Gwen Frisbie-Fulton and Justin Goodpaster did not attend the March 20 protest against the Iraq war at the Circle with any intention of clashing with police. They planned to express their dissent through chanting, drumming, waving signs and holding a candlelight vigil.
Fourteen protesters were arrested before the day’s end, including Frisbie-Fulton and Goodpaster, though they were the only two to be charged — with resisting law enforcement, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine — and brought to trial.
Frisbie-Fulton was arrested in the midst of confusion that ensued when a mounted patrol officer knocked over a large bucket that protesters were drumming on, which hit two protesters in the face, causing them to bleed. Frisbie-Fulton testified that she stepped in to find out what was going on, was warned by Indiana War Memorial police officer Scott Ralph to step back and then was pushed to the ground and arrested. Goodpaster, worried that Frisbie-Fulton would be stepped on while she was on the ground, laid his body over hers to try to protect her, at which point he was also arrested.
However, during their July 8 trial, Ralph’s testimony changed substantially from the version of events recorded in his arrest report. He now maintained that Goodpaster had attacked him by jumping on his back, although several protesters who witnessed the incident testified that this claim was untrue. “I think they were trying to play on stereotypes [of protesters], and I was surprised that they thought they could do that under oath,” Frisbie-Fulton says. “It raised concerns with me beyond our case about exaggerating the truth under oath as a law enforcement officer. How often does this happen?”
Judge Barbara Collins quickly found both protesters not guilty. For Frisbie-Fulton — a social worker who works closely with the local court system — their arrests, and that of Carl Rising-Moore during President Bush’s visit to Indianapolis in May, elicit questions about whether the First Amendment rights of protesters are being increasingly infringed in Indianapolis, and around the country.
“Demonstrations, civil disobedience and dissent are what make democracy, and they’re what made our country,” Frisbie-Fulton notes. “I’m alarmed about this general criminalizing of dissent in the justice system, and this general public feeling of people not having the right to dissent or express their views in a public forum. We shouldn’t be suspect — we were just participating in democracy.”
Frisbie-Fulton says she, Goodpaster and Rising-Moore may have been made examples of to discourage others from protesting in the future. “Any time an arrest on such a non-violent and minute accusation — which wasn’t even held up in court — can be prosecuted, the only explanation for that is that they’re trying to cripple or disable what they fear is a growing activist community,” she says.
Greg Bowes, Carl Rising-Moore’s attorney, expressed concerns that his client and other activists were being arrested and brought to trial for minor or unsubstantiated offenses. Rising-Moore was accused of striking a police officer when he ran alongside the Bush motorcade waving a United Nations flag, and found not guilty after 40 minutes of deliberation.
“In this case and other cases, police were very quick to make an arrest,” says Bowes, who believes Rising-Moore should have been stopped by police to determine whether he posed a danger to the president, and then released, rather than prosecuted. “Why would they waste the time of the judge, the court staff and seven jurors, to try a case that did not amount to a crime?” wonders Bowes, who suggests that future protesters video or photograph their activities as evidence to be used in their defense in case they are arrested.
“We have service men and women in Iraq right now who are fighting for our ideal of democracy and freedom,” Frisbie-Fulton says. “They’re not fighting for a place where people can’t peacefully demonstrate. They’re not fighting for a place where dissenting views are ignored.”