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DC police deny pro-life activists had permission to mark or paint street following weekend arrests

Written by on August 4, 2020

Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is pushing back on the way Students for Life of America (SFLA) has described events leading up to the arrest of two of its activists outside of a local Planned Parenthood facility over the weekend.

SFLA said it applied for an event permit that included a request to paint “Black Preborn Lives Matter” on the street outside of Planned Parenthood Whitehill Moses Center. The organization claims that MPD granted them a permit to gather at Planned Parenthood and, in a separate conversation, verbally told them they would not be prevented from painting their message on the street.

MPD public affairs specialist Alaina Gertz told Fox News that the department “did not issue a permit to put a message on the street. MPD issues permits to assemble.” Gertz added that the permit SFLA received explicitly stated that “marking or painting the street is not permitted.”

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Additionally, Gertz said, the MPD didn’t have “any information to corroborate the statement that the group was told they would not be stopped from painting.”

According to SFLA spokesperson Kristi Hamrick, both SFLA’s permit request and a separate letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser stated the group’s intent was to paint on the street outside Planned Parenthood.

SFLA declined to provide the permit to Fox News, stating that it was given to the organization’s legal team. MPD directed Fox News to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

In a statement provided by Hamrick, the group claims it was told that the city, in MPD’s words, opened a “Pandora’s box.”

“SFLA’s Executive Vice President arranged for the event permit from the Metropolitan Police for the event, and she was told verbally that a ‘Pandora’s box’ had been opened regarding painting, that we would not be prevented from painting and to buy tempera paint,” the group said.

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SFLA has said it intends intends to pursue legal action over the MPD’s decision to arrest students for writing in chalk on the sidewalk — something they insist happens every weekend outside of Planned Parenthood. In video footage of the event, Warner DePriest, one of the arrested and an advisor with SFLA, can be heard saying, “We do this every Saturday.”

Video footage also shows police warning DePriest and SFLA student leader Erica Caporaletti that they would be arrested for defacing public property if they continued using sidewalk chalk. But SFLA claims that sidewalk chalk doesn’t deface public property and that the city engaged in viewpoint discrimination since it allowed Black Lives Matter activists to paint “Defund the Police” on one of the city’s streets.

Activists painted “Defund the Police” in front of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan so that it read: “Black Lives Matter = Defund the Police.” The initial painting of “Black Lives Matter” was permitted by Bowser.

According to NPR, the city’s Department of Public Works was later seen refreshing some of the paint on the street, but didn’t remove “defund the police.”

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“Well it’s not a part of the mural,” Bowser told ABC News in June. “And we certainly encourage expression but we are using the city streets for city art.” When ABC’s Martha Raddatz pressed her further, Bowser said she hadn’t “even had an opportunity to review it.”

Bowser’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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MPD told Fox News it remains impartial when following the First Amendment.

“The Metropolitan Police Department respects the right of all individuals or groups to peacefully assemble as their First Amendment right and we remain impartial as to the underlying cause or motive of any group,” Hugh Carew, a public information officer, said.

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