Protesters Hit the Streets

By Jeffrey Klineman, [Lawrence, MA] Eagle-Tribune Writer, June 6, 2001

LAWRENCE -- It was a lovely day for a protest.

So lovely, in fact, that they held two.

Brian Meuse, who took his daughter on the run despite a custody ruling against him, protests in front of Lawrence District Court on behalf of fathers' rights. Groups representing a pair of unrelated causes descended on Lawrence District Court yesterday morning, holding signs and beating drums under blue skies and mild weather. While neither group was particularly large, they were forced to occupy different corners of Appleton Street in order to avoid getting their messages confused.

"That's the first time I've seen two separate protests going on," said Timothy S. Perkins, a local attorney who passed both groups. "That's truly unique."

On the corner of Appleton Street and Methuen Street, between six and eight advocates of the father's rights movement distributed literature and held signs explaining their belief that fathers are frequently given short shrift during custody disputes. Fresh from holding signs on a bridge spanning Interstate 495, they were out as part of a national protest called "Building Bridges to our Children" promoted by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.

"As fathers, when we walk into a courtroom, we need to be treated as fathers, not as criminals," said Pete R. Conrad, who is embroiled in a custody battle of his own.

Meanwhile, on the corner of Appleton Street and Canal Street, sitting across from the courthouse, two peace protesters who oppose arms manufacturer Raytheon Corp. kept up a steady beat on Japanese drums. They were awaiting the disposition of a probation violation case involving a fellow protester, Tom Lewis, who intentionally violated a judicial order to remain more than 500 yards away from Raytheon's Andover facility.

The protests barely registered with many passers-by, however.

"To tell the truth, I didn't even notice," said Joseph Doherty of Lawrence, who was smoking a cigarette directly across the street from the Raytheon protesters.

"Having driven in, they seemed very vague," added Mark D. Micale, an assistant clerk-magistrate at the court. "I saw one woman almost get hit by a car."

Except for the drumbeat, the groups were largely oblivious of one another.

"I don't know what they're doing at this point," said Raytheon protester Hattie A. Nestel, who was kneeling on an orange Thermo-Foam cushion. "We're very focused on the military issue."

Ms. Nestel was unaware of the celebrity of one of the fatherhood rights protesters, Brian J. Meuse of Haverhill, who was there with his parents to condemn Probate Court Judge Mary M. Manzi. Mr. Meuse believes Judge Manzi has unfairly denied him access to his daughter.

Mr. Meuse, made headlines when he took his daughter, Marissa Meuse, on a six-month cross-country run from what he called a "conspiracy of judges" intent on returning Marissa to her mother, Susan B. Pane.

He was caught in Ada, Okla., in March and returned to Haverhill, where he is awaiting parental kidnapping charges. Marissa was returned to her mother, who lives in Florida. Mr. Meuse said Ms. Pane is a drug addict, although authorities, including Haverhill police, have said in the past that she is not.

"The police are in cahoots with the whole thing," Mr. Meuse said. "Everything she has said is a lie."

"I don't know if my daughter is alive," he added. "This isn't over. I'm going to spend the rest of my life protesting for the safety of all of the children of this country."

By mid-morning, the other protesters, however, were thinking of ending their courthouse protests. At around 10:30 a.m., a judge delayed Mr. Lewis's court date until July 9, freeing him to join the Raytheon group in a three-day walk to the company's different facilities in Massachusetts.

"He's through, so we're going to start walking now," Ms. Nestel said as she loaded up a van that was headed for Andover.

A few minutes later, on the fatherhood rights corner, Mr. Conrad's stomach was doing some protesting of its own.

"We're going to Tripoli bakery after this," he said. "They've got good cookies."

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