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The Associated Press.

January 20, 2003,
 

Food protest turns into free-speech case for Alabama women

By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer

DECATUR, Ala.

Jean Tune once helped register blacks to vote in the segregated South.
Gerry Coffee is active in vegetarian groups. Arrested while demonstrating
against genetically engineered foods, the two activists are now taking up
another cause: free speech. Coffey, 62, and Tune, 79, say their First
Amendment rights were violated by their conviction this month on
trespassing charges stemming from a petition drive they held at a Kroger
grocery store.

"Our ability to speak out is being gradually diminished," said Tune, who
has turned her 255 acres into an all-natural, community farm.

Company officials say customers had complained about the women, who between
them have 14 grandchildren and a passion for organic food.

"We asked the (women) several times to leave, and they chose not to,"
Kroger spokeswoman Anet Granger said Wednesday. "Kroger didn't ask for the
women to be arrested."

Both women were convicted of trespassing and fined $50 in municipal court.
Coffey plans to appeal to state court, where an attorney representing both
women said a free-speech argument is likely.

"My interest is that people have a right to get their message out," said
Greg Reeves, who is representing the women and contends the demonstration
was political speech protected by the Constitution.

Tune said she is still considering whether to appeal.

Coffey, who teaches fitness along with advocating vegetarianism, said she
received a call from Greenpeace asking her to help with a nationwide
campaign held Oct. 26 to inform shoppers about the alleged dangers of
genetically engineered foods.

Coffey agreed to assist and called Tune, an old friend and fellow advocate
of all-natural foods.

As police arrived, the women were just outside the Kroger on a sidewalk
passing out leaflets and asking shoppers to sign a petition supporting
organically grown foods.

Coffey said she got into a shouting match with an officer, who arrested
them both on trespassing charges and place them in the back of his patrol
car, minus handcuffs.

"I just kept thinking, 'Everytime I sign a piece of paper that says, 'Have
you ever been arrested,' I'm going to have to put 'yes' now,"' said Tune.

The women were released on a signature bond without being placed in jail.
Greenpeace learned of their arrests and contacted Reeves, who agreed to
represent them without charge.

In court last Thursday, Municipal Judge Billy Cook said the women should
have moved off the store's property when asked.

"I think you were compelled by law to move to a lawful place. I'm not
making a judgment about your message," he told the women.

But Coffey and Tune contend they had a right to be outside the store since
that was the only place they could approach and talk with shoppers.

"Did they think people would stop and talk if we were out on the road?"
said Coffey.

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