Five arrested at SOS protest at State Capitol for ‘defacing public property’ for painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Expand Medicaid’ in street in front of Capitol

By: John Zippert,

Photo taken from a building across the street, showing “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” written in the street in front of State Capitol in Montgomery.

Four of the persons arrested (L to R in front row) Kumasi Amin, Faya Rose Toure, John Zippert, Karen Jones together with lawyers and supporters after release from jail; not shown Mayor Johnny Ford.

The City of Montgomery issued warrants for five participants in the Thursday, July 16, 2020, SOS protest on the steps of the State Capitol. The five were involved in spray painting the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” in the street in front of the State Capitol. They were not charged at the time, but subsequently over the weekend they were charged with “defacing public property” a misdemeanor by the City of Montgomery.

The five: former Mayor of Tuskegee, Johnny Ford, Attorney Fay Rose Toure of Selma, Karen Jones, Montgomery community activist, John Zippert, Co-Publisher of the Greene County Democrat and Chair of the Greene County Health Services Board of Directors, and Kumasi Amin (slave name Juan McFarland II), a Black Lives Matter member, voluntarily turned themselves in at Noon on Monday, July 20, 2020.
In discussions with the group’s lawyers, the group was assured that they would be released on signature recognizance bonds. Once in the hands of the Montgomery Police, the five were handcuffed and processed as common criminals under the arrest protocols of the Montgomery police. They were held for more than five hours, until their signature bonds were issued and approved by city and police officials.
The two women were strip searched and put in prison jump suits. The men had to surrender their shoes, pants, shirts and other possessions and were issued prison jump suits to wear. All five were photographed, fingerprinted and given a plastic armband. The three men were placed in a large holding cell with two other detainees.
The five SOS protesters, three of whom are over the age of 70, entered the jail wearing masks, to protect from exposure to the coronavirus. They were issued new masks once in the jail, however the other prisoners in the holding cell and some of the jailers were not wearing masks.
Mayor Johnny Ford said, “The police were trying to humiliate and intimidate us the whole time were there. Something I expected to take 15 minutes took more than five hours. They were trying to teach us a lesson.”
Faya Rose Toure said, “We were mistreated and misheard by the Montgomery Jail staff. Why was it necessary to strip search us and ask us to hold our butt cheeks and cough three times. Then they put us in a situation where we could have been exposed to the coronavirus. The saddest part was that all of the jailers were Black people, who basically had their jobs because of our civil rights activism from the 1960’s onwards.”
Karen Jones said, “We were treated disgracefully and exposed to the coronavirus all because we wrote some needed words on the streets of Montgomery. They also found a nine year old traffic violation for me and charged me with that as well. The Mayor, Police Chief and other Montgomery officials are more concerned about the pavement than the people of our city.”
Each of the protestors was given a September 21, 2020 court date to pay a $500 fine or argue their case before a city judge. They each had to pay a $35 fee for recording their signature appearance bond.
On Thursday, July 16, 2020, the Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS) conducted a protest on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. The protest was about several interrelated issues, including: ending police brutality and passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; highlighting the health disparities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, which have contributed to the disproportional effects of the pandemic on Black, Brown and poor people; urging Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which would provide affordable health care coverage to more than 340,000 people in Alabama; supporting the release of non-violent prisoners in state and county prisons and jails, to prevent them from contracting the virus; and ending voter suppression by the State of Alabama and allowing every person to vote without barriers.
This was not the first time that SOS has held protests on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. The organization has held these protests and caravans, every two weeks since the beginning of March 2020. Some of the protests have been also been held at the Governors Mansion and Montgomery Federal Courthouse.
John Zippert said, “I have attended each of these protests and spoke out at the press conferences specifically on behalf of Medicaid Expansion and Saving Rural Hospitals. At all of the protests, we have worn masks and gloves and stood stood at least six feet apart, following social distancing recommendations.
“ During the protest on Thursday, July 16, 2020, while some of our colleagues were “dying-in” on the Capitol Steps, a group of us, armed with yellow spray paint cans started writing: “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” in the street directly in front of the State Capitol. My hope was that Governor Ivey would see the writing and be prompted to take positive action on the demands of the protest.”
While the SOS members were writing in the street, they attracted a dozen or more Montgomery and State police. The police told them that they should stop writing in the street but did not physically stop them. They put hands on Karen Jones, an SOS leader and community activist, but did not stop her.
Zippert continued, “ A photograph with this story shows the writing in the street. I personally wrote the word “Expand” as part of Expand Medicaid. We did not have time to add “Now” at the end of Expand Medicaid.
“This is the third time in the past three years, that I have been arrested for civil disobedience in Montgomery, in connection with protesting for Medicaid Expansion. The first time was with an SOS group that held a prayer vigil inside the Alabama State Capitol for Medicaid Expansion; the second time was with a group connected with SOS and the Poor People’s Campaigned that poured catsup on the statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, which stands in front of the State Capitol. Both times we were acquitted by City Judges without fines or a criminal record.

“ During a week that we mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C. T. Vivian, I feel good about getting into “good trouble” trying to change the recalcitrant policies of the State of Alabama.”

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