The week has been filled with the kind of stories that suck up all the oxygen in the news world – Israel, the Ukraine and the House debacle over the border babies. With all that drama, you may have missed this great story out of Jackson, Mississippi, about how a mild mannered real estate entrepreneur became a folk hero in the War On Women.
Mississippi was ground zero in the abortion fight this week. The state is down to one clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and this week, it was literally under siege. The clinic has been operating out of compliance with a state law passed in April of 2012, which says abortion providers have to be certified OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. A judge for the 5th Circuit granted them a temporary stay from those regulations, and last week, a three judge panel for that court heard a challenge to that decision.
As the court heard arguments, the clinic became a magnet for out of-state anti-women’s rights groups. Chief among them was Ohio’s Created Equal who bussed in their protesters along with their large photo displays of the unborn. (That’s two of the many photos they put along the sidewalk in the photo above.)
What the Westboro Church is to gay rights, Created Equal is to a woman’s right to choose. They seem to think of themselves as some kind of “men in black” tough guys with a fetus fetish. Remember this photo when you see them whining later in their own video. This from their Facebook page:
Not surprisingly, the anti-choice carpetbaggers brought out the clinic’s supporters. They call themselves the Pink House Defenders after the bright pink color the clinic was recently painted to call attention to itself – the last abortion provider left in the state of Mississippi. Led by local activist Derenda Hancock, (that’s Derenda in the hula hoop on the right) many of them are volunteers who escort patients into the clinic and try to shield them from harassment from aggressive protesters like those from Created Equal.
Notice the Pink House Defenders are all holding their signs – even the one on the ground. That is because there is an ordinance in Jackson that requires all protest signs be held. Created Equal conveniently leaves out that important fact when they tell their version of this story, but they are aware of it. Philip “Flip” Benham, former director of Operation Save America, told the Clarion-Ledger the group is frustrated with what they call “silly” city ordinances that do not allow signs to rest on the ground and police officers who stand watch and wait to arrest protesters that do not obey.
In fact, the anti-choice activists were so unhappy with the way Jackson police treated them and their gigantic fetus signs, they filed a harassment lawsuit against them. One of the complaints in that suit is that Jackson officers told protesters they could not put signs on public sidewalks but instead had to hold them at all times. That lawsuit seems to have led to a change in police orders, because last Thursday, for the first time, the police did not stop Created Equal from setting up their visual display.
Now, directly across the street from the pink clinic is a thriving retail center known as Fondren Corner, developed over the last ten years by Mike Peters, who rents retail space in an iconic blue building he owns and who manages many of the adjacent properties. Included in those retail establishments is Sneaky Beans coffee shop, Babalu Tacos & Tapas, and Rooster’s and Basil’s sandwich shop, the kind of places that don’t appreciate large photo of fetuses outside their dining room windows. To these businesses, the ordinance that keeps Created Equal’s fetus photos off the sidewalk is not “silly” at all.
I don’t pretend that Mike Peters was thinking about the rights and dignity of the women of Mississippi when he decided to move the five-foot display boards Created Equal set up across from Fondren Corner. I am sure he was thinking about the rights and sensibilities of his tenants and their customers. But whatever the reason, Mr. Peters took it upon himself to enforce the ordinance the police were (apparently) instructed to overlook. He remove the illegal signs. One by one, he picked them up and silently carried them past police and into the basement of his blue building.
“It was horrible.” Mr. Peters told the Jackson Free Press. “If they would have had little signs like most of the locals have now … we probably would have just let it ride, but these were horrible. Every 5 feet there was just another one, another one, another one.”
When they saw what Mr. Peters was doing, several of the business owners came out and helped him. Nathan Glen, owner of Rooster’s Fondren located directly across the street from the clinic was one of them. He called the Created Equal protesters “social terrorists”.
“We get the protest. I don’t mind the protesters,” Glen said. “But why should their civil rights come over mine? We’re actually paying taxes here. We live here. And they come in from out of Ohio and don’t abide by the laws we have.”
The Created Equal “men-in-black” protesters were beside themselves. They taped Mike Peters and his associates as they silently moved the display, but he refused to engage them. They nagged police officers to stop the thieves, but police just stood and watched as he carried the signs past them.
“I’m not mad at you,” Peters told the officer. “I know you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do. But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Mr. Peters said he thinks police had orders from city hall not to interfere with the protester’s signs even though they were in violation of the local ordinance – and their protest permit to boot. As to why they didn’t stop him, Mr. Peters told reporters he thinks the police said to themselves:
“‘Well, why should we arrest him for doing this, and yet we’re letting them (the protesters) break the law too? That’s not right.'”
Mike Peters eventually returned the signs to the group, so they could pack them up and send them on to the next protest. (My guess would be Louisiana where they are hard at work trying to close down abortion providers there.) But his moment of civil disobedience should not go unnoticed or unlauded. Well played, sir. Well played.
You can watch our hero in action in the video below.
All Photos via Facebook