Policeman throwing a woman out of her wheelchair, still from video by Atticus Garden.
by Bob Fitrakis
JULY 7, 2017
Policeman throwing a woman out of her wheelchair
What appears to be a phony 911 emergency medical call was used as a pretense for Columbus Police to forcibly evict and arrest wheelchair-bound Medicaid recipients in a building that houses Senator Rob Portman’s office.
July 6 was a national day of action to sit in at Senate home offices across the country to protest cuts to Medicaid as the U.S. Senate seeks to roll back the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Five activists peacefully occupied Portman’s Senate office at 37 West Broad, where they remained overnight. The next day activists from ADAPT, a disability rights organization, joined members of local groups Junto Unsilenced, Socialist Alternative, and Yes We Can.
Kelly Weber, who organized the sit-in along with John Shade and Bilal El-Yousseph and with support from UltraViolet and Planned Parenthood, said the original demands were for Senator Portman to vote no on the bill to repeal the ACA and to hold a town hall meeting in the district.
The Free Press witnessed one of the largest displays of police vehicles storming the building in history. One onlooker wondered if there had been a terrorist attack.
Video recorded by a demonstrator shows a wheelchair-bound woman being tossed from her chair by the police. One witness stated that police were dragging people out of wheelchairs. Three witnesses told the Free Press that they saw and videotaped people being pushed out of wheelchairs and of a hearing-impaired person being arrested.
The Columbus Police claimed 15 people were arrested. Weber put the number higher at 23, including 20 women, with all the arrestees being from the group ADAPT. ADAPT had negotiated their action with the Police and were stunned by the violent nature of the arrests.
What prompted the police violence was a curious appearance by Columbus Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel in the building at 3:10pm, claiming they were looking for a man having a heart attack. ADAPT demonstrators were blocking three of the four elevators, but one was available for EMS to get a gurney into the building.
Those arrested were charged with obstructing medical personnel during an emergency, though a police officer, in cruiser 121, confirmed to the Free Press that no one was found having a heart attack at the site.
At the same time the EMS personnel appeared, Portman’s staff was having the occupiers removed from the office by simply asking them to leave, which they did.
In another bizarre event witnessed by the Free Press, a woman in a wheelchair who had complied with police officers and had moved to the sidewalk outside was asked to produce identification. When the officer saw that her I.D. indicated she was from Pennsylvania, she was immediately arrested. This could be a violation of the disabled woman’s First Amendment right to demonstrate, associate and travel.
The police escorted a spokesperson for the Huntington Plaza building over to the demonstrators on the sidewalk. The spokesperson informed the demonstrators that if they ever stepped on the property again, they would be arrested. While he made this pronouncement, the police were shooting video of the demonstrators. Many of the demonstrators pointed out that they would then be blocked from visiting the office of their Senator. The spokesperson for the building did not respond.
On June 29, disabled ADAPT activists in Denver, Colorado were forcibly removed from Senator Cory Gardner’s office and arrested. The Denver Post reported that one officer told them to “Stop fighting” but the demonstrators replied that they weren’t fighting. The Denver Post article stated that, “Police picked up some protesters, restrained them, forced them into their wheelchairs and wheeled them out of the office.” Those arrested in Denver were released on personal recognizance on July 1.
Weber noted that there will be a town hall meeting at 6:30pm on Tuesday, July 11 at the Statehouse grounds, whether Portman attends or not.