Jan. 6, 2003 – Four women holding signs protesting the raises recently approved for elected officials were escorted out of Emancipation Garden during Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's inauguration ceremony on Monday.
The women had no connection to a demonstration organized by the local American Federation of Teachers union whose participants were marching outside the garden. The four said they were present as individual taxpayers to make their sentiments known.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees "the right of the people peaceably to assemble." Nonetheless, about eight police officers told the women — Susanne Rand, owner of Sudoco Rum Cigars; Julie Meyer, owner of Going Carib; Maria Ferreras, a community volunteer; and a woman who did not wish to be identified — that they must put down their signs or leave the garden.
The four had been standing silently at the Grand Galleria side of the garden holding their signs. After the AFT-led demonstration began outside, they were told to leave by the police officers. Ferreras, who had arrived alone and was joined there by the others, said she asked a policeman if she was going to be arrested for holding her sign. She said he told her, "You don't want it to come to that. You are not allowed to stand here and hold those signs, on the order of the commissioner."
Ferreras said she replied that "I'm just standing here," but he told her she had to leave the garden.
The officers said the women could stay if they stood on their signs, Ferreras said. She said she told one that he could take her sign, which read simply "No Raises," but not the two American flags she was carrying, which she had gotten at Ground Zero in New York. He refused, she said, again telling her to leave, then escorted her to the area where the teachers were demonstrating.
"He told me I should go join the protestors, but I could see that there was going to be trouble there," she said. "The police were using batons to encircle the crowd and drive them back toward the fire station."
The women then walked across Veterans Drive to the Coast Guard dock, where the AFT group, which had assembled at the dock, returned after a teacher was taken into custody in a clash with police.
"I feel my rights have been violated," Ferreras said. "I was standing in a public place. I was protesting for the policemen, too, and the firemen for their raises. That's why I came today. I come from a cop family in New York. I was raised to respect the police."
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