WICHITA, Kan. - On August 3rd, 2012 in Municipal Court in Wichita, the case against grandmother and citizen activist Doris Lynn Crouse Gent (Ravenfeather) on a charge of obstruction of justice, was finally adjudicated.
As Doris attempted to leave the Drury Hotel with other activists on November 16th after protesting Governor Brownback's Town Hall Meeting on childhood poverty, Doris allegedly grabbed and/or pulled the arm of a police officer who was holding another activist. City police arrested her on a charge of obstructing justice.
The activist at the center of this storm is Susan Schoket. Susan was stopped by Officer Creighton who physically held her arm as she attempted to walk out the door. Creighton said he did not know why he was asked to provide backup at the Drury Hotel nor did he know why he was asked to detain Susan. As Susan was being held, other activists were making their way to the door to leave.
Doris was one of those activists. She was accused of coming up and trying to interfere in Susan's situation by pulling her away from the officer. During the trial, Susan adamantly testified that Doris never touched the police officer in any way, nor grabbed Susan's arm to pull her away from the officer. Susan did admit that she and Doris were loud in telling the office they had done nothing wrong and were leaving.
As Creighton was holding Susan's arm, and Doris was speaking to Officer Creighton, Officer Wright came up quickly from behind, grabbed Doris and slammed her into a pillar. As readers recall from an earlier story posted, Doris ended up going to Wesley Hospital where she was treated for a sprained neck.
An infamous photo shows the officer cuffing Doris even as she was dazed and confused about why the officer was grabbing her and trying to pick up her coat and purse that had fallen to the ground. During the trial, the prosecutor claimed she was resisting arrest-which was a new allegation that Doris must have been surprised to hear. If she were resisting arrest, why was she not charged for this as well?
As for Susan Schoket, obviously the judge did not believe her testimony was credible - or in layman's terms - he thought she was lying. With the conclusion of the defense witnesses, the judge quickly ruled in favor of Officer Wright who maintained that as he came up behind Doris with his 6'7" 200 lb towering frame to arrest the 5'1 grandmother, he was just doing his job to stop Doris from interfering with the other officer's actions. Of course, when the defense asked Officer Wright if he felt threatened, or if the other officer had felt threatened or had asked Wright for help, he said simply, "No."
It begs the question: "Why did the officer interfere and interfere with such force?" Several other questions were never answered in this trial. Who called the police to the hotel in the first place? Who called for back-up and why? In essence, who relayed to the police force that this peaceful protest was to be quashed?
Any reasonable observer would have to conclude that in this case, the police officer in question clearly overreacted and used poor judgment. To protect his actions, he came up with the convenient and phony charge of obstruction of justice to hide his rash behavior.
The judge did not see it that way. Judge Abbott quickly and without much regard for the testimony from defense witnesses in support of Ms. Gent, fined the defendant $50 dollars on a charge of obstruction of justice.
The judge announced it necessary to provide a civics lesson to the defense attorney for daring to compare Doris' actions to Dr. Martin Luther King who said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." Defense attorney Jon McConnell passionately argued that Doris was following in the long tradition of other Americans who speak out against injustice but instead, was brutally arrested and assaulted for no credible reason.
The judge used the power of his bench to demean the defense's plea with the most alarming statement of the entire two hour trial. Judge Abbott said that Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King always understood they were breaking the law and could be arrested. Therefore the judge implied that Doris must have understood she could not just protest and expect to walk out the doors of the Drury Hotel and skip home free as a member of Occupy Wichita. In other words, civil disobedience has its consequences.
This was news to Doris. She was not purposely or knowingly trying to create an act of civil disobedience in the likes of King and Gandhi but simply exercising her freedom of speech. She simply wished to protest a public policy without having any intentions of breaking any laws.
In essence, the judge ruled that Doris should have assumed she could be arrested in America, just like in any totalitarian state for speaking out, and that was her mistake for not understanding this fact.
The irony of the judge's remark is that Doris was not even a member of Occupy Wichita and didn't even know the other protesters very well. She related to me that she didn't know there was to be a statement read in unison or fliers handed out.
She had simply attended the Town Hall meeting to see what kind of information the Heritage Foundation planned to discuss. When others began to stand at the end of the speaker's presentation with their backs to the speaker in silent protest, she made a fateful decision to stand in solidarity with this action. She never dreamed that after walking peacefully out of the meeting and planning to leave the hotel, her life was about to be turned upside down both figuratively and literally by Officer Wright's poor judgment.
The dangerous and faulty logic of Judge Abbott was certainly repugnant. Abbott could have reminded the officers in question that their first duty was to keep the peace and protect the public - not slam citizens into walls just because a few activists raised their voices. It was clear the judge did not want to hold Officer Wright accountable for his poor judgment. The judge did not wish to make the city vulnerable to a lawsuit by admitting the police used unnecessary force against Doris.
With Abbott's decision, the city of Wichita can collect it's money, the officers involved are exonerated and the Occupy Wichita people should be on high alert that exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble will get them arrested on whatever charge the police department can concoct.
Liberal citizens of Wichita should take heed. If you plan to protest and peacefully assemble, you run the risk of getting arrested. This may come as a surprise to most Americans who believe it is their constitutional right to stand up for something they believe in and be free from arrest if they have not harmed anyone or destroyed property.
There is a double standard in Wichita when it comes to the treatment of liberal versus conservative protesters. Tea Party, gun-toting, anti-abortion protesters have been viewed as noble crusaders here in Wichita. Anti-abortion protesters were protected for years by sympathetic WIchita officials and police. Operation Rescue was allowed to ignored the FACE Act and routinely demonized Dr.Tiller. They surrounded his clinic, harassed his patients, harassed his staff and of course, stalked Dr.Tiller in his own home and church. Yes, for years the "truth truck" appeared all over Wichita in the name of free speech spreading a message of hate against Dr.Tiller. But goodness, those upstanding, moral public officials were just so sorry when an anti-abortion protester entered Dr.Tiller's church and assassinated him.
Ultimately, Judge Abbott ruled that City Hall would not abide by the socialist rabble of Occupy Wichita who dared to challenge the status quo and make officials within the Brownback Administration look ridiculous.
Doris never had a chance in Municipal Court . Thanks to her tenacity and determined spirit, Doris showed she would not be bullied into silence and demanded her day in court against her accusers. She stood up against injustice and in today's mad world, it is a victory she can cherish.