Public Witness at the White House

Scenario

The following scenario may be subject to change.
Please read Why Nonviolent Civil Disobedience? and the Nonviolence Pledge in addition to the information below.

After the 7 p.m. CPWI ecumenical religious service at National City Christian Church, we will solemnly process approximately six blocks to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.

As we walk, we will be carrying loaves of bread: signs of repentance, reconstruction, and reconciliation that are symbolic of our call for a definitive new direction for a just and lasting peace in Iraq and here at home.

Entering the park, we will be directed to the stage where 12 baskets will be stationed. We will be invited to place our bread in these baskets. We will be invited to join in sacred chant (Taize chant, etc.).

We will then be welcomed by Rev. Raphael Warnock (Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia) who will, first, call those of us gathered there to repent of the US war and occupation in Iraq and, second, call on the US government to repent of this ongoing destruction. A statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoing this theme will be read.

Rev. Diana Gibson will then facilitate breaking and sharing of bread among those gathered.

This will be followed by our journey to the White House where will bring the twelve baskets of bread (symbols of repentance, reconstruction, and reconciliation). Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly will share a word about the importance and meaning of this act, and then lead us forward.

All participants will be invited to cross into Pennsylvania Avenue. Twelve individuals will carry the baskets into the street. In addition, one individual will carry a single loaf of bread.

We will move as a group to the gatehouse. The individual with the single loaf of bread will seek to have it received by a White House official. (A letter has been sent to President Obama explaining what we are doing and requesting that he receive this symbol of a new direction in Iraq.) If no official is forthcoming, it will be left at the gatehouse.

We will then form two semi-circles facing each other: the larger semi-circle will consist of people standing in Pennsylvania Avenue who have chosen not to risk arrest; the other semi-circle will consist of people who have chosen to risk arrest standing on the side walk in front of the White House in "arrestable" space (specifically, the "postcard space," about 25 feet directly in front of the White House between two lamp-posts).

We will maintain these two semi-circles until those risking arrest are detained. (They will likely be placed in police wagons and taken to a sub-station in the DC area – probably the National Park Police sub-station in nearby Anacostia.)

Then we will hold a closing circle in Pennsylvania Avenue of those not risking arrest, followed by a procession in which the 12 baskets of bread will be taken to nearby vehicles, which will then distribute the bread to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and other facilities in the DC area.

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Briefing

All those engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience are required to have taken nonviolence training, either prior to this event or by attending one of the trainings organized by Janet Chisholm and being held from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29 at National City Christian Church. From 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the church there will be a required final action gathering that will provide a scenario presentation, legal briefing, and additional information. All those planning to risk arrest — and their support persons — should plan to attend.

Legal Information

(Adapted from Witness Against Torture)

There are several different police jurisdictions on and around this federal property (the National Park Police, the DC Metro Police, or the Secret Service). It has been indicated that we will be dealt with that evening by the National Park Police.

CPWI will provide overall coordination of the post-arrest process, and work with all support persons as needed. We have contracted with an experienced lawyer to assist with this process.

After you are arrested

We have been told by the National Park Police that arrestees will be transported to a sub-station in the DC area (probably the National Park Police sub-station in Anacostia) where they will be booked (photographed, fingerprinted, and be asked for contact information) and offered a citation and release on one's own recognizance (barring there are no legal impediments like outstanding warrants, etc.).

The National Park Police has indicated that you will be offered the option to "post and forfeit," where you pay ("post") a set amount of money (in this case, the NPP has indicated that this will be $50.00) and forfeit the right to ever get the money back. It is not the same as a guilty plea, and does not become part of your record as it is not a criminal conviction. It is considered an administrative adjudication of your arrest, and is akin to receiving and paying a traffic ticket. The post and forfeit option officially ends the legal process after arrest, and those who choose it do not have to return for trial. If you are considering this option, you may want to carry as much as $100 with you so that you can "post and forfeit" that night. It would be most unusual for bail to be required.

If you want to exercise this option, you must carry a government-issued photo ID. It is recommended that you not carry valuables and anything extraneous.

While the above process may, in fact, be what takes place on April 29, one must understand that there is always the chance that things will change. In principle, those willing to risk arrest on April 29th should be prepared for arrest, temporary incarceration and possible court proceedings. Maximum sentences for convictions can involve community service, or jail for periods of up to 6 months, and/or fines up to $1000. These are maximum sentences, but our experience is that convicted nonviolent protesters receive a fine and/or community service.

While it is unlikely, you could be incarcerated and brought before a magistrate in Superior Court. You would then probably be released on personal recognizance and scheduled for a hearing. At that court hearing you will be asked if you want to plead guilty or not guilty. If you want to plead not guilty, you will be given a date to return for trial. If you plead guilty to a minor charge, you may be sentenced right then. It is very unlikely that a nonviolent action will result in jail time. More likely scenarios would be community service, a fine and/or probation.

All of the above presumes that you maintain nonviolent discipline during the action, and do not destroy property, harm or attack the police or bystanders, etc.

Misc. Legal Information

DC Charges

Incommoding. This is blocking vehicle or pedestrian traffic on the streets, sidewalks, and other walkways. Maximum penalty is a $250 fine and/or 90 days in jail—DC Code § 22-1107. The charge of disorderly conduct is essentially the same—DC Code § 22-1121.

Failure to obey a Police Officer. Often called "failure to disperse," this charge is possible when the police order you to depart and you refuse. The order must be "lawful," which means that if the police issue an unconstitutional order, there is no offense in ignoring it. But police authority is very broad. At trial, if the order is ruled lawful, you can be fined $100-$1,000. DC Muni. Reg. §§ 18-2000.2 & 2000.10.

Unlawful entry on property (trespassing). Remaining on government property after being told to leave is punishable by a fine up to $100 and/or up to 6 months in jail. For government buildings and the surrounding land, there must be some reason that you have been asked to leave, such as to prevent disruption or to maintain security. DC Code § 22-3102.

Medications

If you are taking medications that are vitally necessary (i.e. for HIV, high blood pressure medicine, etc.), it is very important that (1) you tell the processing officers that you need these medications to live; (2) you have the medications in their original containers (as it is a crime to carry prescription medications outside of their original containers); and (3) you have a copy of the prescription from your doctor.

If you are booked into jail, most prescription medications are confiscated and placed into your "property" which is inaccessible to you while in jail, and (possibly) returned to you upon release. For a variety of reasons (security, lawsuits), the jail has a policy of using their own medications for prisoners. The exception to this policy is if the medications are rare and expensive, in which case they will use your prescription.

Support

It is important to emphasize that all risking arrest in nonviolent action must have a support person who has your personal information and will track you through the process following arrest until you are released, as well as help you to your destination post-release — even if that release happens at 5 o'clock in the morning.

CPWI will work with all support persons as needed.

Conclusion

CPWI wants to emphasize that these are guidelines. In risk arrest situations, there are many contingencies and too many variables to ascertain today what the police may do on April 29th. It is possible, for example, the police may decline to arrest. Nevertheless, a lawyer familiar with criminal law will be available to provide advice during the entire process.

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