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Mendelson challenger rips detention of White House protesters

If someone chains himself or herself to the gate of the White House, undoubtedly distracting the Secret Service and police from efforts to protect the president and his family, do they deserve to spend at least one night in jail?

Clark E. Ray, who is challenging Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) in the September Democratic primary, apparently doesn't think so.

Ray, who is gay, sent out a statement Thursday night blasting police for arresting Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo at the White House Thursday after they chained themselves to the White House fence to protest the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward homosexuals.

Choi is an Iraq war veteran. Pietrangelo is a former U.S. Army captain. Both are gay.

A U.S. Park Police spokesman told a Washington Post reporter Thursday that Choi and Pietrangelo were arrested after they failed to abide by three warnings to leave.

But Ray questioned why Choi and Pietrangelo were detained overnight at the city jail, a fairly common practice when someone is arrested in the District, even on minor charges.

"It should be obvious that both men will willingly appear in court and should not be forced to spend a night in jail for their principled nonviolent act of protest," Ray said in a statement. "At times like these, we should be reminded of Dr. King's warning to be wary of those more devoted to order than to justice."

In April 2009, 91 protesters -- including some using wheelchairs -- were arrested after they chained themselves to the White House fence to draw attention to proposed legislation dealing with long-term care alternatives. Instead of being detained, those protesters were given written citations, according to the Associated Press.

-- Tim Craig

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  March 19, 2010; 11:09 AM ET
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Can the bias in this article be more obvious? Why, in a piece featuring a poll, would the author choose to prejudice the reader in the FIRST PARAGRAPH with the phrase "...undoubtedly distracting the Secret Service and police from efforts to protect the president and his family..."? The author's bias in favor of incarceration of activists who choose to chain themselves to the White House fence is further reinforced by the following sentence: "But Ray questioned why Choi and Pietrangelo were detained overnight at the city jail, a fairly common practice when someone is arrested in the District, even on minor charges."

If the author is writing an opinion piece, then these kinds of unsupported assertions (how does he know that overnight incarceration is a fairly common practice? Upon what is this assertion based? Is the Secret Service really distracted by this kind of common protest activity? Is someone handcuffed to a fence somehow more threatening to the President than someone handcuffed in a police cruiser?) might be acceptable. However in a piece that is allegedly soliciting the readers' opinions, I don't think these kinds of assertions and attempts to prejudice the reader are acceptable.

Posted by: kevin829 | March 19, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Kevin, don't let it worry you that a "poll" was attached to a possibly biased story. These polls are completely unscientific with nothing but entertainment value. Like these comments pages, the polls are just meant to give the reader an illusion of participation in an event or story.

I didn't notice the same level of bias in the story that you did. I came away feeling, if anything, that it was biased toward less or no jail time. The Martin Luther King quotation is powerful, as is the example of the April 2009 incident. If written citations are acceptable in certain instances, why not most or all cases?

Posted by: Menidia | March 19, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

This is as poorly written and poorly reasoned a piece as I have EVER seen in the Post. And I would fire any writer who would dare to include a poll that is a complete non sequitir to the article. (Yes, I have edited many a script.)

No one has been tried or found guilty of anything here - yet. The question of jail time for the OFFENSE should at the conclusion of a trial, should they plead guilty or be found guilty.

The question here is about equal treatment for people CHARGED BUT NOT YET CONVICTED of the same offense.

I don't care if they're gay servicemembers, activists in wheelchairs, tea party members, or birthers, they should be treated equally when charged with the same offense. And if 91 people demanding better long term care were freed on bail when charged with the same offense, then these folks should have been as well.

It's up to judges and juries to decide who is guilty and who should spend time in jail. The Constitution provides for bail and a speedy trial, and for equal justice for all.

The fact that the Post writers can't fathom the difference between detention and sentencing boggles the mind.

Posted by: observer9 | March 19, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Apparently Clark E. Ray thinks gays deserve special treatment. What would get everyone else a night in jail shouldn't apply tio gays. Mr Ray, I know you are thinking of running for the council but you don't have to drop your pants and bend over to get the gay vote.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | March 19, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Just electrify the fence next time. That'll learn 'em.

