WASHINGTON, DC — Capitol Police officers were captured on camera pulling disabled protesters from their wheelchairs late Thursday morning and dragging them down the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building. (Scroll down for video.)
In all, 43 protesters — 15 males and 28 females — were arrested for “obstructing passage through the hallway and into nearby offices” during a planned “die-in” outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the building, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police said.
The police spokeswoman said “many of the demonstrators, as part of their protest activities, removed themselves from their wheelchairs and lay themselves on the floor.”
“They were reunited with their wheelchairs during processing,” she said.
ACLU officials, meanwhile, said in a statement: “We can’t believe this needs to be said, but it’s not okay to drag people out of wheelchairs when they’re protesting legislation.”
Bruce Darling, a member of disability rights group ADAPT and a lead organizer of the die-in, spoke by phone with Patch around 5 p.m. from jail, where he and fellow protesters were still being processed. Asked if any of them had been injured or otherwise mishandled by police, Darling said he wasn’t comfortable talking about it aloud while still in custody.
Darling and dozens of other disability advocates had stormed McConnell’s office at around 11:30 a.m. to protest his new draft of a Republican health care bill, meant to replace Obamacare.
In its current form, the Senate bill would slash Medicaid funds, gut health insurance subsidies for low-income Americans and create a loophole allowing insurers to reject applicants with preexisting conditions. (And the House’s draft isn’t much different.)
The Medicaid cuts, in particular, would “greatly reduce access to medical care and home and community based services for elderly and disabled Americans who will either die or be forced into institutions,” Darling said in a press release announcing Thursday’s protest.
“Our lives and liberty shouldn’t be stolen to give a tax break to the wealthy,” he said.
Disturbing footage recorded Thursday by activists and journalists at the die-in — some of which is embedded below — shows disabled people being manhandled by cops and dragged out of the building.
ABC News reporter Miriam Khan said she even noticed some blood splattered on the floor.
The U.S. Capitol Police force is similar to the Secret Service, only its agents protect members of Congress, not the president. Patch reached out to Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki to ask how things got so out of hand Thursday morning outside McConnell’s office.
“We are still processing the scene,” she said in an email reply. “Will have a statement with number of arrests and charges later today.”
A couple hours after that, Malecki sent us the following statement.
Today, at approximately at 11:30 a.m., disability rights activists staged a planned “die-in” in the Russell Senate Office Building. Many of the demonstrators, as part of their protest activities, removed themselves from their wheelchairs and lay themselves on the floor, obstructing passage through the hallway and into nearby offices.
U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officers warned the demonstrators to cease their unlawful activities or be faced with arrest. Forty-three people (15 males and 28 females) did not cease their demonstration activities and were arrested.
The arrestees were charged with D.C. Code §22-1307, Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding. They were transported to USCP Headquarters for processing.
Various protesters reported it was Sen. McConnell himself who ordered police to remove them from his office area. However, neither McConnell’s spokesman nor the U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman would say where the orders came from.
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