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A Capitol offense

Just before Bush spoke of freedom Tuesday night, she was jailed over a T-shirt that took a stand.

February 03, 2006|Cindy Sheehan | CINDY SHEEHAN is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace and a member of Military Families Speak Out.

I WAS ARRESTED in the U.S. Capitol just minutes before the State of the Union address for wearing a T-shirt that pointed out how many Americans, like my son, Casey, have been killed in Iraq. The T-shirt simply said: "2,245 Dead. How Many More?"

During the address, President Bush uttered the word "freedom" 17 times, saying that was what our troops were fighting in Iraq to defend. At a minimum, you'd think we would all have the freedom to express ourselves through slogans on a T-shirt.

Is this what my son died for? Is this theft of our precious freedom of speech the "noble cause" that Bush told us our soldiers are fighting for?

Sure, I'm outspoken and don't normally shy away from protesting. But that wasn't my plan. Just hours before the speech, I had been given a ticket by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, who has worked to press Congress to bring the troops home.

At first I didn't really want to go, and I gave the ticket away to someone who gave it back. I would not have been disruptive out of respect for Lynn and the many other members of Congress I deeply admire.

I intended to make a statement, not a scene. Had I wanted to create a disruption, I would have waited until the president arrived to reveal my shirt.

My ticket was in the fifth gallery, front row. An officer -- who a few minutes later would arrest me -- helped me to my seat. I had just sat down and was warm from climbing three flights of stairs, so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out when the officer saw my shirt and yelled "protester!" He then hauled me out of my seat and shoved me up the stairs.

The officer ran, pulling me with him, to an elevator, yelling at everyone to move out of the way. Then he handcuffed me as we rode down and then took me outside to await a squad car.

DESPITE WHAT was said in several reports, I was never asked to change the shirt or zip up my jacket. If I had been asked to do those things I would have and expressed concerns about the suppression of my freedom of speech later.

I was immediately and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for "unlawful conduct." The reports about my being "vocal," attributed to the police, are also untrue.

Lawyers have advised me that I was well within my constitutional rights to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan. The police belatedly agreed and said they would drop the charges. I don't understand how they could have held me in jail for four hours before saying that this was all a mistake.

After my personal items were inventoried and my fingerprints taken, a nice sergeant came in and looked at my shirt and said, "2,245, huh? I just got back from there." I told him that my son died there.

That's when the enormity of my loss hit me. On top of losing my son, I have lost my 1st Amendment rights.

Where did my America go? I started crying in pain.

What did Casey die for? What did the 2,244 other brave young Americans die for? What are tens of thousands of them over there in harm's way for? For this? I can't even wear a shirt that has the number of troops on it that Bush and his arrogant and ignorant policies are responsible for killing.

Polls indicate that the people in our country and Iraq want this war to end. The war is making this country and the world less safe and secure. It's time to stop the killing by bringing the troops home.

I wore the shirt to make a statement. I believed it was my right to do so.

I don't want to live in a country that prohibits any person from wearing, saying, writing or relaying over a telephone negative statements about the government. That's why I am taking my freedoms and liberties back. That's why I am not going to let the Bush administration take anything else away from me. They already took my son away. That was more than enough.

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