Posted by: bs2004 | March 19, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

When someone presents themselves for arrest in an act of civil disobedience, they are -- or should be -- fully prepared to spend some time in jail. Otherwise the moral force of their action is dissipated. Usually in Washington, these actions are planned out in advance with the knowledge and even the cooperation of the relevant police agencies. With such planning, and assuming a reasonably early arrest, it's not difficult to process protestors out of the holding cell before the end of the day. In this case, though, it seems that the Federal Protective Service was not notified prior to the action, and the action took place a bit later in the afternoon, so it's not particularly surprising that the arrestees wound up spending the night in jail. No, even one night in jail isn't very pleasant. But those who engage in civil disobedience are -- or should be -- prepared to endure it in order to make their case.

Speaking as someone who has engaged in civil disobedience and gone to jail 8 times for it (mostly for glbt-related actions, but also against apartheid), I admire and applaud the courage of the arrestees in this case, even though I'm not sure the timing or execution of the action was as carefully thought out as it should have been. But still they are right to set the moral bar high and demand an end to the discriminatory treatment of our dedicated glbt army, navy, marine, air force and coast guard personnel.

Posted by: DeaconMac | March 19, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Clark Ray is looking for a few free headlines to help his sinking campaign. As a DC voter who has not voted for Mendelson in the past, I am still not persuaded that Ray offers me anything other than he is not Mendelson.

Anyways, the two Vets are out of jail, Ray will sink again from the headlines and reporter Craig will need to find another non-issue to write about.

Posted by: NewEra | March 19, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I support the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." I also don't doubt that these men expected to spend the night in jail when they chained themselves to the White House gate. In the quest for equal rights, a night in jail is a badge of honor. With that being said, jimof1913 is clearly a small-minded bigot who mindlessly provides a base for dimwits like Sarah Palin.

Posted by: jimestw | March 20, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Since this is a blog piece and not straight reporting, I'll cut the author some slack.

But it's unforgiveable to propagate the meme that it's the police's job to decide if you "deserve" jail time for "distracting them from their important job."

A reporter's job is to educate, to enlighten, not to sensationalistically plant Fascist urban legends about how police also now serve as judge and jury for the newly invented crime of "wasting a cop's time".

Posted by: 12008N1 | March 20, 2010 1:05 AM | Report abuse

I agree it is a poorly written piece. My question is, On what charges are these arrested people charged with?

There is no law against chaining oneself to the White House fence. There are trespassing laws, but they are only enforceable if the property is posted "No Trespassing." The White House has no No Trespassing signage. So, the people should not be arrested for chaining themselves to the fence.

The same applies to those who occasionally jump the White House fence. They are arrested for trespassing, but -- since there is no explicit signage -- they should not be, if they obey commands to leave the property once spotted.

If they White House does not want people jumping the fence, and does not want people chaining themselves to the fence, they should put up "No Trespassing" signs.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | March 20, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Ray could get more votes if he basically prostituted himself. Obama, Ried and Pelosi are all doing the exact same thing to get health care reorder passed.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | March 20, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

I don't know whether these guys should have been held overnight or not. We don't have enough information to compare these arrests with other arrests/citations for the same offense. Were there aggravating circumstances? Could they not have been arraigned sooner? Etc. We do know, from previous reporting, that they were warned by police and given the opportunity to avoid arrest, and declined it.

While their act certainly falls within the tradition of civil disobedience, and I fully support their cause, there is nevertheless a difference between civil disobedience that claims a right -- taking a seat on a bus or a lunch counter -- and civil disobedience that breaks a legitimate law unrelated to the grievance. It is hard to see what chaining oneself to the White House has to do with DADT, or, for that matter, anything. More to the point, such an act is so contrary to ideals of military discipline that it is unlikely to generate sympathy for Mr. Choi's personal effort to remain in the military, apart from the general debate on DADT.

As for Mr. Clark, he manages a nifty double pander, appealing both to his gay constituency and, by quoting Dr. King, his black one. Smooth move!

Posted by: Meridian1 | March 20, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Meridian1, I completely support full equality under the law for GLBT people, and I agree with you.

The Stonewall riots were, in my opinion, self defense. This was stupidity.

I wouldn't be too concerned, though. Scan the news media for accounts of GLBT soldiers, closeted or out (or outed) behaving like jackasses, and you won't find much. Two idiots are pretty thin gruel stacked against the exemplary conduct of most GLBT active and retired military personnel. May the Pentagon, Congress, and/or the President acknowledge this with a repeal of DADT, and darned soon.

Posted by: carlaclaws | March 20, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Clark Ray is hardly a profile in courage. Why didn't he get arrested when DADT, DOMA, and the HIV immigration ban were signed into law by his boss Bill Clinton?

Posted by: actupdc | March 22, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

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