There has been significant media coverage in recent weeks surrounding protests by the Poor People’s Campaign at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort. Some sources have suggested that this group is somehow being arbitrarily “shut out” of access to the building because of the content of their message.
This is simply not true.
While the Kentucky State Police works daily to safeguard the commonwealth’s facilities, employees and members of the general public, we do so in full view of every citizens’ constitutional rights — including those guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The KSP protocol of allowing two PPC protestors at a time to enter the Capitol was implemented based upon general crowd-control training, coupled with law enforcement officers’ specific experiences with this particular group.
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First, it is important to understand that any group planning to formally assemble at the Capitol must secure a proper permit. On at least three occasions this spring, PPC rally organizers requested (and were issued) permits to congregate outside of the building. However, on each of these occasions, they then took it upon themselves to attempt to move their rally inside without the proper permit.
Secondly, the KSP protocol has been implemented in direct response to previous actions by this protest group. These incidents include:
▪ On May 14, approximately 30 PPC protestors blocked traffic on Capital Avenue Loop. Rather than making arrests, KSP troopers diverted traffic to allow their protest to continue.
▪ On May 21, 17 individuals associated with this group refused to leave the Capitol building at closing time. Rather than making arrests, KSP brought in extra troopers and facility-security officers to provide round-the-clock security while the protestors spent the night. It was later discovered that members of the group tampered with state property during their overnight stay.
▪ On May 29, several protestors breached a fence into a restricted area surrounding the Governor’s Mansion. Rather than making arrests for criminal trespassing, KSP allowed the protestors to remain.
▪ On June 11, approximately two dozen PPC members entered the front foyer of the Capitol and refused to leave when the building closed. Rather than making arrests, KSP allowed the protestors to remain in the building until 8:30 p.m., when they finally departed of their own volition.
In other words, KSP has gone out of our way to be accommodating to PPC protestors and allow them to exercise their right to protest, despite the fact this group has violated regulations each time they have convened — with some individuals even stating a desire to be arrested.
Another key point to bear in mind is that there are repercussions to all Kentuckians when groups engage in activities such as these. For example, KSP had to deploy additional security when PPC protesters unlawfully spent the night of May 21 at the Capitol, forcing them to pull troopers from highway patrols in surrounding communities.
KSP works with dozens of groups each year to ensure they are able to safely and securely assemble at our Capitol and exercise their First Amendment rights. However, these groups must exercise their rights in good faith, abiding by established facility rules — rules that are in place for the protection of state workers, the preservation of historic facilities, and the safety of the general public (including protestors).
Rick Sanders is commissioner of the Kentucky State Police.