By Brent Lancaster

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Peter Schumacher / Times-NewsWoodlawn
Middle School teacher Al Whitted experienced violence first-hand during a recent trip to China. Whitted, a follower of the Falun Gong movement which practices compassion and tolerance, traveled with a group from North Carolina to Beijing and participated in a protest against Chinese oppression. Whitted and members of his group were roughed up by police, arrested and jailed until deported the next day.

MEBANE -- Al Whitted says he practices truth, compassion and tolerance.
What's wrong with that, you might ask. It may seem like a good way to live, not something that should get you jailed, beaten or killed.

"How can people be murdered for that, beaten for that?" Whitted asks.

But Whitted, a teacher at Woodlawn Middle School in Mebane and a follower of the Falun Gong movement, was arrested and roughed up by Chinese police in Tiananmen Square in Beijing for his beliefs.

Whitted was one of a group of five North Carolinians who joined other Americans in traveling to Beijing in February to protest oppression of those who adhere to the Chinese movement. People from 15 countries tried to highlight the oppression of Falun Gong [practitioners].

After three days in a Beijing hotel, the group went to Tiananmen Square with other foreign protesters. They intended to hold up banners and speak to the Chinese people.

It didn't work. When they arrived in the square on Feb. 14, every other person there was a policeman. The group tried to unfurl a banner at 2 p.m., Whitted said. By 2:01, the banner had come down.

Whitted was struck in the back of the legs by a foot or a police baton in an attempt to take his feet out from under him. People were given busted lips and blows to the face. The group was arrested.
"We didn't struggle," he said. "We don't fight back. We just try to tell people the truth."

The group was taken to a police station, where they were kept without food, water or sleep for nearly 24 hours. Fearing torture, they locked their arms tightly together so no one could be separated from the group.

Meanwhile, friends and family in the United States waited and worried without a way to contact anyone in the group. They had asked friends to contact the U.S. Consulate if they lost contact with them on the 14th.

At 10 a.m. the next day, the group was forcibly pulled apart, put on a bus and immediately deported.

Though most Chinese never knew the foreigners had come to support them, Whitted still thinks it was worth it for the attention it has brought to the movement in this country.

The Associated Press covered the Americans' trip and a CNN camera crew was waiting when they got off the plane in Detroit.

He says he would go back if it's safe.

Whitted, who has taught at Woodlawn for two years, picked up on Falun Gong when he saw a group practicing the exercises in Durham. He says he had long been a fan of Chinese history, tai chi and martial arts. He and other Falun Gong practitioners meet in Duke Gardens in Durham.

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that includes exercise and meditation. Its principles include truth, compassion, and tolerance.

The practice began in China in 1992 and quickly spread by word of mouth throughout China and then beyond. Falun Gong officials say it is practiced by more than 100 million people in 40 countries.