Washington — Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan [right] said she had just settled into her front row seat in the elevated public gallery surrounding the House of Representatives chamber awaiting President Bush's State of the Union address when a U.S. Capitol police officer noticed her T-shirt.
"Protester!" he yelled, before he "dragged me out of my chair, pinned my arm around my back, and roughly pushed me up the stairs," Sheehan told The Chronicle Wednesday.
The Berkeley woman said she was handcuffed, led to a holding cell just outside of the Capitol, transported to two facilities, accused of disorderly conduct and released roughly four hours later.
The T-shirt read: "2,242 Dead. How many more?"
Several hundred feet away, Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Young of Florida — Republican chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee — sat down in her seat about six rows from first lady Laura Bush when another officer noticed her T-shirt.
She also was told to leave the chamber, according to the St. Petersburg Times, and left voluntarily — then argued once in the hallway.
"They said I was protesting," she told the paper. "I said, 'Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot.' "
Her shirt read: "Support the Troops — Defending our Freedom."
The rare ejections prompted Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer to apologize late Wednesday to both women and said charges would be dropped against Sheehan.
Nonetheless, the incident provoked angry reactions, threats of lawsuits, a demand for an investigation and several unanswered questions.
Why was Sheehan arrested and not Young? Why was either woman ejected?
A 1946 law prohibits demonstrations within any of the Capitol buildings. But a subsequent U.S. Capitol Police Board regulation clarified "demonstration activity" to include "parading, picketing, speechmaking, holding vigils, sit-ins, or other expressive conduct ... but does not include merely wearing Tee-shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message."
And what sort of message does it send when visitors to the U.S. Capitol passively expressing a sentiment — either in support of or opposition to the president — are not allowed to observe the State of the Union address?
"The U.S. Capitol is not private property that belongs to the president, or even the speaker of the House, it belongs to the people," said Jamin Raskin, a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington who has discussed legal options with Sheehan.
"The great irony was that Bush was extolling the virtue of freedom and civility in America, at the same time the police were dragging Cindy Sheehan out of the chamber."
Gainer, the police chief, issued a statement late Wednesday taking responsibility for the ejections.
"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol," Gainer said in a statement. "The policy and procedures were too vague. The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."
Gainer said he had asked the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charges against Sheehan. He explained that Beverly Young wasn't arrested because she initially had cooperated and left the House gallery voluntarily.
"Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts," Gainer's statement said.
Sheehan said she had no intention of disrupting Bush's speech and intends to sue for damages or an injunction preventing police from repeating their behavior.
"If I wanted to disrupt it, I would have waited until (President Bush) started talking," Sheehan said by phone from Los Angeles. "My shirt was a statement. I wasn't going to disrupt anything."
Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, gained attention last summer when she set up camp outside Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch — attracting dozens of supporters — in the hopes of talking to him about the war. She has traveled the country protesting the war since then. She continues to seek an audience with Bush and was arrested outside the White House in a protest in September.
Sheehan was given a ticket to the State of the Union address by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, after attending an event sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus to oppose the president's policies. Just last weekend Sheehan, attending the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, suggested she might challenge California's senior Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the June primary.
Sheehan said she had hoped that the television cameras might notice her and show her "2,242 Dead" shirt during the president's speech, but she doubted Bush would have been able to notice her from her elevated perch.
"Everyone in America should be appalled that that many were killed," Sheehan said Wednesday. "What's more obscene, me wearing the number, or that there is a number at all? My son is one of those numbers."
The White House did not comment on the incident, but there were numerous angry reactions to the ejections on Capitol Hill.
Young took to the House floor Wednesday to decry the removal of his wife.
"Because she had on a shirt that someone didn't like that said support our troops, she was kicked out of this gallery," Young said, displaying the gray shirt that had caused her trouble. "Shame, shame."
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, introduced a resolution calling for an investigation.
Woolsey insisted that Sheehan, "who gave her own flesh and blood for this disastrous war, did not violate any rules of the House of Representatives. She merely wore a shirt that highlighted the human cost of the Iraq war and expressed a view different than that of the president."
Although security is tight in the House and Senate chambers, ejections for merely wearing political statements are rare. A Pennsylvania man was ejected from the Senate chamber in 1999 during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton for wearing a shirt that read: "Bill Doesn't Inhale. He Just Sucks."
source: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/02/02/MNGRAH1IF21.DTL&type=printable 2feb2006