Ethics & Public Policy Center

D.C. Police Arrest Pro-Life Activists for Writing on Public Sidewalk

Published in National Review Online on August 3, 2020

Early on Saturday morning, D.C. police arrested two pro-life demonstrators who were in the process of chalking the message “Black preborn lives matter” on the public sidewalk in front of a D.C. Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.

The two individuals — Warner DePriest, a Students for Life of America employee and frequent sidewalk counselor outside the clinic, and Erica Caporaletti, a student at Towson University — were arrested for “defacing public or private property.”

DePriest said afterward that the police did not inform either him or Caporaletti of their Miranda rights and did not charge them for about 40 minutes. They were later released with a citation.

According to a spokesperson from Students for Life of America (SFLA), which helped to organize the demonstration, the city had issued a permit allowing them to paint the message. As of Saturday evening, D.C.’s Department of Transportation, which issues such permits, had not responded to a Washington Post inquiry about whether that permit had indeed been issued.

The controversy is especially interesting in light of the protests and rioting that have taken place across the country in recent months, with no small share taking place in D.C. In June, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser herself commissioned a large painting of the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on the 16th Street NW block just outside the White House. Shortly thereafter, city officials permitted protesters to paint the slogan “Defund the police” right beside Bowser’s initial painting.

In an open letter to Bowser last month, Kristan Hawkins, president of SFLA, and Dean Nelson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation (FDF), announced their intention to paint the “Black preborn lives matter” message and noted that they had applied for the appropriate permit.

“You must allow SFLA and FDF to paint its ‘Black Pre-born Lives Matter’ message,” they wrote. “Your original decision to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the street is government speech. However, your decision to allow protestors to paint ‘Defund the Police’ opened the streets up as a public forum. You are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in making determinations relating to public assemblies in public fora.”

If the permit was indeed issued as these pro-life groups attest, the arrests were an egregious abuse of police authority. If the city didn’t issue the permit, its failure to do so was a blatant example of viewpoint discrimination. Either way, someone must be held accountable for the apparent mistreatment these pro-lifers faced — especially after city officials spent months allowing rioters to get away with defacing and destroying private property throughout D.C. in the name of social justice.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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