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The Big Hassle 

It wasn't enough that Portland activist Meg Perry died tragically in an accident. Her fellow volunteers had a run-in with the NOPD -- while mourning her death.

Friends of Portland activist Meg Perry say New Orleans police handcuffed and searched Katrina-relief volunteers who were singing songs and reminiscing about the life of the late 26-year-old social-justice advocate after a Dec. 11 memorial service for her. Perry, an organizer from Portland, Maine's People's Free Space, was killed on Dec. 10 when that group's familiar green, bio-diesel Frida Bus crashed on a Louisiana highway.

A memorial service in Portland was held Dec. 17. Perry's parents, Robin and Rosalie Perry, say they plan "to return to New Orleans and pick up where Megan left off," doing work to "help the displaced, the indigent, to do whatever we can to help people in need," her father said.

Perry was in New Orleans with 12 volunteers she had recruited to go to the Gulf Coast, in November, to help with hurricane-relief efforts. She was thrown from the bus when it rolled on its side on I-10 near the Superdome in an accident whose cause remains under investigation. Eight other people on the bus were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to Officer Jonette Williams of the New Orleans Police Department.

After a Dec. 11 memorial service attended by hundreds in a community garden that Perry had helped clear, till, and plant in the Eighth Ward, a few close friends stayed behind to sing songs and tell stories about Perry. "They weren't bothering anyone," said Sakura KonŽ, an organizer of the New Orleans-based relief group Common Ground Collective, for which Perry was volunteering.

A passing police officer noticed the group, KonŽ said, and called for backup. Some were handcuffed, "others were forced to spread-eagle on the various police vehicles," and the group was being treated "as if they were a threat to the community," KonŽ said.

Captain Juan Quinton, commander of the NOPD public affairs office, said the incident took place Sunday, Dec. 10, around 7:10 p.m. at St. Dennis and Havana streets. A lone Third District officer, who was apparently unaware of the reason for the gathering, stopped at least one man in the group. "Words were exchanged," Quinton said. "Somehow the police officer pushed the guy he stopped onto the car. He called for backup."

Someone else from Common Ground allegedly audiotaped the incident, Quinton said, adding, "There were some vulgarities exchanged."

Deputy Superintendent Stephen B. Nicholas ordered the officer's captain to conduct an immediate investigation, Quinton said. Police do not have a copy of the audiotape. "The bottom line is that we will stand for no discourtesy and no excessive force,"Ê Quinton said.

Citizen complaints of police misconduct are referred to the Public Integrity Division. Officer Williams said she did not know of any such event, and Robin Perry, who said he stayed through his daughet's memorial service and "later on," also said he had not heard of the incident.

Several People's Free Space activists confirmed that there was an encounter with the police after the memorial service, but declined to give specifics, saying they were conferring with their lawyers.

The Common Ground Collective planted a fig tree in Perry's memory during the ceremony and has renamed its community-garden creation effort the Meg Perry Community Garden Project. Volunteers also planted nasturtiums, an edible flower, and artichokes, Perry's favorite vegetable.

The Maine volunteers returned to Portlant for a memorial service there on Dec. 17, and most expected to return to the Gulf Coast to continue volunteering.

"We need literally thousands of volunteers," says Nate Brimmer, one of the Maine volunteers in New Orleans. Brimmer cited the need to clean "three inches of fuzzy mold from the ceiling to the floor" in many homes that did not have flood insurance.

The ruin of the Gulf Coast has provided an opportunity to rebuild society in a more just structure, Brimmer said. Perry saw all of society's problems as linked, and at their root was "too much competition, not enough co-operation, not enough love, not enough community," he said.

click to enlarge Meg Perry, an activist from Portland, Maine, was working in - New Orleans with her group, People's Free Space.
  • Meg Perry, an activist from Portland, Maine, was working in New Orleans with her group, People's Free Space.
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