Protesters at Fort Sill call for closure of detainment camps

Dream Action Oklahoma leads the march Saturday on Sheridan Road toward Fort Sill’s Bentley Gate, resulting in the entrance to the Lawton Army base closing down for almost two hours. (Charlene Belew / The Duncan Banner)

LAWTON, Okla. — Hundreds of diverse walks of life took over Lawton streets Saturday, blocking an entrance of Fort Sill and protesting the Trump administration’s plans to temporarily detain 1,400 migrant children.

The Fort Sill Bentley Gate closed for nearly an hour and a half. Protesters from United We Dream, Dream Action Oklahoma, Tsuru for Solidarity, Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City, Indigenous Environmental Network, Women’s March Oklahoma and people from Colorado and New Mexico presented a peaceful demonstration calling to “close the camps.”

The federal government plans to open a new facility later this summer with temporary beds at the U.S. Army base in Lawton.

The mission of those gathering included calling for closure of all camps nationwide that “have resulted in severe abuse, trauma and multiple deaths.” They pointed to the history of Fort Sill serving as grounds for World War II-era Japanese-American prison camps and also Apache Chief Geronimo and his tribe.

Cars honked as people were trying to access the base, but the protesters formed a human chain across the street and refused any passage. Off ramps from the highway above also closed because of traffic backing up. Duncan Ryuken Williams, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest, and Buddhist monks representing multiple sects led a ceremony. The service was a memorial for deceased loved ones; it represented the death of a Japanese man killed at Fort Sill during WWII, the indigenous people lost and dead migrant children.

Edson Alvarado, with Dream Action Oklahoma, told of learning his American-born sister would not be able to enroll in school. He said he didn’t have the words to “heal her, to empower her” and began wondering what activism actually meant.

“Here today, we have denied that it is inevitable that these violences occur,” Alvarado said. “We have rejected the notion that the lands so violently stolen will always already be colonized. … I have spent my entire life figuring out how to get the most accurate, precise, strong, meaningful words to defend my people and give them a voice.”

Alvarado said he encouraged change.

“Resistance is walking. Resistance is driving. Resistance is not being afraid to go to the grocery store even though they could pull you over, and in a day you’d be gone,” Alvardo said. “Resistance is living anyway.”

‘We will melt ICE’

T. Sheri Dickerson, co-founder of Women’s March Oklahoma and Black Lives Matter OKC, said the reason protesters appeared at the gate was simple: Human rights for everyone.

“We must collaborate with others that recognize the same entity that oppresses us and people of color and black Americans are the same ones that oppresses my native and indigenous brothers and sisters, American brothers and sisters, our undocumented, our asylum seekers and our members of humanity,” Dickerson said. “We will melt ICE.”

Mike Ishii with Tsuru for Solidarity, an organization that protested at the same location in June to stop the “repetition of history,” said this is just the beginning for the movement.

The group walked away from Fort Sill and went to Shepler Square Park in Lawton to continue demonstrating.

“I’m undocumented, unafraid and here to stay,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas with United We Dream. “Today we went through some hard stuff. We took over streets, we shut down a highway. People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are those people doing?’ Some people wanted to come and run us over with their cars. But we kept ourselves and each other safe.”

She said it wasn’t about just the camps. To her, it’s about the history of violence.

“Our ancestors have walked through deserts, have crossed rivers, have crossed oceans, all so that today in Lawton, Oklahoma, we can meet together and demand our people be let free,” she said. “Because we know it is not just about the camps; it is about a history of exclusion and this idea that black and brown people are not good enough and that they belong in cages.”

Brenda Lozano with Dream Action Oklahoma talked about how much the combined effort accomplished.

“Every single one of us in this state matters, and Oklahoma is our space,” Lozano said. “Oklahoma is our home and we will not be OK until everyone recognizes that every single individual here matters.”

Lozano said the protest was not only for the incoming children, but for conditions in centers across the nation.

“Compared to 2014, there’s an increase of immigrants that are being detained by the thousands,” Lozano said.

Other solutions that would keep the children from heading to Fort Sill were still scarce.

“I think America has a lot of different issues that we can be focusing on,” she said, listing homelessness in Oklahoma and drug epidemics as other areas needing attention.

The groups encouraged Oklahomans to contact Gov. Kevin Stitt along with their local and national politicians to urge them to stop the detaining of children. A definite arrival date is not yet set. On Friday, The Frontier reported Stitt’s office was told the children will not arrive to the military base until August.

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Belew writes for The Duncan Banner, a CNHI News Service publication.

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