Thousands of Americans have participated in numerous Overpasses for Obama’s Impeachment rallies across the nation over the past few weeks – and now there’s word of several arrests and police intimidation of citizens who peacefully protest on public walkways.
WND reported, when the movement first launched, that Americans were staging protests on freeway overpasses and calling for Obama’s impeachment .
Now, police have responded to some protest sites after reports of profanity and items being thrown from overpasses. Protester and organizer Lisa Zimmerman said none of the claims have been substantiated, and there is a concerted effort to shut down the protests. In two separate incidents, three overpass protesters have been arrested.
At a rally west of St. Louis, Mark Messmer and Duane Weed were arrested. The incident was caught on a YouTube video that’s racking up about 50,000 views per day.
As seen in the video, the protesters, while standing on a public sidewalk, asked repeatedly what law they were breaking and why they were being asked to leave.
One officer can be heard saying, “I’ve been polite and asked you to leave the overpass.”
Another officer can then be heard saying, “Can you come with me? Do you recognize I am a peace officer? I’ve asked you and told you that you needed to leave.”
One protester asked, “Are we breaking a law here? What law am I breaking?”
An officer spoke up: “Failure to comply with the highway patrol. I’ve given you two chances. Third time, I’m going to arrest you.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol said the reason for the police intervention was the potential for a traffic hazard.
The Post-Dispatch said the protesters spent 24 hours in the St. Charles County jail. Prosecutors have yet to determine which charges to press.
Dave Roland, director of the Theodore L. Stiles Center for Liberty in Olympia, Wash., viewed the video.
"Courts have been clear that American citizens have a fundamental right to peacefully offer their political opinions on public sidewalks, as long as they are not preventing other people from using those sidewalks," he told WND. "The video offers no suggestion that these speakers were obstructing the sidewalk or causing any traffic problems. In fact, the officers' own squad cars seemed to be more of a threat to traffic than the protesters themselves.
"Courts have made clear that the freedom of speech is so important, citizens must be allowed to exercise that freedom unless it is clear that the speakers are creating dangerous driving conditions," Roland said. "Under these circumstances, it appears that the officers had no legitimate reason to interfere with the citizens' peaceful political expression."
Roland noted citizens are required to comply with police orders to leave an area if it is reasonably necessary to allow the police to arrest lawbreakers or investigate a crime scene.
"But police officers are not kings, and citizens have no obligation to follow improper or unlawful orders," he said. "It is extremely disturbing that these officers seemed unable to identify any law that justified their instructions to leave the overpass."
In Fresno, Calif., police arrested one man at an overpass rally. Brian Sumner, a 24-year-old veteran of the Iraq war who served as a combat medic with the 1st Infantry Division, spent a night in jail after police and Department of Transportation workers arrived to remove his sign from the overpass.
Sumner told WND he knew there would be a confrontation when the police arrived and accused him of smelling "like marijuana." The entire incident was captured on video by several different protesters and posted to YouTube. The video ends with Sumner's arrest.
Sumner told WND his arrest "was a complete waste of taxpayer's money and a major waste of time on both the California Highway Patrol and on the citizen's part."
"It's unfortunate that in this 'free' country people expressing their First Amendment rights are treated with such disregard," he said.
Sumner was charged with obstruction of justice and failure to obey a lawful order. His court date is scheduled for September.
The police reacted differently at protests in other parts of the country.
West of Chicago on I-88, police responded to reports of overpasses protesters blocking traffic and throwing objects from the bridge.
Overpass protester Cynthia Casanova told WND that one officer "said he knew it wasn't the case but had to check it out anyway."
"The police were very cool and gave us the thumbs up after they left," she said.
However, Illinois coordinator Fred Schneider told WND he has had eight encounters with law enforcement.
"In all situations, they have been polite respectful and let us continue with our protests," Schneider said.
Ann Whitten, co-founder and national leader of Overpasses for Obama's Impeachment, said some protesters react to police differently and have found creative places to stage their protests when threatened with arrest.
