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Home HOW GEORGETOWN POLICE ABUSED A JEWISH RABBI

From:   

 

"Rabbi Herzfeld"     Save Address     Reminder
To:   
Subject:    complaint
Date:    Mon, 6 Mar 2006 20:50:59 +0000   [View Source]


 

Shmuel Herzfeld

www.ostt.org

202 812 8900

 

March 2, 20006

 

My name is Shmuel Herzfeld, and I am the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue.  I am filing this Complaint because of the improper and illegal manner in which I and my colleague Rabbi Etan Mintz of New York were treated by Georgetown University police officers on Sunday, February 19, 2006.  I believe that they violated Civil Rights Act US title 42, section 1983, which is deprivation of civil rights under the color of law.  I aslo believe that they violated title 18 section 242 of the criminal statute.

 

Here is what happened:

 

On January 3, 2006 I wrote a letter to President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University.  In that letter I expressed strong concerns about Georgetown’s decision to host the Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference from February 17-19, 2006.  I wrote, “Your decision to welcome them directly endangers the physical safety of Jews on the campus.”

 

Here is what happened on Sunday, February, 19, 2006.

 

I arrived at Georgetown University at around 4:15 PM.

 

Rabbi Etan Mintz and I wanted to stand in front of Healy Hall, the building in which the conference was taking place, and chant, “Condemn Terror,” in order to protest - - peacefully and non-violently - - the Conference's support for suicide bombers and other terrorist acts against the people of Israel.  Rabbi Mintz and I walked towards the front of Healy Hall in order to hold paper and cardboard signs (without sticks or any other support) and chant "Condemn Terror."  We had walked part of the way there when we were approached by Georgetown University police who said that if we did not turn around they would arrest us. 

 

This direction was in direct violation of Georgetown University's own Speech and Expression Policy, which specifically provides that:

Protest of Events – An individual or group wishing to protest at an event may do so as long as any speaker's right to free speech and the audience's right to see and hear a speaker are not violated.

 

We were in no way interfering with the Conference's activities nor were we preventing anyone attending the conference from hearing the speakers (who were inside the building). 

 

Moreover, I have since been advised by Sergeant Winfred Walton, an Investigative Supervisor with the Georgetown Police Department (in an interview before two witnesses that I tape recorded with Sergeant Walton's permission), that the role of the Georgetown police in front of Healy Hall was to ensure that the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk was not obstructed.  Sergeant Walter advised me that there is an area to the side of the sidewalk in front of Healy Hall in which one could stand without interfering with pedestrian traffic.  However, on February 19, the Georgetown police officers neither directed me nor permitted me to stand in that place and instead told me that if I did not leave they would arrest me.  They ordered me to leave even though we were neither blocking or otherwise interfering with pedestrian traffic. 

 

So at approximately 4:30 p.m., Rabbi Mintz and I told the Georgetown police officers in front of Healy Hall that we were moving outside the gates of the University to 37th and O Streets.  The police officer who identified himself as being in charge said, “Good idea.  That’s pubic property.” 

 

Rabbi Mintz and I were then standing on the sidewalk of 37th and O chanting “Condemn Terror.”  We were not impeding anyone nor were not chanting in anyone’s face or threatening anyone.  At approximately 5 p.m. a coach bus pulled up to pick up conference supporters.  Georgetown Police then approached us on the sidewalk.  (A witness later told us that he heard Georgetown  Officer G. Taylor say to his fellow officers, “Watch this, I am going to get their megaphone,” as from time to time we were using a megaphone.)

 

Officer G. Taylor then approached me and started screaming at me - - inches from my face.  He threatened to arrest me and declared that he wanted my "I.D."   When I said that I wasn’t on Georgetown property, he said, “This is my property.”  (At the time we were standing on the sidewalk of 37th and O.)  I then said that I would stand in the street.  Officer Taylor then physically restrained me from going to the street.  With other officers flanking his side, he said, “You’re on my property now and I’m in charge.”  He pushed his belly into me and screamed in my face that he wanted to see my ID.  Without the ID, he said he would arrest me.  I said, “I am a rabbi of a Synagogue in DC.” With a mocking tone in his voice that I took to be offensive to my religion, he said, "Are you a Rabbi?"  "Where?"  "Are you a licensed rabbi?"  When I told him I was, he shouted, “Then show me your license.”  When I showed him my license, Officer Taylor continued his offensive behavior, demanding to know "how long [I had] been a Rabbi."  (Would Officer Taylor have asked these questions of a priest in a clerical collar - - or if he did, would the University have tolerated this?  I think not.)  All the while he was doing this, the conference participants were able to go onto the bus without hearing my chant, “Condemn Terror.”    When my colleague Rabbi Mintz attempted to move away from him so that he could display his sign to the conference participants going onto the bus, Officer Taylor grabbed Rabbi Mintz and blocked him from moving.  Once he saw the conference attendees were all on the bus, Officer Taylor went back to his friends with a big smile.   They were laughing because they had successfully prevented us from chanting, “Condemn Terror.”

 

A bystander was able to capture this on video.

 

 

I then reported the incident to Metro PD.  The officer’s name is K. Hannibal of the second district and her badge number is 3340.

 

While my complaint relates to the treatment that Rabbi Mintz and I received, I understand that the improper behavior of the Georgetown police on February 19 was far broader.  I cite just two examples.  First, I have been advised by an officer in the D.C. Police Department that survivors of the Shoah (often referred to as the Holocaust) who were standing in front of Healy Hall were prevented from entering Healy Hall to use the bathroom.  These individuals were likely in their eighties.  Second, I have also been advised that another individual protesting the conference - - a man in his sixties who walked with a cane - - was beaten by Georgetown police officers.

 

I can be reached at 202 812 8900.

Shmuel Herzfeld

Rabbi, Ohev Sholom--The National Synagogue