Anti-poverty protest gets constrained at Capitol

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For the second week in a row, a group of protesters with the Poor People’s Campaign were denied entry to the State Capitol in large numbers. Only two at a time were allowed to enter the Capitol.

By Charles Bertram

Anti-poverty protest gets constrained at Capitol. State police say why.

By Jack Brammer

Updated June 11, 2018 08:35 PM

FRANKFORT

Crying out this is “our house,” about 100 members of an anti-poverty group were stopped at the front doors of the Kentucky Capitol Monday afternoon for the second time this month and were told by police only two at a time could enter.

Two leaders of The Poor People’s Campaign who did enter the august seat of state government made it to the front door of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s office but found its entrance cordoned off with a blue rope and a state trooper. After a few minutes, the door was shut.

Pam McMichael of Louisville and Tayna Fogle of Lexington protested the lack of access and left after giving office staff a lengthy petition of grievances involving wages, union rights, public housing and affordable education. “We will be back,” said Fogle.

For five straight Mondays, the Poor People’s Campaign has been at the state Capitol to address what it says is inequality for poor people. Its efforts seem to be growing in intensity as the standoffs with police remain peaceful.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders, in a June 8 reply to Democratic state Reps. George Brown Jr. of Lexington and Attica Scott of Louisville on why the protesters were blocked from entering the Capitol, said the policy was based on “prior unlawful acts” by members of the group and not the group’s message.

Brown said Monday night he has not seen the commissioner’s letter reported by Louisville’s WDRB-TV. Scott could not be reached for comment.

In his letter, Sanders mentioned the group’s blocking the roadway behind the Capitol last month and entering the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion and leaving chalk messages.

McMichael said Monday night that the group has used “several methods to bring attention to our issues.” She acknowledge that some of the group blocked the Capitol street for 45 to 60 minutes and conducted a “die-in” on the Mansion grounds where members lay down and drew chalk lines around the bodies and left messages.

Sanders also said in his letter that some members of the campaign wore white armbands with attorney’s names on them in a quest to be arrested.

Of that, McMichael said, “None of us want to be arrested. The armbands show we are willing to be arrested.”

Sanders also said the group got approval to meet on the porch behind the Capitol but did not ask to meet inside.

He said the limited-access policy “was enacted for such a group that has advertised, planned and trained to compel law-enforcement to arrest them.”

Sanders said this protocol “would not be applicable to guests or other demonstrators who plan to make their voices heard at the Capitol and then leave after following all laws and regulations.”

On June 4, the Rev. William J. Barber II of North Carolina, national co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, spoke to about 400 in front of the statehouse and tried unsuccessfully to lead many of them into the Capitol.

Kentucky State Police spokesman Josh Lawson then said access was limited to the demonstrators because the group did not seek approval to protest inside the building. He also said the policy of two demonstrators at a time into the building stemmed from some protesters who spent the night in the Capitol a few weeks ago.

Asked Monday why the Poor People’s Campaign has not sought approval to protest inside the Capitol, Fogle said that should not be the case and she believed her group was being targeted by the government. She noted that other people were being allowed into the Capitol in groups larger than two.

McMichael said Barber is tentatively scheduled to hold a news conference 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Capitol and the group is considering a possible lawsuit.

Before the group tried to enter the Capitol Monday, it held a rally in front of the Capitol led by the Rev. Megan Huston of Bowling Green’s First Christian Church that featured speeches, songs and signs. In the rally was Bill Londrigan, head of the state AFL-CIO who held a sign that read, “Stop the War on Working Families.”

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor next year, delivered bottled water to the group and said its members are “always welcome to my office in the Capitol.”

The speakers included Carlos Santacruz of the national campaign in New York, who urged the crowed to “take back your house” and Hunter Malone, who identified himself as “a proud, gay man” from Berea and pledged, “We will not let them get by with this.” The singers included Charles “Chuck” Neblett of Russellville, a civil rights activist who helped found The Freedom Singers in 1962.

The group tried to enter the Capitol at 3 p.m. and was met by six Capitol security guards. Several state police troopers were in the background. The crowd was told only two could enter at one time and the others could go no farther than two metal detectors a few feet from the front door.

A large crowd stood in front of the machines and eventually knelt in prayer. Fogle told the officers the Poor People’s Campaign knew they didn’t make much money and the group might stay awhile so the police could get overtime.

Several members of the group remained inside the front door of the Capitol into the evening Monday. All of the protesters had had left the Capitol by 8:30 p.m.

A Kentucky State Police sergeant stood guard in the governor's office as Tayna Fogle, middle, and Pam McMichael, right, attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the office to deliver a petition Monday afternoon.

A Kentucky State Police sergeant stood guard in the governor’s office as Tayna Fogle, middle, and Pam McMichael, right, attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the office to deliver a petition Monday afternoon. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

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