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The First Skirmish in the War on Women – in Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia March 3, 2012

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I had no idea when I awoke on March 3, 2012, that by that evening, I would be witness to our Constitution being tested in the parking lot of the Richmond Police Department at 9th and Leigh Streets. After arriving home around 6:00 PM, I received a call that 31 women and men had been arrested while sitting on the steps of the capitol.

Since I knew some of the protesters, I rushed downtown to find that 17 women were detained on a bus. The Capitol Police had first taken the men into the back of the police station through a garage door. By that time the women had been on the bus for more than three hours without water. It was hard to imagine what would lead the Capitol police to arrest these people for peaceably assembling at a place designed by Thomas Jefferson? The irony was self-evident.

I arrived at the detention site at about 6:30 PM, after the 14 men had been taken through the garage in the rear of the police station. I informed the officer in charge that I wanted to speak to my new “clients,” but was denied that opportunity, but I was given the number of the Captain supervising the operation. I called him, left a message which was not returned. I insisted to the officer in charge that the women remaining in the second bus should be brought water. This request was also denied.

The police were obviously concerned that I stood by the bus where the women were kept, and after waiting there about 45 minutes, the police took the women off the bus in groups of 5 or more. Although I requested permission to speak to the women, I was not afforded that opportunity as they were taken off the bus in plastic cuffs.

Now that I have seen the video on the Richmonder, I am convinced that the entire incident needs to be investigated by the Attorney General’s office. This is not a partisan issue, as was pointed out, even in the conservative blog, “Mason Conservative.” The writer of this right-wing blog said yesterday: “I hope this post in some small way prods folks on the right to speak up because the government, and its power, seems to be getting in the way of the rights of the people to assemble and protest.”

I would go further: anyone who believes in the Constitution, regardless of political affiliation, knows that every American is entitled to assemble and protest peaceably in this country. We are great because we are the country with more freedom than in the rest of the world. Many have fought and died to preserve our freedom. In this case, it is important not to lose the ultimate goal of the protest in the actions of the police, the people gathered to protest against what they considered unjust laws. The officers have much to answer in any investigation of their actions: why were the detained not given summonses instead of being arrested? why were they detained in close quarters on buses, without water, unable to freely use the bathroom, without being able to consult with counsel? I will represent all the arrestees, pro bono public, if they choose to retain me.

These questions and others will need to be answered in the coming weeks, and months. One photo I saw shows a riot policeman standing beside a sign which had fallen to the left of him. It said, simply: “Stop the War on Women.” There certainly seemed to be a war on at least 17 women (and 14 men) when I visited the parking lot of the Richmond Police Department on March 3, 2012. From where I stand, they won the first battle.

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  • pontoon

    n/t

  • glennbear

    I retired 5 years ago from a career in law enforcement so I am not unfamiliar with police tactics and operations. Between the video and accepting Mr. Powell’s remarks at face value I would say that this was a poorly planned, poorly executed, and totally inappropriate response better suited to a third world country and not the state capitol of an American state. In the video a camo clad trooper can be seen with his finger on the ring of a chemical agent canister. This flies in the face of proper police practice given the situation.

       I seriously doubt given his ideology that our attorney general will initiate any investigation since that might hurt him with his far right anti abortion misogynistic base. I will be doing all I can to spread this video and story far and wide.  

  • Teddy Goodson

    How do Republicans, especially Republican women, by and large regard this demonstration, and the exercise of overwhelming state force evident at the demonstration? Sadly, much as they regarded the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, and the labor-populist occupation of the Madison, Wisconsin capitol: the demonstrators are nothing but a bunch of shrill, dirty/unpleasant, uncoordinated, sloppy lower class jerks who contribute nothing to society and are selfish socialists. Is this a ridiculous attitude? Of course, but there you are: McDonnell is justified (just as Scott Walker was justified) in treating these demonstrators with contempt—- the demonstrators should be glad they weren’t maced. To be sure, there are even Republicans who are displeased and/or infuriated by the SWAT teams and the arrests, and have a few qualms about First Amendment rights, but in the end even they generally agree that civilized decorum must be msaintained…. nothing is more inappropriate than a bunch of high-pitched screams and females showing anger in public. That is not approved in the Bible. An angry woman is about as acceptable as an angry black man.

  • Watching riot police with helmets and shields march through peaceful protesters on the steps of Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol is a particularly vivid reminder of how far this Commonwealth has fallen in just the few short weeks since Bob McDonnell and his party took total control over Virginia’s state government.

    This should not be about the Capitol and State Police who responded to the protesters, it should be about the Republican politicians whose radical agenda created the environment for this unfortunate situation to arise.

    Instead of solving the problems Virginians are facing, this Governor and his radical majorities have led us on an extreme rightward course. The severity of that agenda has left thousands of citizens with no recourse other than to march on the building they pay for and to which they send representatives to conduct their business.  

    While I cannot say whether or not the Governor authorized or had knowledge of this weekend’s regrettable arrests, there is no question that this unfortunate situation could have been avoided by a leader with the courage to resist the extreme elements of his own party and focus on making life better for Virginia families.  

    We can only hope our next Governor will be such a leader.

  • SENATORS PETERSEN AND HOWELL SPEAK IN SUPPORT OF CITIZENS’ RIGHT TO PROTEST: DENOUNCE OVERREACTION BY GOVERNOR

    RICHMOND, VA – Today, Virginia Senators denounced the overreaction by the Governor’s office over the past two weeks in using riot police, SWAT teams carrying automatic weapons, police dogs, and helicopters in response to peaceful protestors in Capitol Square.

