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Quick and Dirty

Thou Doth Protest Too Much

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/16/2006

Since September 2002, several months before the United States invaded Iraq, people calling themselves Iraq Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore have stood silent vigil on the first Thursday evening of each month. They gather on the sidewalk at the base of the Washington Monument's south park, at the intersection of Charles and Centre streets. They hold signs calling for peace and for an end to U.S. aggression.

Then Baltimore police officers harass them.

"It's inappropriate," says Maria Allwine, a legal secretary and member of the group. "And I'm tired of it."

Allwine says abuse from passing motorists and others is part of the territory when advocating unpopular ideas like "peace." She says the group is used to people flipping them off or yelling uncharitable things out of their car windows. She says run-ins with police officers, most of whom try to remove the protesters from the public park by erroneously claiming that they need a permit or are breaking some law, have been common. But in July, after a couple of uniformed Baltimore police officers turned on their squad car's public address system to yell pro-war slogans and "get a job" at the protesters, Allwine says the group decided to fight back.

She wrote the police department to demand the name of the officer and request that he be disciplined. The Baltimore Police Department complied, she says.

"I did get a letter, and calls--the police department, to their credit, they were very responsive," Allwine says, noting that the offending officer, Taras Hnyatyshyn, received a letter of reprimand and lost a vacation day because of the July 6 incident.

Pledge of Resistance returned to its spot on the sidewalk Aug. 3, where Allwine says another city police officer confronted her: "A Baltimore City patrol car pulled up and the female police officer who was the passenger in the vehicle, Sgt. Hatcher, began to harangue me," Allwine wrote in an e-mail sent last week to the police department, city and state officials, and several media outlets.

"I think--and this is my opinion--that the woman officer who harassed us may have been aware of what happened" with Hnyatyshyn, Allwine says

City Paper forwarded Allwine's letter to Baltimore Police Department spokesman Matt Jablow. He says the department is investigating the incident, but adds that Allwine's complaint also prompted "roll-call training about this incident in particular, and about freedom of speech issues in general."

"I would like a meeting with the police department, specifically with commissioner [Leonard] Hamm," says Allwine. "We want his assurances that we will not be hassled in the future and that he will get a grip on his individual police officers. . . . If they have issues with our political beliefs, quite frankly we don't want to hear about it.

"And," Allwine says, "I want an apology."

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