Women’s March On The Pentagon: We Refuse To Pay To Protest
The day before Thanksgiving, Cindy Sheehan, co-coordinator of the recent Women’s March on the Pentagon* (WMOP) was presented with a $540 bill for “police escort” by the Arlington County (Virginia) Police Department (ACPD).
Beginning in July, leadership of WMOP began taking steps to secure permits from the two jurisdictions that the WMOP would take on October 21st (51st anniversary of the March on the Pentagon during the Vietnam War): Arlington County (brief march) and the Pentagon. Although WMOP eventually obtained a permit from the Pentagon, WMOP was never able to obtain a permit from Arlington County and many phone messages left by DC area Co-ordinator Malachy Kilbride were never returned by the ACPD.
On the day of the March, about 1500 people gathered at the Pentagon City Metro station (for a 12pm March start) in front of the mall and at about 10:30am, to the surprise of March organizers, ACPD showed up and did stop traffic for the brief March through Arlington County.
The organizers of the WMOP are outraged and appalled by this obvious violation of our First Amendment rights to gather “peaceably” and demonstrate one of the sacrosanct rights to our Freedom of Speech.
The DC area co-ordinator for the WMOP Malachy Kilbride had this to day upon receipt of the bill: “As a former resident of Arlington County of over 20 years I am disturbed that the county is following in the footsteps of the Trump Administration which wants to charge people for First Amendment activity. Shame on Arlington County! The First Amendment is priceless and shouldn’t be monetized.”
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF)* the D.C. based non-profit legal organization that works to protect and advance the constitutional rights of protestors has issued the following letter to the ACPD on behalf of the Women’s March on the Pentagon:
Chief Jay Farr
Lt. John Feden
Arlington County Police Department
1425 North Courthouse Rd. Arlington, VA 22201
Dear Chief Farr and Lt. Feden:
We are writing on behalf of Cindy Sheehan in response to Lt. John Feden’s e-mail correspondence dated November 21, 2018.
The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) has issued an invoice to Ms. Sheehan seeking to charge her for engaging in constitutionally protected First Amendment activities. Specifically, the invoice is stated to be “for the police services we provided October 21st during the March On the Pentagon,” and demands $540.00 for what is described as “police escort for The Women’s March on the Pentagon.”
This attempt to tax free speech is without lawful basis and violates Ms. Sheehan’s constitutional rights. We request that this invoice be immediately withdrawn.
Ms. Sheehan did not request police “services,” nor was she given prior notice that the ACPD intended to send police to the demonstration and charge her for their time. At no time did Ms. Sheehan agree to pay for any such charges.
Indeed, the ACPD actually refused to respond to Ms. Sheehan’s efforts to coordinate the First Amendment activities with them. An application for a permit was submitted for the March and thereafter, Arlington Country was nonresponsive to follow up efforts. After failing and refusing to return phone calls regarding the March, the ACDP appeared at the Pentagon City mall in front of the metro stop entrance at the starting point for the march, well before the march was scheduled to step off. At that time Ms. Sheehan expressed her surprise at their presence given their refusal to communicate with the March organizers.
The ACPD may not charge demonstrators for First Amendment activities at its own discretion. We are requesting that the ACPD provide all policy documents, guidelines, and criteria that the department relies upon in assessing charges on demonstration activities as well as any notice it believes was given to Ms. Sheehan of such policies and procedures.
We further request that the ACPD issue instructions to personnel consistent with constitutional obligations to ensure that organizers of demonstration activity are not improperly charged in the future.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard (PCJF)
The Women’s March on the Pentagon adamantly refuses to pay for this appalling violation of our constitutional rights.
*The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is a free speech and civil rights organization that has defended First Amendment rights for over 20 years in Washington, D.C. and around the country. It is currently challenging the Trump Administration’s proposed anti-protest rules that would levy potentially bankrupting fees and costs on demonstrators who engage in constitutionally protected free speech on public parkland in the nation’s capital. More information at www.JusticeOnline.org
*(Women’s) March on the Pentagon is a women-led coalition of activists, professionals, military veterans, and everyday citizens of the world with one thing in common: we are anti-imperialist. More info can be found at: www.marchonpentagon.com