May 20, 2008

Guest Commentary: Freedom of speech in Louisville?

BY CAROL RAWERT TRAINERI am an Air Force veteran, 60-year-old grandmother, community volunteer and member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Louisville Peace Action Community. Last Memorial Day, I was arrested for exercising my free speech rights and protesting the Iraq War at the Abbey Road on the River Festival, which focuses on the Beatles and the Summer of Love. The event organizer explicitly approved my protest. The sheriff in charge of security knew this also.I have always believed in law and order and fully support law enforcement. I also believe in my right to speak out against my government when it is wrong. These beliefs are part of our democracy and freedom.On Memorial Day, these beliefs collided, and I needlessly spent 12 hours in jail. My release papers were approved by a judge and ready by the time I was booked at 6:30 p.m., but Metro Corrections kept me until 6 a.m. We still do not know why. I suspect they were trying to punish me for unsubstantiated charges, subsequently dismissed. In effect, I was guilty until proven innocent.I was peacefully demonstrating against the war. I had done this for four hours without a problem. I took a break, and within 15 minutes of my return, and coincidental with the Mayor’s arrival, I was confronted by the sheriff and a Metro police officer. Evidently, some did not like my message because it interfered with their enjoyment. They mangled and trashed my “End the War” sign. They complained to the sheriff, saying I harassed them, when it was the other way around. The sheriff, paid by the event organizer, grabbed my sign and I objected, asserting my permission to be there. I was, unnecessarily, roughly and rudely handled and handcuffed, because I demanded to know why my sign was taken and why I had to stop protesting. I had done nothing wrong. I also asked to talk to the mayor, who watched the police remove me, but the sheriff refused. As I approached the mayor, I pleaded with him to intervene since he had witnessed the event, but the police pulled me away. The mayor refused to do or say anything and later his office denied he was there. Some seem to think he may have asked the police to remove me. In any event, I was paraded and placed in front of several male tormenters, drinking beer, who made crude remarks and gestures while I was being manhandled by a sheriff and a Metro Police officer. The Metro Police officer was especially cruel and hurt me, jerking up my handcuffed arms behind me and stomping on my foot when I complained of his treatment. They permitted the harassment and permitted my sign to once again be trashed and placed in a waste basket. These statements can be substantiated with unequivocal photographs.At my preliminary hearing, two of the more serious charges were dismissed. I agreed to complete 40 hours of community service and a third charge of resisting arrest was dismissed on Sept. 17. My record will be expunged in two months.I remain proud that I stood up on Memorial Day, against the war. It is a patriotic duty to speak out against wrongs like the Iraq War. We need to remember our troops, especially on Memorial Day, by ensuring they are not put in harm’s way for a mistake at best and probably a lie. We must ensure that our troops are used only as a last resort and in the defense of our nation.Our police and justice systems need to prevent collisions between law enforcement and free speech. This is critical to our way of life. Our law enforcement systems need to ensure that protests are handled properly, and that just because a complaint is lodged, it’s not necessarily valid or sufficient probable cause to take away my right to protest. Couldn’t there have been a better way to handle this situation by the sheriff and Metro police? Why couldn’t they have stopped me after my break and talked to me and if necessary stopped me from re-entering the event? Why couldn’t they have waited until the band stopped playing? Why did they have to walk into the middle of a crowd, take my sign and remove me in front of a crowd? There was no “cry of fire in a crowded theater.” A macho grandstand play without a probable cause or imminent threat to anyone? Why 15 minutes after the mayor’s arrival did the arrest take place? Coincidence? Especially when the sheriff knew the event organizer had given permission to protest, and I had protested for four hours without any proactive management action to solve a possible problem?Freedom of speech is important, and you never know how important until it is taken away from you! It is a sad day for America that these rights are being trampled all over our country. Carol Rawert Trainer is a Louisville native. She lives in Prospect with her husband, USAF Major (Ret.) Harold Trainer.