises and refusing to leave after two police warnings to do so, "Jonathan Williams, coordinator of the Student Peace Action Network, explained to the AmNews.

Nearly 300 protesters

descended on the Army Experience Center with the hopes of closing it down, but because of the large police presence, they had to settle for the arrests and the continuation of their vigil outside of the mall property. The demonstration was sponsored by a coalition of 30 national and regional organizations representing veterans, students and peace organizations, such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, the BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action and the Student Peace Action Network.

They allow 13-year-olds to come in and play their violent video games as long as they release their contact information; and we want to expose this," argues Williams. He said the arrest of the seven activists was a way of keeping the issue on the radar screen.

According to the Army News Service, the Philadelphia AEC is "a one-of-a-kind virtual educational facility" that "offers visitors the opportunity to virtually experience many aspects of Army life, while evaluating new marketing strategies." The Army said the facility costs $12 million, and it houses dozens of video game computers and Xbox video game consoles with interactive military-style shooting games as well as Apache helicopters and Humvees. According to a press release, the Army says it is "committed" to establishing these "Experience Centers'" around the country.

"Simulating the killing of Arabs and Afghanis is a marketing tool, that is why it is important that we continue our actions against the mall," states Williams. He said the coalition of anti-war and peace groups that supported the May 2 action are determined to have the Army charged with criminal solicitation of minors. "Sugar coating combat experience with virtual war is a dishonor to those with real war experience," said Williams.

Williams told the AmNews that the soldiers manning the center do not wear uniforms. The Army says that the 20 soldiers working there are in fact trained recruiters, but the AEC is not a recruiting center. "The center is an attraction tool. There is no recruiting mission here," said the Army, adding, "Here, it is more about changing perceptions." Rev. Bob Moore, director of the Coalition for Peace Action, speaking at the protest, said: "War is not fun and exciting, war is hell on earth. No recruiting of our children!" Former Army Sgt. Jesse Hamilton, who retired with an honorable discharge after nine years of service and a tour in Iraq, told the protesters that he was "utterly disgusted" with the Army he once served proudly.

Hamilton, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said the AEC "targets impressionable minds and it propagates the glorification of war."