On Tuesday and Wednesday, the pro-life group Created Equal protested the pro-abortion candidates at the second round of Democratic debates. Detroit Police prevented them from getting anywhere near the debates, however. At one point, police handcuffed Created Equal President Mark Harrington, threatening to arrest him for trespassing. Harrington claimed the group was treated more harshly than other protesters, was denied a space despite getting there first, and received unlawful threats. Harrington said he is considering legal action.
“By threat of arrest police compelled us to be penned up in nowhere land while more liberal protesters were permitted to express themselves undeterred,” Harrington said. “False accusations of trespass, disorderly conduct, and violating a legal order, among other equally spurious allegations, were used to bully us into submission. We are now evaluating our legal options in response to this blatant infringement of our First Amendment rights.”
Created Equal highlighted four specific statements from police: “Let it be unconstitutional, then.” “I can’t have a Boston bomber!” “You’re going to jail!” and “This is not Burger King” (apparently a reference to the slogan “have it your way”).
Over the course of both nights, protesters including Harrington attempted to stand as close to the debate arena as possible, but police directed them to go blocks away, where some other protesters stood essentially without an audience. The pro-lifers contested this, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly.
“What we encountered from Detroit police was nothing short of police state tactics used to censor our pro-life views. In the name of ‘safety,’ our rights were routinely violated several times by law enforcement eventually culminating in the handcuffing of Created Equal President Mark Harrington,” the organization said in a statement. “On at least four different occasions in the span of a few hours, our pro-life views were forcefully suppressed by Detroit police while other more politically correct speech was protected.”
At one point, an officer said his order to restrict the pro-lifers “came from on high,” perhaps suggesting that the authorities ordered police to single them out for adverse treatment.
“Created Equal supports law enforcement. We also understand that the government can place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech. However, those restrictions must be tailored in a way to be minimally restrictive to free expression. Resigning pro-life activists to an obscure and non-visible location is not reasonable or minimally restrictive,” the organization said.
PJ Media asked Harrington how he would respond to claims that police should separate different sides of a protest.
“Other protesters (people with signs) were allowed as you can see at the end of the video. And the group we were kept from joining in with were given the best spot despite us being there first. Separating the groups (if the groups can be defined) is commonly done. However, giving a preferred location to one group over the other is not lawful,” Harrington said.
He further argued that the police “gave other protesters liberties we were not given and when putting me under arrest the police did not give the requisite warnings. Threats of arrest for disorderly conduct, violating sound ordinances, trespass, resisting a direct order were levied unlawfully against us and no one else.”
The video references Michigan state code for each of these offenses, claiming that police did not have grounds to accuse pro-life protesters of any of these charges.
“More broadly – this event was like an armed camp. The ‘pen’ given to protesters was three city blocks from the Fox Theatre,” where the debate took place.
PJ Media reached out to Detroit Police for comment, but the department did not respond by press time.
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