NEW YORK, Apr 21 (Reuters) Some hobbled in on canes, others walked gingerly, but a group of grandmothers remained defiant as they faced trial after being arrested while protesting against the Iraq war.
Joined by dozens of anti-war activists including Cindy Sheehan, 18 members of a group called the ''Granny Peace Brigade'' pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct for protesting outside a Times Square military recruitment center in October.
Sheehan, who has become a leading voice against the war since her son was killed in Iraq, yesterday said the grannies spoke ''for the people in Iraq who don't have voices.'' ''When women like grannies are punished for trying to save lives, this country is in a terrible mess,'' she said.
The group of women aged 50 to 91 were supported by others such ''Raging Grannies'' from Canada, whose members wore badges, chanted and held banners that read ''Arrest Bush, Free the Grannies'' and ''Can't whip the Insurgents? Whip Grannies.'' Assistant District Attorney Amy Miller it was a simple case.
''It's not about the war, it's about disorderly conduct,'' she said in an opening statement, adding the group blocked pedestrian traffic and did not obey police orders to disperse.
Attorney Norman Siegel told the court the group, which includes teachers and nurses, had been locked out of the recruitment center and staged a sit-in protest, although one elderly woman was unable to sit and two other women remained standing to support her.
The ''grannies'', as Siegel repeatedly called them, were eventually placed in a police van, fingerprinted and held for more than four hours after their arrest.
''We should be praising these grandmothers, not prosecuting them,'' he said outside the courtroom. ''If the DA wants to put the grannies on trial, we will put the war on trial.'' While the case will hinge on whether the Siegel can prove the women did not block traffic, many of the women said the trial was a second chance to voice their protest against the war and recruitment methods.
''There was no point arresting us, we were simply trying to make a statement,'' said former assemblywoman Marie Runyon, the oldest of the group at 91, who held herself steady using two walking sticks.
The trial is expected to last several days. If found guilty, the women could be fined 250 dollars or sentenced to a maximum of 15 days in jail.
REUTERS PG PM0445