    On Tuesday, February 20th, peaceful protestors gathered on the Capital grounds for a silent protest and rally to defend women’s rights.  They were monitored by riot police, a police helicopter, and countless uniformed and plainclothes officers. No incidents were reported

    On Saturday, March 3rd, 31 peaceful protestors were arrested on the Capital steps following a women’s rights rally.  They were likely arrested for trespassing or unlawful assembly, according to Capt. Raymond J. Goodloe of the Division of the Capital Police.  Prior to some of the protesters being arrested, they were monitored by a fully armored police SWAT team carrying automatic weapons, riot police, and police dogs.

    On the night of Tuesday, February 27th, peaceful protestors holding a candle-lit vigil to ‘Take Back the Night’ on public property outside of the Governor’s Mansion were responded to by a fully armed SWAT team carrying automatic weapons as well as an armored police vehicle.

    Statement by Senator Petersen (D-Fairfax City):

    Ladies & Gentlemen of the Senate:

    I rise to speak today on what is truly a fundamental right in this Commonwealth:  the right of citizens to peaceably assemble & petition their government for redress.

    This right was included in our Declaration of Rights, passed by this body in 1776. It is in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    I joined this legislature 10 years ago.  During that time, I have witnessed demonstrations from every group imaginable.  Some armed with signs, others with firearms, some with white medical coats.

    In all cases, I was happy to see people come to the State Capitol to share their views, whether or not those views were also mine.  

    Frankly, considering the low rate of voter participation in legislative races, I’m flattered anytime a voter takes the time to visit us.

    That’s why I’ve been so shocked & amazed over the past few weeks to see the reaction of certain state agencies to the presence of protestors in Capitol Square.  

    On February 27, there was a peaceful gathering by several concerned women in front of the Governor’s mansion.  That is publicly-owned property and part of Capitol Square.  There was no indication that anyone was in any harm.  

    Regardless, there were State Police running around in flak jackets and an armored car parked at the mansion.  

    This past Saturday, March 3, there was another gathering of approximately 1,000 people, again mostly women.  

    They were met by squads of State Police wearing riot gear, more appropriate for a bar brawl than a civil protest.  

    Men of Virginia –

    Would we permit our wives, our sisters, our mothers and daughters to be treated this way in our homes?  In our communities?

    I speak not as a State Senator, but as a man who is the son of a Virginian, married to a Virginian and the father of Virginians.  

    It’s not right to see our Virginia women treated this way.  

    We are a free society.  This is a public square.  People have a right to protest, without harassment or intimidation.

    Thank you for listening to me.

    Statement by Senator Howell (D-Fairfax):

    Since the very first day of this session, things have been going seriously awry.

    On January 10th VA had a well-deserved reputation as a moderate, pro-business, civil, and peaceful state.

    In the past 8 ½ weeks that reputation has changed. Because of the vaginal probe, Virginia became a national laughing stock, a joke because of anti-women legislation passing through the General Assembly.

    It got so bad that business leaders complained about the damage being done to our state’s reputation and competitiveness.

    But now we are at a new even more disturbing stage.

    Our state capitol is becoming an armed garrison. Peaceful demonstrators are being intimidated and arrested.

    Eight days ago, peaceful demonstrators who wanted to “take back the right” were confronted with SWAT teams, armed law enforcement on roofs, and officers in riot gear. “Take back the night” demonstrations have been going on across the country-often on college campuses-for women’s rights efforts. The demonstrators-mostly women-carry lit flashlights.

    Here on the Capitol Grounds-confronted by heavily armed police-the protestors were told they could not light their flashlights.

    What? What is so subversive about a flashlight?

    This past Saturday, 850 demonstrators came on the Capitol Grounds. They were chanting, “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

    And it was! Peaceful demonstrators going to the seat of government to express their views. In this case, they were marching and chanting for women’s rights.

    And what did they force? SWAT teams, state police in full riot gear, police armed with semi-automatic guns, and dogs, dogs!

    Not since the massive resistance days in the 60s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence in my state.

    When I described what is going on here in Richmond to my son and showed him videos, he said we need a symbol to express outrage.

    I thought back eight days to when women armed only with flashlights were confronted with SWAT teams and armed police. They only had their flashlights which they were told to extinguish. Well, now a flashlight is my symbol of peaceful protestors standing up to oppressive force.

    And my flashlight will stay on my desk next to my beloved Virginia flag until reason and balance return to this General Assembly and capitol.

  • VIRGINIA PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS SPEAKS OUT ON CAPITOL SQUARE ARRESTS

    A Statement By Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. Adam Ebbin

    Richmond – The Virginia Progressive Caucus is deeply disturbed that the rights of citizens to assemble and petition their government were interrupted and denied on Saturday, March 3.

    Such an excessive display of force-police in full riot gear with glass shields, automatic weapons, and dogs-harkens back to darker days. We find this overreaction deeply disturbing.

    Women who are speaking out in favor of their right to choose do not deserve to be intimidated and hauled away.

    Virginians deserve to know under what circumstances peaceful demonstrators are to be faced with such frightening actions.

    We call on Governor McDonnell and his administration to fully review the policies that led to Saturday’s events and ensure that they never happen again.