Thank you to Children's Health Defense for sharing this story with our readers.
By Danielle Gail and Curtis Cost
On May 1, 2020, citizens demonstrated across America over the measures that different states were taking to deal with the COVID 19 situation. Demonstrations were taking place from California to New York, as well as multiple demonstrations within each state. Some were large, consisting of thousands of people, while others were much smaller with only a few hundred people. Most were peaceful, but at least one turned violent as was the case the Freedom Angels found themselves caught in during their Sacramento, California demonstration.
May 1st was the date that some politicians had promised to reopen America, but the date was extended again and hence, as an expression of growing frustrations, demonstrations were organized by different groups in each state. While most people understood the challenges that COVID 19 represented, there were a wide range of different concerns over how the governors in each state were handling the crisis. Some groups wanted businesses reopened while others were most concerned with government infringement on constitutional and basic human rights. There were also those who raised questions about the lack of scientific evidence supporting social distancing and whether healthy people needed to wear face masks. Still others just wanted to go back to work, exercise in a gym, go to a restaurant and in general, for life to return back to normal.
One of the larger demonstrations took place in Sacramento, California on the Capitol grounds. About 5,000 people attended. Some of the leaders of the rally were Heidi Muñoz Gleisner, Tara Thornton, and Denise Aguilar, also known as the Freedom Angels. This is a non-profit group that actively advocates to protect human rights and constitutional freedoms such as informed consent and protecting the body sovereignty of all Americans. The Freedom Angels said that the California Highway Patrol and the Sacramento Police were informed that the protest was going to be held that day, and they stayed in regular contact with them up to the day of the event and throughout the day.
One of the things that the Freedom Angels wanted to emphasize was that this was supposed to be a peaceful rally; for most of the day, everything was peaceful. According to Tara Thorton:
It was a peaceful day. There were children playing on the grass. There were moms sitting down breastfeeding. Police were mingling with people in the crowd. It was a peaceful 4th of July party.
Tara explained that this was the atmosphere for hours. Without warning, however, things took a turn for the worse. Hours into the protest, an order was given to get the protesters to get off the Capitol grounds. Based on their conversations with police officials, this order came from “the top,” which the Freedom Angels interpreted as meaning that it came from Governor Newsom himself. “It was just simply a political move he made. No one was violent,” according to Heidi of the Freedom Angels.
What the demonstrators did not know was that in addition to the police officers who were outside mingling with the people, there were about 700 officers inside the Capitol Building. All of a sudden, officers started pouring out of the building. Barriers had been set up before the demonstration on both sides of the Capitol steps, which facilitated pushing the crowd onto the street. The Angels all believe that the barriers installed in advance for a peaceful demonstration meant that they were planning to “ambush” the demonstrators from the very beginning!
“As soon as the officers came out of the building, they were very aggressive. They were trying to maneuver people to the street. They had their batons out and began pressing up against the crowd. They caught everyone by surprise. It was like they wanted us to become violent,” explains Denise Aguilar.
Denise also pointed out that most people in the crowd could not even hear the order to move back. This was because the police did not have a sound system or even a blow horn. As the police advanced, the Freedom Angels, who were in the front, got caught in the middle of the advancing police and the crowd, who were largely motionless because they did not know what was going on. Furthermore, Denise notes that the police did not even give people a few minutes to gather their things and move back. Parents with babies and children were also caught in the midst of the confusion. The fact that most people could not hear the order to move back made matters much worse.
“There was nowhere to go,” Heidi Muñoz Gleisner explained. “I suddenly found my feet pinned underneath a handicap scooter and I was terrified that my feet were about to be broken because they were pushing me so hard against the scooter.” The Angels also said that an officer reached over to the scooter handle to try to start it. If the officer had succeeded, Heidi’s feet would have been broken and many in the crowd, who were pressed up against the scooter, including Tara, would have been hurt. Fortunately, Heidi saw a friend in the crowd reach over and pull the key out, preventing the scooter from starting, and thereby averting an even greater tragedy!
Heidi also explained how the all-male police officers lifted her up in the air, spreading her legs in front of the crowd of officers and protestors, even though she was wearing a dress and was pleading with them not to do that and to put her legs down because she was wearing a dress. “They were deliberately trying to shame me in the worst possible way,” said Heidi.
