Concerned DC Citizen Writes the U.S. Park Police

Our spirits have been bolstered by the amount of support we have received so far. We very much appreciate the blog posts, donations, and letters. We hope you’ll keep them coming because we are just some concerned citizens against a government with unlimited resources. The following e-mail was cc’d to us and it’s well worth sharing. The author does a wonderful job of illustrating the absurd situation the U.S. Park Police caused by arresting the Jefferson 1 for simply asking “why?”

to Dwight_Pettiford@nps.gov
cc Mary_Bomar@nps.gov, Joe_Lawler@nps.gov
date Fri, Apr 18, 2008 at 11:11 PM

subject Oberwetter arrest

Dear Chief Pettiford,

I am writing as a private citizen to express my concerns over the arrest of Ms. Brooke Oberwetter at the Jefferson Memorial last weekend. For the record, I do not know Ms. Oberwetter nor any of the individuals who were in her group, nor am I affiliated with any organization. I am just writing as a six-year resident of the District of Columbia who visits NPS sites regularly with my family. (I found your contact information via NPS.gov, since the United States Park Police website seems to have no information on online contacts.)

All I know about the Oberwetter arrest comes from media reports and the video of the incident now available online, so the facts I am about to recount may not be fully accurate. However, there are so many troubling aspects of this incident that I felt compelled to contact you.

The group of which Ms. Oberwetter was a part seems to have been small enough to not need a permit to gather, nor were they making noise. However, if reports are accurate, within moments of their arrival, Park Police personnel were loudly confronting them, in some cases using obscene language despite the presence of other visitors. They also reportedly made physical contact with some of Ms. Oberwetter’s friends within minutes of the group’s arrival. Ms. Oberwetter, as video shows, was swaying quietly when she was confronted by a guard who said, “Exit, exit, exit. Lady, I’m not going to tell you again.” As you may know, and as I suspect NPS Director Bomar knows, it is generally considered sexist to refer to a woman as “lady” these days. Asked what rule she was violating, Ms. Oberwetter was told, “Exit, exit now,” which is a nonsequitur at best. When she asked, “It’s against the rules to dance?” she was told, “Yes it is. Read the sign inside the memorial. It says ‘Quiet.'” When Ms. Oberwetter pointed out that she was being quiet, the guard replied, “You’re dancing in here. That’s disorderly.” It seems like he had simply decided Ms. Oberwetter must be violating some rule, and he was just going to go down the list until he found one that fit.

After Ms. Oberwetter was arrested, one of her friends told a police officer that this incident reflect poorly, to which the police officer responded, “F*** the record.” When one of the group quoted this back to the officer, the officer chastised him for using foul language, even though he was merely quoting him back! What kind of hypocrisy is that?

According to the Washington Post (April 16, B1), the USPP “say the group was violating a federal law that prohibits disturbances in the sanctuaries of hallowed memorials.” Fair enough, if that is the case. But by using obscene language at the very beginning of their interactions with Ms. Oberwetter’s group, were not USPP personnel, who are paid to be there, creating a disturbance, showing disrespect, and sullying the sanctuary of a hallowed memorial?

Finally, as I understand it, Ms. Oberwetter stands accused of “interfering with an agency function.” But if the “agency function” was the act of trying to clear a crowd that may not have been committing a violation, isn’t that a bit of a Catch-22 — to be guilty of interfering with something that should not have been happening in the first place? More disturbing is the possibility that Ms. Oberwetter’s simply asking USPP personnel why she was being confronted could be considered “interfering.”

Now, I do not wish to be overly harsh. I can imagine that if I was the security guard in question, and I saw a group of 20 individuals descend on the site I was protecting at a few minutes before midnight, then begin dancing (albeit quietly), I would be alarmed and would question them. But if reports are accurate, your personnel did not question them to find out their intentions and how long they planned to stay. Instead, the guards used obscene language and physical force. Would it not have made more sense to just talk to the group first?

The Oberwetter arrest may not be a major civil rights violation, but I have found myself deeply bothered by it. I have twin three-year-old sons. We go to the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials quite frequently. I have video of them dancing inside the Lincoln Memorial when they were less than two years old. I ask you, not meaning it facetiously: Were my sons committing a crime? Should I worry the next time we visit that they may be arrested?

Sincerely yours,
[Concerned Citizen]
Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.

Thank you for your letter. Please rest assured that if the U.S. Park Police attempts to arrest your adorable twin sons we will stand ready to free the “Lincoln 2!”

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