By Quin Hillyer, special to this site:  

One woman’s experience at the Roy Moore/Steve Bannon rally in Fairhope this week bolsters the evidence that the United State has lost its senses, in multiple ways, about what sorts of protests are (or are not) appropriate and how people should respond to them.

This article will just tell the woman’s story, with only the mildest of observational comment. A later companion column will feature my broader reflections on how her experience is indicative of a larger problem.

And, to be clear, I count myself second to nobody in respecting the legal right of private property owners to decide who is or isn’t allowed on their premises. And I repeatedly have said that the full weight of the law, including prosecution and jail time, should be visited upon violent or clearly abusive protesters.

Sometimes, though, the better question is less about legality than about judgment.

The woman’s name is River Lotus. I was standing slightly inside the door of the Oak Hollow Farm facility, waiting for Bannon to arrive and start what became a very controversial spiel, when I saw her and a couple of other women in red enter the premises, looking wet from a hard shower that had just passed through the area. I heard her asking the others to remove their red outer garments, which to me looked like rain coats of some sort; her red was different, more like a party vest.

It must have been a full ten or 15 minutes later that, as I meandered about the place talking to people, I saw uniformed sheriffs’ office personnel physically herding the three women toward the door. As I hustled over to see what the commotion was, I heard Ms. Lotus very politely, almost plaintively, asking repeatedly why she was being evicted.

One of the deputies (or whatever their rank was), in a very snappish tone, kept repeating: “This is private property and you’ve been disinvited. Now get out of here!” I didn’t really see what the other two women were doing, although I had the sense they were mouthing off a little (but not really physically resisting) as they were sort of manhandled out the door; but Ms. Lotus, while still balking at being rather roughly thrown out (she was the last one out the door), never raised her voice and seemed genuinely puzzled, almost baffled, by the turn of events.

I tried telling the deputies that I was a reporter and wanted to know what the women had done, but, again snappishly and rudely, they just said something like “these women aren’t welcome, now get out of the way.”

Their behavior toward the women wasn’t really physically abusive, but it wasn’t at all gentle, either, much less respectful.

Now outside, I managed to get Ms. Lotus’ name and phone number before she was hustled further away from the farmhouse, out into the night.

The whole thing seemed rather bizarre, until word got around that the women had been part of a protest earlier in the evening in which more than a dozen women wore red “handmaids” costumes to signify anger at Moore’s alleged mistreatment of girls/young women. The protesters had been kept well outside the building itself, and (as I understand it) eventually asked to leave the grounds.

But Lotus had not looked to me like a protester. She had seemed to be just part of the crowd, chatting amiably with the people around her, and certainly not deserving of the quasi-manhandling to which the deputies subjected her.

As she walked away, other news outlets briefly interviewed her; you can see her a third of the way down this report, beginning about 31 seconds into the third video (as opposed to still photos), the one above the Christopher Haress Tweet about “a near fight.”

I tracked Lotus down by phone the next day. The story she told (some of which I’ve quoted and some of which I summarized) is as follows:

Lotus and her husband moved to Daphne, Alabama from Hawaii this past summer. In Hawaii they ran an organic farm and she was a doula (like a midwife), schoolteacher, and children’s book author. Other than having a rather eco-feminist bent and having testified in a Hawaii court case against Monsanto’s directives to change their organic farming methods, she said she’s never been particularly active politically – and that she and her husband actually voted last year for Donald Trump because they agreed with some of his (unspecified) issue stances more than they agreed with Hillary Clinton’s.

“I really, really believe in why our founders started this country, and I am a firm believer in the Constitution, and very proud of it,” she said.

She said she heard about the Moore/Bannon rally, and while she had decided she was turned off by Moore, she wanted to see the event and hear what he had to say in person.

“We are unfamiliar with Alabama politics,” she said. “It was pretty intriguing to me that we moved into an area where this is a big deal… so I wanted to be a part of it…. I’m not gonna vote for anybody at this point [Tuesday’s election] because I’m brand new and haven’t been here long enough to know what is best for us here specifically in Alabama.”

So, how did she come to be evicted?

She is in a book club with two of the women who were part of the handmaid protest. She herself happened to be wearing red – a blazer, not a handmaid’s cape, as can be clearly seen in the video – not as part of the protest, but because she had been at a Christmas Party at work (also wearing Christmas earrings) and drove directly from work to the event. But when she first arrived, she hung out with her two book-club friends as they (silently) protested. When the protest was disbanded, she and her two friends (who no longer were wearing the “hood” parts of their costumes) continued through the rain into the venue, making no fuss. And, as I myself saw, she specifically asked her friends to remove the rest of their red outfits so they wouldn’t be a distraction.

“We need to be respectful and honor whatever was being said,” Lotus said she told her friends.

Then, a minute later, “I was standing inside. They were beside me. I was talking to the gentleman beside me about the parking situation outside. And I was also saying I was looking forward to hearing Moore speak as well.”

Then came the deputies, and she was “a little confused and shocked. I didn’t know why we were being asked to leave. I first thought it was too crowded. I tried to ask why am I being asked to leave, that I am being here to listen to the speech.” But what was “very uncomfortable” was “the pushing. I was being told ‘You need to leave now’ and I was being physically pushed out the door. But none of us had an intent to cause a disturbance inside.”

And I can attest they did not cause such a disturbance – and that the only disturbance came from the deputies when the deputies stepped in.

I’ll have much more to say, and a much broader context, in my next column. But for now, let it be said quite clearly: Even if the owner of the venue wanted the women “disinvited” from the event (which had been advertised as open to the public, not as a “by-invitation” event), and had a legal right to do so, the means of evicting them was obnoxious. This was not an inflammatory situation. There were no confrontations going on inside the venue, no sense of danger, no sense that a mere spark could cause a melee. And these were not ruffians creating a stir, but women politely blending in with the crowd.

Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack needs to teach his deputies to use more judgment and common sense. Even if they had to respect the property owner’s wishes, they could have done so in a much more respectful fashion, acting much less like bullies throwing their weight around.

This same admonition goes out to law enforcement elsewhere: Your uniform gives you no right to a power trip.

Nobody respects a uniformed officer more than I do. But part of that respect is forfeited when officers use muscle completely in excess of what the situation requires.

Or, as in a case I know about in Mobile County (not involving me), if one uses his badge to try to criminalize the utterance of a few cuss words in a short dispute between neighbors.

Moreover, especially at a public forum, especially involving a controversial figure, it is possible that an officer’s over-reaction can itself turn a friendly crowd into a hostile one, thus not “keeping the peace” but threatening it.

River Lotus was clearly mistreated. Sheriff Mack should try to ensure nothing similar happens again.

 

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