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Freedom of Speech is Relative in Wichita

By Vickie Stangl
News | November 21, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. - All across America there is a noticeable rise in police brutality against nonviolent citizens courageously speaking out against corruption and inequality within the American political system.

On November 16th, in Wichita, Kansas a group of protesters were unaware they were about to face some brutal treatment by the Wichita police for exercising their First Amendment freedoms, too.

As citizens, the group of protesters decided to register (which was required) and attend Governor Brownback's Town Hall Meeting. The meeting was publicized as an event to discuss child poverty in Kansas.

Most of us think of a town hall meeting like the Norman Rockwell painting where citizens stand and speak while officials listen and learn something. This was not the format for the meeting. It was a very controlled affair with far more show than substance. As others have rightly complained, the meeting was held in the early afternoon. The odd time frame made it impossible for the people who work full time but have the most knowledge or insight about child poverty from attending.

Those citizens who did attend were required to sit at assigned tables. Instead of a panel discussion of various views or open discussion with everyone in the room, the meeting was simply a lecture sponsored by the the Heritage Foundation known as a very bias, conservative think tank.

The keynote speaker was Robert Rector. The table discussions were more interesting but questions were "provided", and the sharing of ideas limited to only those seated at each table.

The strangest speaker was the minister from Central Christian Church who used his time to drone on and on about all the marvelous things his Church does for Wichita families in need. It was the most self- serving presentation I have ever witnessed and a waste of time for the people gathered in the room who there to REALLY find solutions to child poverty.

No one disputes the gains that can come with a solid marriage, there is also no single factor responsible for childhood poverty. Certainly, it is a simplistic view that getting married will instantly get children off the welfare rolls and life will be good for children. No discussion was made about the fact that nothing ensures poverty more than a parent's low wages.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) group that would ultimately stand up in the room and protest made this very point. They called for a statewide living wage law where anyone willing and able to work, could earn a living wage. (I doubt anyone could hear this as state officials were screaming over the PA system to drown them out.)

The causes of poverty are far more nuanced and complicated than pouring enormous of amounts of time and resources into one solution nevertheless, the speaker excitedly showed graphs, charts and quoted studies from experts in the field who claimed the big elephant in the room was refusing to discuss marriage as a program the state should push to alleviate childhood poverty. Keep in mind that by promoting "marriage" they mean a traditional marriage between a man and a woman and I commented at my table that this no doubt meant the wife should be submissive as well to make sure there was one head of the family as the bible commands. Crickets ...

The protesters knew the Town Hall meeting was all window dressing because Brownback has shown little regard for childhood poverty by cutting funds for public school education, tried to cut Head Start, cut funding for residential mental health programs for adolescents and rejected 31.5 million in federal grant money for health exchanges even as 75,000 children in Kansas are estimated to be without health insurance.

Instead of acknowledging or discussing how Brownback has actually caused more hardship for children in the state, the Town Hall Meeting was a state orchestrated propaganda to push for millions of faith based dollars to promote marriage in Kansas.
The protesters decided to make sure the crowd had an alternative point of view expressed. A group of some 10-15 protesters stood with their backs to the speaker at the end of his address and then began to read a prepared statement in unison to the assembled group about all the programs Brownback has cut that have harmed the children of the state.

When the protesters were finished, they walked peacefully out of the room but not before some four to five police officers came rushing in as if terrorists were on the loose. I was sitting at a table near the entrance and I was alarmed over how serious and determined the police seemed to be as they came into the room. As one officer passed my table, I heard him say something about finding the ringleader or getting the leader. I never imagined these officers would be so brutal in their treatment to one protester in particular.

It should be noted for the record that there were some tall men protesting that day. However, the Wichita police officers decided to pick on the short women.

That's right; the Wichita police arrested 61-year-old Doris Gent (Ravenfeather) a Native American woman who happens to have a disabled child at home and a husband who has been laid off from work.

This 'dangerous citizen' was duly thrown into the wall at the Drury Hotel, with her arm pulled up so violently and twisted from behind that the next day she had to visit Wesley Hospital's Emergency Room. She has bruises on her arm and a strained neck. She was given pain killers and told she would feel a lot worse before she got better.

Doris explained they were peacefully walking out and preparing to leave the hotel, when she noticed one of the protesters with an officer. She went over to the woman to comfort her and placed her hand on the woman's arm and said to the officer, "Why are you doing this? We are all leaving." That's when she suddenly felt her arm being twisted out of its socket and felt herself nearly turned upside down as she was slammed into the wall.

Yes, Doris sure sounds like a person trying to obstruct justice and a threat to public safety.

Doris said she was in shock and when the officer had her twisted up like a pretzel she suddenly heard him asking her if "she understood" and she didn't but she said she did just to get him to stop yelling at her. Once she realized they had mistaken her for another protester they were after, it didn't matter. The arresting officer was determined to take her in on the obstruction of justice charge.

