Jefferson Memorial closed by police over free speech ‘dance party’

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Police closed the Jefferson Memorial slightly before 1 p.m. Saturday and ushered out a crowd that was challenging a ban on dancing inside the monument.

No arrests were made during the “dance party” that had been called after five people were arrested one week ago for silently dancing.

At noon, a crowd assembled on the steps to the monument, then entered the hall and circled the statue of Thomas Jefferson. A substantial number of reporters and photographers watched.

No efforts were made to arrest the large group of dancers, but after a half hour, police announced that they were closing the monument and began to usher people to the exit.

As the monument was cleared of participants and press alike, several people remained, dancing gleefully in front of SWAT team members who had arrived.

Participants included members of Code Pink and supporters of Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

The last of the participants were corralled out of the building around 1 p.m., to cheers from the crowd of those ejected earlier.

The police reaction was less severe than at the previous weekend’s event, when the police tackled protesters. This time, most of the protesters left on their own accord, though some were shoved or grabbed by police officers.

Outside of the hall, officers demanded that everyone stand only on the steps. One officer carried a machine gun, which he told protesters was to back up other law enforcement.

The organizers of the event spoke after the hall was cleared. Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, who was one of the five arrested last weekend, told listeners that the event was a victory, that large numbers had prevented a police overreaction.

Other participants were not as generous in their assessment, with one announcing that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” quoting President Kennedy.

The crowd slowly dispersed as people danced to the song “Safety Dance.” An open mic welcomed speeches that included a reading of the First Amendment and complaints about the “anger issues” of certain officers. A woman said that she had been throttled for dancing.

One man took to the microphone to demand that all intrusive government policies be overturned, specifically mentioning the need to repeal “Obamacare.” Benjamin clarified that some participants also wanted a single-payer system, but that all agreed on the right to dance at the memorial.

Steven Nelson