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.