Doris was allowed to make one phone call and phoned her husband. She told him not to bail her out and then discovered she would not need to be bailed out but would be released and have to appear in court on December 8th. Doris does not have a cell phone, and had no money in her purse. She asked if she could call her husband again and they pointed her to the pay phone. She explained she had no money and the officer shrugged. They escorted her out of the building where she was forced to walk to the corner of Douglas and Broadway as it was getting dark, hoping that some Occupy Wall Street protesters might still be standing on the corner. Luckily, for Doris there were, and she borrowed a cell phone to finally call her husband for help.

It was clear that someone called the police and wanted these protesters made an example of and to intimidate and put a chill in any future designs about protesting or challenging the decisions made by elected officials in Kansas.

It is interesting to note that for years and years in Wichita, anti-abortion protesters virtually ruled the city by harassing Dr.Tiller and his staff and blocking the entrance to his clinic without one person ever being thrown to the ground violently and arrested. I was lectured by the City Attorney of Wichita about First Amendment freedoms. Gary Rebenstorf said in the most condescending tone, "Haven't you heard of freedom of speech?" [No, Gary totally missed that amendment.]

Looks like the city of Wichita only promotes, defends, and protects freedom of speech when it fits THEIR political agenda. Freedom of speech however, will be upheld for the anti-abortion forces, the Governor and his henchmen but for everyone else,freedom of speech is relative, and will only be protected depending upon which side of the ideological line you stand.


You mean to tell me there were no 'concealed carry' folks there to protect the public from abuse of the Police State? When is someone going to print the account of Brownback's 'burning bush' experience where he got his call to rescue the wealthy conservatives and pious religious folks from their hard driving taskmasters (the sick, poor, disabled misfits of society)?

Vicky, thanks for addressing this issue and keep us informed of further developments.

What did the 'Wichita Eagle' report on this incident? I used to subscribe to that paper, before the USPS management changed the system so that the paper was 2 days stale before it got in my mailbox. Or was that just an excuse that the liberal left wing publisher used to explain why our paper was always a day or two late?

This is a little off the subject, but can anyone explain to me why; a first class letter mailed Thursday afternoon in the Colby Post Office (just 15 miles from my mail box) gets routed to Wichita for stamp cancelation and finally arrives in my mail box Monday morning, four days later? This has happened twice, lately. Any wonder why they are losing 1st class mail business? The Pony Express got mail clear across the state faster than that!

Vickie--Thanks for this account of what happened. It sure wasn't covered much in the Eagle. Some letters to the editor are in order, I think.

This takes me back several years ago, when some of us from the Peace Center went to demonstrate at Rock Road and 21st, a busy intersection. Eventually cops showed up and told us we couldn't be there. I told the female officer that we could and I reminded her that the antis were allowed to stand in the median on Kellogg when they harassed patients at Dr. Tiller's clinic. They finally went away and left us alone. By that point, I had done enough demonstrating to know the law and I knew those cops didn't have a leg to stand on.

I do hope Doris is able to get good help with the attorney she's hired. I don't know if she's planning a lawsuit, but that seems to be in order as well.


Ken--I've heard on the news that the USPS has shut down the postal sorting centers in the smaller towns and consolidated everything in the cities. That may account for the mail holdup.


Vicky, if guys like me don't quit griping about mail service, they'll probably send the swat team out to quell our disturbance. I'll try to keep it just under the radar to keep that from happening. We don't want things to get plumb out of hand like Syria, Egypt, etc.

Diane, that is exactly what they are doing. ("shut down the postal sorting centers in the smaller towns and consolidated everything in the cities") Will it eventually wind up being one central location that all mail has to come to and then be dispersed back out where it came from? Divide the country into 7 pieces of pie and deliver weekly. One section gets mail on Monday, another on Tuesday, -- They'll have to head out a couple days ahead of delivery day, since it will take at least a couple days to reach the end of the main delivery route. If they only deliver one day per week, they only need to pick up one day per week. They might have to organize a convoy of mail trucks to get it all their on the same day. But, anything is possible if you put your mind to it. We shouldn't complain, out here. After all, it took a week or two to get correspondence from family, back east, when our forefathers settled this god forsaken wilderness. If we don't know any better than to live here, we don't deserve timely mail service.

Maybe one the brilliant strategists needs to infiltrate UPS headquarters and find out what 'logistics' means and how to reduce duplication and loading, reloading, etc.

Call out the Pony Express! :-) I love the USPS, but I live in Wichita and everything gets delivered in a timely manner here. A couple of my friends work at the post office and I know they had to take a speed test to work there. I do feel for you, though.

In the meantime, stay away from the swat team.

Vickie--I posted your blog to my home page and I'm getting a ton of responses. To say people are angry is an understatement.

Ken, I'm afraid I don't have the answer to your mail question but I can tell you that I did contact the Eagle the minute I was made aware of this situation and provided the Eagle with the info about what happened to Doris. So far, silence. Perhaps they have someone working on a follow-up story but after several days of nothing in the paper, I decided I better get the ball rolling on what happened to Doris. It is an important story and newspapers should be interviewing Doris and making this story known to Kansans.

