More than one year after their arrest, D.C. police have dropped charges of defacing public property against two D.C. pro-life activists for chalking a public sidewalk.
Warner DePriest and Erica Caoraletti were arrested last year when, according to the Washington Post, the two were writing “Black Pre-born Lives Matter” in chalk on the sidewalk outside of a Planned Parenthood during a pro-life rally organized by Students for Life of America (SFLA).
“The case never should have been filed as there were no laws broken,” said attorney Dennis Boyle, according to SFLA.
“It’s a relief to finally have this matter closed,” said Warner DePriest, one of the activists involved. “As a student of our political system, I believed then and I believe now that all Americans should have the right to speak up for the preborn and their mothers. Almost every week, I pray outside the Planned Parenthood where I was arrested for the hope that lives will be saved and because I can’t be silent on the human rights atrocity of our day.”
According to the Washington Times, SFLA had a permit to hold a rally, and informed officials they would be painting a message as part of it. “We were told verbally that we would not be prevented from painting and what kind of paint to buy,” said Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for SFLA, in an email to the Washington Times. SFLA had also sent a letter to Mayor Bowser requesting permission to paint the slogan. “Having opened the streets of your city for public expression, Students for Life of America requests the opportunity to add our voices to those concerned about how people of color are treated in America,” said an excerpt from the letter according to the Washington Post.
However, when the activists showed up, police claimed the group did not have a permit to paint the street and arrested DePriest and Caoraletti, even though they used chalk only, on a sidewalk — not paint.
The fact that two of our students were arrested for chalking pro-life messages in Washington D.C. shows that government officials are practicing viewpoint discrimination and blocking our free speech rights.
We’ll see you in court. pic.twitter.com/Jb14oN6ik1
— Students for Life of America (@StudentsforLife) August 3, 2020
Earlier in June of the same year, Mayor Muriel Bowser commissioned a mural stating “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street. One day after the mural’s appearance, city officials conceded to protestors painting “Defund the Police” next to the mural and pressed no charges.
DePriest and Caporaletti used chalk — not paint — to convey their pro-life message on a DC sidewalk. Because of their treatment, they have alleged they were subject to viewpoint discrimination. Rev. Dean Nelson, executive director of Human Coalition Action who was present and witnessed the arrests, said, “The way these pro-life students were treated one year ago, one would think they attempted robbery. All they were doing is exercising their right to speak on behalf of the voiceless; the unborn and in particular, Black and Brown children who are the primary targets of Planned Parenthood.”
According to a statement, SFLA president Kristan Hawkins said she “is celebrating today, as finally two students are cleared of any penalties for the unlikely ‘crime’ of trying to chalk BLACK PREBORN LIVES MATTER in the nation’s capital. At a moment in time when across the country people were talking about issues impacting the Black community, Students for Life and the Frederick Douglass Foundation joined together to speak for the preborn, only to be told that our speech was not welcome and was even criminal.”
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