Tara’s treatment by the all-male police officers was also traumatic. She said that she felt the end of a baton thrust into her back, which was very painful. Tara also pointed out that what this officer did with his baton was a violation because a person’s spine or ribs could be broken. The proper use of the baton, she said, was for an officer to hold a baton at both ends and only use the width of the baton to push people. What this officer did with his baton, according to Tara, could have caused her serious or even permanent injury. She yelled out that they were hurting her and that this was not necessary. Tara kept asking the officers to stop attacking the people because they were all peaceful. Some of her pleas were captured on video.
A short while later, Tara said that an officer grabbed one of her arms from behind and started twisting it against her back, which was so painful that she started screaming. The pain she was in was evident on her face in the numerous photographs of this moment. She said that she continued to plead with the male officer to stop, but instead of stopping, the same officer grabbed her other arm from behind and started applying even more pressure. The officer then tied her hands very tightly behind her back with plastic zip-ties.
Denise described how the all-male officers grabbed her legs and lifted her up in the air and spread her legs open, despite the fact that she was wearing a dress. As disturbing as all this was, Denise never imagined that there was a possibility that she might be arrested, because if she had, she said, “I would have worn different undergarments.” The end result was that when the police lifted Denise up in the air and spread her legs, “The crowd could see everything,” said Denise.
Lots of footage of the protest depicts the excessive force inflicted on the Freedom Angels and other protesters. Both Tara and Denise sustained bodily injuries from the police batons. Heidi incurred a bruise on her head, while Tara got one on her arm.
Inside the Capitol Building, Heidi was handcuffed from behind with zip-ties and then thrown to the floor face down. Heidi said: “My face could have been disfigured and my skull could have been cracked! They did not seem to care!” Later, the Freedom Angels were led to the basement where approximately fifteen other protestors were handcuffed with zip-ties.
The women explained that it was a completely different vibe once they got to the basement where they were met with a different group of officers. “They were all nice. We told them they shouldn’t be doing this. We told them that they had broken their oath,” Tara stated. The women also felt that some of the officers were ashamed to see how the situation was being handled and could not believe they were part of such actions.
While sitting, but still uncomfortably cuffed in the basement, the women described how they saw the next wave of police officers go out into the crowd in full riot gear. They were like storm troopers, pushing the line of protestors back about 35-40 feet to the street. They were just pushing and starting to pull people. An elderly man who was also in the basement with us said that if they given five minutes to clear the area, he would not have been arrested. A fifteen-year old girl was also among the first group of those arrested. A total of 32 people were arrested.
The charges against the Freedom Angels were vague but essentially claimed that they were violating the new health safety guidelines. The ironic thing was that the police officers making the arrests were not wearing masks or gloves, and numerous photographs and videos show that police were not practicing social distancing as officers stood shoulder-to-shoulder when they formed the skirmish line and started to physically push the crowd off the premises.
The Freedom Angels believe that the reason why such violence was used against peaceful protesters was because government officials wanted to send a message to the public that if people try to stand up for their rights, this is what is going to happen to them. But this experience has had the exact opposite effect on the Freedom Angels. Tara, Heidi and Denise all stated that they feel even more determined than before. “It has strengthened our resolve,” said Tara.
The Freedom Angels strongly believe that the most important thing people should know about what happened that day was the positive aspects. Tara said:
There was a very diverse mixture amongst the demonstrators. There were many people of different races, ethnicities, social economic status, political affiliations and so forth. We were all there united in a common cause like one big family and it was beautiful!
Tara also noted:
Not only was the crowd peaceful throughout the day, everyone remained peaceful even
when the police launched their assault! That is the most important thing that people need to understand. Even though the Governor and the police wanted us to become violent, we stayed peaceful!
While the Freedom Angels emphasized the importance of peaceful protest, they also believe that many more people need to get involved because the issues are so serious. Tara pointed out that: “Every minute that goes by, there are more people suffering from the lockdown and the consequences of it.” They feel that people need to stay on top of their governors and other officials and express their concerns. The Angels feel that people should remain positive and courageous despite the odds. As Tara put it:
We are just like any other mom or dad out there. There is nothing special about us. Anyone can do what we are doing. Anyone can stand strong in the face of tyranny. We are no different. We can do this together. We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder in peaceful, nonviolent resistance. We can fight this tyranny. We can fight for another way forward.
You can follow the Freedom Angels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Telegram.
Their email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is up to each individual to weigh the merits of the actions being taken in response to COV-19 and draw their own conclusions.
Danielle Gale is a health freedom activist. Curtis Cost is an author, researcher and activist.
Freedom Angels video of arrest: