Wichita (Kansas) Eagle - Beacon
March 10,1991
by George Neavoll


Letter from a Washington jail cell

Readers should know two things going into this piece. One is that I have been a real hawk on the Persian Gulf War. The allies' conduct of the war not only was justified, in my view, but necessary to remove the threat of a homicidal megalomaniac from the region.

The second thing readers should know is that Bhakta Song, a Wichita High School East graduate, is one of the gentlest and most deeply spiritual young men I know.

Song and I disagree about the war. We agree fervently, though, about the right of all people to be free.

For the past four years, Song has been a steady presence on the sidewalk across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. There, he and others have conducted the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil, day and night, rain and shine, winter and summer.

They've stood by their tightly regulated signs, being friendly with those who want to stop and talk, displaying copies of their anti-war Proposition 1 for those who would like to sign, causing nobody any trouble and - as I've written before in this space - putting the First Amendment on the line every day of the year.

Then the Gulf War began, and the attitude of the park police toward the vigilers stiffened.

When they started drumming, in protest of the war, the police began cracking down, hard.


Signs hauled away

I received a letter from Song last week, written from the District of Columbia's central cell block. He'd been wanting to write for two days, he said, but had had nothing to write with until an attorney gave him a pen and paper.

As of Jan. 27, Song said, all the vigilers' signs had been taken away, including those of William Thomas and Concepcion Picciotto, who founded the vigil 10 years ago.

More than 40 arrests had been made mostly for drumming. He himself had been arrested six times for drumming he said. "When they tell me to stop drumming, I just can't stop. The drums are not amplified in any way. Complaints are no doubt [being made] against our protest [but] . . . we have a right to collectively drum."

That day, a Monday, Song had been arrested for the seventh time in his life. This time the charges were serious: "interfering with an arrest" and assaulting a police officer.

White ribbons

It all began when Song's companion Diana Nomad, was tying while ribbons on the iron fence that recently has been erected between Pennsylvania Avenue and Peace Park.

"We tie white ribbons to signify 'Peace Through Social Justice' (as opposed to the yellow [meaning] 'Peace Through War.' It's my honest opinion that if they were yellow ribbons that Diana had been tying, they would still be there," Song wrote.

"But no, they - the park police - came for Diana and two others."

When Song objected, the police handcuffed him and put him in the paddy wagon. Soon they came back with Diana and "threw her in."

They had carried her about 200 feet by her handcuffed wrists, Song saidó "real torture if you've ever experienced it."

Incensed at this treatment of his friend, Song started to tell the police when they unloaded him at the station that "hurting women is the lowest-"

At that, an Officer Joiner slapped him, and Song, reacting instinctively, spat on his uniform. The officer went into a rage. After he had knocked Song down, Song either blacked out or went into a "possum" state of consciousness. His three companions later told him what had transpired.

'Take my gun'

The police "threw me through two doors around to a wood security door, where the other officer, Officer Long, just went crazy on me," Song wrote.

In the officer's frenzy, he was "banging my head on the door, slapping me back and forth, banging my head on the door, slapping me back and forth, banging my head on the door."

This Officer Long told the desk officer, "Take my gun before I use it."

Song started praying for strength, he said, and another officer offered to put his glasses back on him.

All this while, Song's wrists had been cuffed tightly. When he appeared to be losing consciousness in the cell where they placed him, an officer loosened the cuffs.

"From there, I spent two days being shipped from this dirty cell to that [one] every officer noting that my charge was APO, 'Assault on a Police Officer.' One officer cinched my plastic cuffs on real tight. I said, 'Hey, that's torture' He said, 'No, that's APO."'

Diana, meanwhile, was undergoing similar treatment, except that an officer would loosen her cuffs, then tighten them again, "just as tight as before, twice ... She says her cuffs were on at a torture level of pain for about an hour and a half."

Then, after several days, the protesters were released - with no formal charges being filed, no papers, nothing.

In the meantime, however, the anti - war protest had been stopped and the republic was safe for a little while.

I may have it backward, but somehow I thought the right to protest, or do any other lawful thing a free people wanted to do, was one of the things we were fighting for in the Persian Gulf.