Vickie, thank you so much for taking the time to report this incident, and for including names and facts. This is citizen journalism at its finest.

Vickie--Who did you contact at the Eagle? I thought I might send your blog to Dion Leffler to see if he was interested in it.

Pamela--Alice Powell still would like to blog for Kansas Free Press. If you contact me, I can let you know how to get in touch with her.

Steve Jobs. Albert Einstein. Thomas Edison. Benjamin Franklin. People who poured all their creative and scientific energy into changing the world, not protesting it. Don't waste time Occupying Wall Street and city parks. Occupy Your Life. Change the world for the better.

Conditions in Steve Jobs' factory in China were so bad that workers were jumping out of windows to commit suicide. Instead of using some of his 8.3 billion dollar fortune to improve working conditions, Jobs had grates put on the windows to keep the workers from jumping out.

Albert Einstein was an advocate for peace. This was after he left Germany to escape the Nazi atrocities.

It's always helpful to look beyond the surface. If people didn't protest, nothing would ever change.

People forget that the Revolutionary War was a huge protest against King George and his policies. We need to remember our history.

What do you do for a living? Do you have a vocation or are you just occupying a slot in the workforce? Does someone else tells you where to checkin, what time to start and what time to quit? What exactly are you doing to change the world, other than protest the opinions of Everyday Citizens writers? (Oh my, not you! You’re not trying to change opinions!) Do you serve in any political positions that set public policy? Are you active in any service clubs? Do you participate in decisions made by the laity in your religious organization? Or, do you just dutifully attend and respond to the set liturgy and put a little change in the plate when it passes by? I don’t know you personally and I am not making judgment. Just wondering.

We can’t all be scientists, inventors, etc. Many of the great contributors to society have been physically passive thinkers and motivators. Early Christian martyrs were actively protesting the status quo in the religious organization of their day. Some were considered a threat to the political powers because they had the fortitude to protest what they considered evil government actions. The Boston Tea Party participants staged a major protest and disruption, that had a significant influence that encouraged political leaders in the Colonies to protest against government policies handed down by the Mother Country. Those protests, finally, succeeded in starting the Revolutionary War and we gained our freedom from the oppressors. The Whisky Rebellion changed government policy. We have had civil protests from the very beginning of our constitutional government. The slave trade and the system of servitude was finally changed, because someone organized protests.

Some of the honored saints in your religious organization never produced goods to pay the bills for the organization. And they, quite frankly, lived on the charity, (forced sometimes) of the lay people. Some have their honors recognized because they served the spiritual and emotional needs of the people. Not often did they get elevated to sainthood, but some were active protestors within the system.

I think the possibility is great that desperate factory workers in China are jumping out of windows because of totalitarianism there, not because of a greedy, uncaring Steve Jobs.

There’s a big difference between violent, chaotic protesting (OWS) and peaceful, colorful rally cries for our government to re-focus on the Constitution (Tea Party).

Eight personal questions in one paragraph – wow, I think that’s a bit much. Maybe it would be less complicated if you would just pass judgment!

FYI: OWS update – the protest that is demanding more out of the wealthiest, successful Americans is costing local taxpayers nation-wide at least $13 million in police overtime and sanitation services. (As the sign says that we have all seen off the side of the road – “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”)

Those eight personal questions cover activities that anyone can do, they don't have to be geniuses, scientists, inventors, etc.

And, by the way, the wealthy CEOs and their corporations demonstrate quite well, with their dollars that pay the lobbiests to argue their issues. Very few of the OWS people or even the Tea Party demonstrators have the money to influence congress or the administration.

We don't know where you are in the chain of command of your business. If you are working for a big corporation and you are in the lower ranks, the big boys are making 30 or 40 times the money you are. If you're one of the big boys, of course, you are making the big bucks. But, what can the big boys do without the input and work of the lower ranks? Those spreads in compensation have been steadily widening for decades.

How long before a Moses comes along and leads the workers out and what then will the big boys do?

Why did Steve Jobs, the great American hero, move his manufacturing to China anyway? And don't tell me it was because he didn't want to deal with the unions here. He simply didn't want to pay workers a living wage.

As for peaceful protests, hey, the American Revolution was really, really peaceful. I've also witnessed first-hand those tea baggers engaging in violent rhetoric, not to mention a few instances of violent behavior. The OWS folks are overwhelmingly peaceful.

Funny, it would make sense that an editor’s job is to monitor and delete profanity and abusive ad hominems – not the truth. Never mind, I just remembered something. It was pointed out to me a while ago that there is a nagging little double-standard here at this site.

Ken, You mention the disparity in what CEO's make vs. the common worker.

Ok, I'm with you on that one. My question is why dont the democrats you support do something about it? The one REAL democrat (one I was ready to vote for) who actually would have done something was Dennis Kucinich and he gets pushed aside by the democratic establishment in favor of democrats their either favor the rich (ex. John Kerry) or are easily manipulated talking head (Obama).

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