“All men are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned: … The right of assembling together in a peaceable manner for their common good, and of applying to those invested with the power of government for redress of grievances or other proper purposes, by petition, address or remonstrance.”
— Kentucky Constitution
The picture conjured up images of the dark days of the past.
Peaceful protesters nose-to-nose with police officers in places like Selma and Birmingham and Little Rock and Greensboro.
But this wasn’t the 1950s or 1960s. And it wasn’t in the Deep South. It was Monday at the Kentucky state Capitol. And it was troubling.
Some 400 protesters from around the state had gone to Frankfort to rally against Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes that will make it harder for poor people to get Medicaid coverage and against his policies that threaten our environment and our water.
When they finished their rally outside the Capitol, the group tried to go inside for more speeches, which is a fairly common occurrence in a building built and inhabited by politicians.
But on this day, they were blocked at the door by stern-looking Kentucky State Police officers. Members of the Poor People’s Campaign were told they weren’t welcome there — in the people’s building that houses lawmakers, the state Supreme Court, and the governor himself.
Led by the Rev. William Barber II, a pastor from North Carolina and the cochairman of the organization, the group asked if members could simply enter the building to pray.
Not a chance.
Seems the state police, maybe in concert with the Bevin administration, had come up with a new rule designed to tamp down protests and make the people’s building off limits to those who disagree with their government.
Sounds pretty un-American.
Under the new rule, members of protest groups that don’t have permits to protest inside the Capitol will only be allowed inside the building in limited numbers. State police who guard the entrance will only let two people in at a time. And then two more people can go in after the first two leave. And so on.
Sgt. Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the state police, told The Associated Press on Monday that the new policy came about after protesters refused to leave and spent the night in the Capitol a few weeks ago.
Sit-ins are not unprecedented.
Back in 2011 activists protesting then-Gov. Steve Beshear’s environmental policies camped out in his office suite for a weekend. Then, state police reacted by allowing people to bring in blankets and pillows and, when pizza arrived after hours, let it to be delivered to the protesters.
No new rules. No authoritarian clamp down. No problem.
This time, however, the state police response was entirely inappropriate, overwrought, and counter to the spirit of the state’s constitution, which protects the “inherent and inalienable” rights of people to assemble and complain to their government.
That’s no surprise for an administration that is known for killing flies with sledgehammers.
But the policy, of which we’ve not seen a written copy, raises serious questions about how it is being implemented — questions the Bevin administration didn’t seem interested in answering Tuesday.
Woody Maglinger, the governor’s spokesman, didn’t respond to an email asking for comment. Neither did Blake Brickman, Bevin’s chief of staff.
Lawson didn’t respond to an email and messages left on his office phone and cell phone.
But what if I and two of my buddies show up at the Capitol wearing T-shirts that say “Matt Bevin Stinks?” Does that constitute a protest and does one of us have to stay outside?
What if our shirts say “Andy Beshear Stinks?” Are they going to let that slide and let us all in together?
Does anyone really expect the Bevin administration to stop abortion opponents from having an impromptu rally in the Capitol? Heck, Bevin would probably break away from his schedule and address such a gathering.
And what if a group from the National Rifle Association shows up with NRA hats on their heads and AR-15s strapped across their shoulders? Are they going to be allowed to roam the Capitol en masse as they were allowed to do before this policy took effect? Or are the Kentucky State Police going to determine that the words of the Poor People’s Campaign are more dangerous than the NRA’s guns.Are the Kentucky State Police going to determine that the words of the Poor People’s Campaign are more dangerous than the NRA’s guns?Click To Tweet
The image of a black pastor standing toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with a white trooper who was acting under orders to stop a protest was jarring, especially since Barber’s effort is an extension of the civil rights battles of the 1960s.
He has taken a page from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his assassination had begun what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, in which King tried to marry the interests of poor whites, blacks, and other people of color and create a social justice movement like this country had never seen before.
Come to think of it, that might be more dangerous to people like Bevin.
Written by Joe Gerth.
Reposted by permission from the Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.