"In many areas of the country, overpasses protesters have been made to leave under the threat of arrest, even though permits were not required," Whitten told WND. "In Oklahoma City, protesters were greeted by police as they arrived to protest at the Aug. 6 event and told they could not use the overpass. The group moved to a different location, not on an overpass, and continued with their message."
In Oklahoma City, overpass protesters held their rally on a pedestrian bridge over I-240. Protester Joey Dunlap told WND police came and threatened them with arrest, but "they couldn't name a law or city ordinance we were breaking, but threatened arrest if we stayed on the bridge."
Oklahoma overpass protest leader Karen Waldrop thought there was something odd about the police moving protesters from a public walkway and threatening arrest. She contacted the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, and was told they "should be able to rally there as long as walkway traffic wasn't being obstructed." Officers at the scene did not agree.
In Indiana, Jesse Leininger did not get a visit from police, but he did encounter a military convoy passing under the overpass where he and a few friends were holding a rally. They were on an overpass on I-69 just south of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Leininger told WND he was holding a banner that stated, "We Support the Troops – Impeach Obama." At more than 60,000 views and counting, the video is quite popular on YouTube.
"It was a very quick an impromptu rally and we had no idea it would gain so much attention," he said.
Leininger said it is a great way to gauge military support for President Obama. It may have been an unscientific poll, but he said that from what he has seen in the city, "that is the general consensus."
"We have a few military members that have commented on our pages, and they all feel the same way," he said.
When asked if the honks could have been in response to the "We Support Our Troops" part of the sign, Leininger answered: "They specifically honked at the 'Impeach Obama' banner. We know because they messaged us and told us."
Leininger was quick to give credit to the overpass protest organizers.
"The credit goes out to Overpasses.org for organizing these rallies," he said. "Ours by chance just got some good video."
James Neighbors of Norman, Okla., is heading up the nationwide effort. He told WND he believes the overpass protests and Sen. Ted Cruz's call on Americans to rise up if they want to defund Obamacare are the perfect storm to stop the measure.
"America is on the precipice of disaster," Neighbors said. "Barack Obama is the most criminal president in the history of this nation, and must be removed for our nation to survive. His many crimes are clear, his disdain for America obvious. Lady Liberty is calling for help, and the citizens of this nation must stand up and say, 'NO MORE!'"
In an online video, while holding a large "Honk to Impeach Obama" sign, protester Jason Shepard said: "I am here because of liberty. I am here because I want freedom. I am here because of my son standing there on the other side. I want him to have a good future. I want him to have the type of life growing up that I had."
Shepard, a black man, clarified: "I want people to also realize that this is not about color. It is about right and wrong, and it is about justice. It doesn't matter who it is, black, white; it doesn't matter. Wrong is wrong, and he needs to go."
Neighbors was inspired by a protest against Obamacare earlier in the year in Carlsbad, Calif., and said he decided then to take the movement nationwide. He created "Overpasses for Obama's Impeachment" on Facebook, and he said the movement has taken off so well, it has surprised even him. In just weeks, more than 35,000 citizens have participated.
Neighbors fields calls and emails with reports from protests around the nation. Obama supporters have harassed many of the protests, throwing objects from their vehicles, hurling obscenities, making obscene gestures and calling the police with false reports of race riots. Upon responding, law enforcement has found that the accusations were bogus and have, except in a few cases, recognized the right of peaceful protest and left the groups alone.
Regional coordinator Fred Schneider told WND: "Our first priority is the safety of our protesters. We don't want any one having problems with police or creating any safety issues. We are a peaceable group only exercising our First Amendment right to free speech and redressing our grievances to government."
Karen Waldrop, Oklahoma coordinator, told WND she is saddened by the way law enforcement has been reacting to some of the protests.
"The overpass protesters are the law-abiding citizens," Waldrop said.
She said the people on the overpasses are supporters of the rule of law and traditionally are the base of support for law enforcement.
"They are losing support from a lot of us," she added.
Even after the reports of harassment by Obama supporters and incidents with the police, everyone interviewed by WND plans to head out again on Sept. 7 for the next nationwide Overpasses for Obama's Impeachment Rally.