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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