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“Democracy While Black”–Rev. Lennox Yearwood Arrested, Charged with Assault While Entering Petraeus Hearing

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The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, was tackled by six Capitol police officers after he tried to enter the Petraeus hearing on Monday. Rev. Yearwood was injured in the incident taken to hospital. He was later charged him with felony assault of a police officer. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush expected to announce tonight plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq back down to 130,000 by next July.

In a meeting with top Democratic leaders, the president said he was trying to find common ground on Iraq by planning to “start doing some redeployment.” But at the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly interjected by saying, “No, you’re not, Mr. President. You’re just going back to the pre-surge level.”

President Bush will be outlining his plans in a nationally televised address to the nation at 9:00 p.m. His speech comes just three days after General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker came before Congress to recommend the continuation of the war for the indefinite future.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, at least 10 protesters were arrested during General David Petraeus’s hearing. Most were arrested for disrupting the congressional hearing, but at least one activist was arrested for simply trying to watch the proceedings. Video posted on YouTube shows the Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus being tackled by six Capitol police officers after he tried to enter the hearing.

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: No, no. For what? No. What kind of arrest? Ow!

WITNESS: Hey, take it easy! Easy! Easy! He’s a nonviolent man! He’s a minister! He’s a minister!

AMY GOODMAN: He was injured in the incident and was taken to the hospital. The Capitol police charged him with felony assault of a police officer. Reverend Lennox Yearwood is the founder of the Hip Hop Caucus. He’s among the organizers of this Saturday’s antiwar march in Washington. He joins us from the studios in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened.

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Well, on September 10, I went to hear the hearing, and I can tell you that it was, for me, as a former Air Force officer, obviously someone who is the president of the Hip Hop Caucus leading a march on Saturday, I knew how important it was to hear the general’s report for myself. I knew that when officers lie, soldiers die. So I was going in, in essence, to make government more transparent. It was also critical for me as a person of color to be in the room to report back to my community.

But instead, when I got there, I was waiting in line. I was standing there. I had to do a radio interview. I asked the officer, I said, “Can I step out of line for a second to do an interview?” He said, “No problem.” I did my interview. I came back to the line. I got back in the line. I was waiting.

And then, all of a sudden — it was somewhat suspicious — another officer came down, was passing out blue post-it notes. And as he was coming in the line, he actually came to me and actually Colonel Ann Wright, who was standing with me. It was amazing. The two officers who were going in to hear General Petraeus, he actually told us both, “You can’t get in,” and then walked past us.

And so, me and Colonel Ann Wright looked at each other and said, “Why can’t we get in?” He said, “You can’t get in.” And so, we went up forward, and we kept walking to the front of the line and said, “Why are we being denied?” “You just can’t get in.” And so, somebody came and passed one of the blue post-it notes to Colonel Wright and put it in her hand. And she showed it to him. “I didn’t give you that.” She said, “I know. Why can’t we get in?” He said, “Well, OK, you can get in.” And she said, “What about Reverend Yearwood?” He said, “No, he can’t get in.”

And that’s when it started. I said, “Why are you singling me out? What is going on?” It’s important to know. We have this huge rally at the White House, and a march to the Capitol is coming Saturday. And I know my picture is on the flier. But regardless, I asked, “Why are you singling me out?”

At that point in time, they became to be aggressive, and they got around me. And I said that — “You’re going to be arrested.” I said, “What am I going to be arrested for? What have I done? I just want to go inside and hear the hearing for myself.” At that point in time, one came behind me, said, “You’re going to be arrested.” And then somebody grabbed me on my shoulder. And I kind of turned. Amy, by the time I turned, I was on the ground. And I actually just felt myself going headfirst into the concrete.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Reverend Yearwood, to your knowledge, was anyone else who was on the line singled out and told they could not come in?

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Well, there were three of us. One was Gail from CODEPINK — Ann Wright and myself were the three who were singled out. All of us are obviously very prominent peace activists. And so, we were the three. Gail, who was singled out, kind of moved to the side, and then myself and Ann Wright were right there at the front. And then somebody put a blue post-it note in Ann’s hands. And then he just let her in, so it wasn’t about anything else. And then he just singled us out. He said, “You’re not getting in.” It was amazing. It was just stopping the peace activists, like just stopping the peace activists from going in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus. How often do you go into congressional hearings? Do the police know your face?

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Well, no, they definitely know my face. With the Hip Hop Caucus, it is our job to make government transparent, particularly for urban youth. What’s so tragic about this is that we tried to go into the halls of Congress so that young people can come and become familiar with the process. And obviously they cannot be afraid of the process. A lot of young people of color — a lot of young people, period — don’t trust the system. And so, not trusting the system, our job is to tell them to register to vote, to get them encouraged to make it more transparent. And so, obviously they know.

Obviously they know that I’m also a peace activist. I’m also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I’m obviously — I’m totally against this war. I think it is an atrocity. They know that. So I’m a face that they recognize, and not somebody — and I’m also a minister, a man of God. And so, they knew who I was, standing in line.

And so, when they pulled out of — they actually didn’t pull me out. They just stopped me from getting in, and they wouldn’t tell me why. They just stopped me. What was worse, when they leaped on me, started to beat me in the halls of Congress. And I say, here I am, a former officer lying in the halls of Congress, while there’s another officer in the hearing lying to the Congress. And here I am just lying and being beaten. I couldn’t understand.

It was — and I have to tell you, Amy, when I was literally — when I was lying there, I have to admit, I actually, as a person of color, lost hope for a second. I was sitting there, “Why am I doing this? I’m just here to try to make the injustice visible. I’m not hurting anybody. I’m not hitting anybody. I’m just here. I was in line. I just want to go in. And instead, I’m being beaten in the halls of Congress, sitting here being leaped on by police officers and being beaten all for this reason.”

AMY GOODMAN: They charged you with assaulting a police officer?

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: The amazing thing is that then, after obviously I tore ligaments in my ankle, and then they took me to the hospital, and then they took me to jail, and they charged me originally with felony assault on an officer. And then the court — and they tried to ban me from the Capitol. And obviously that was thrown out, the banning of me from the Capitol, which is wonderful for our march, because we’re marching to the Capitol on Saturday. And they kept the misdemeanor. So I’ll be going to court again for that. But it was amazing.

I must say this, though. When I heard the chant, my mother in the movement, Cindy Sheehan, and DeeDee were there. When I was down on the ground, I literally was just like, “This is ridiculous.” But I heard them say, “Arrest Bush, not Rev!” I can tell you that I knew that the movement — we will not be denied. We will show up at every hearing, and our voices as a people will be heard.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tell us, in terms of the upcoming march this Saturday, the response that you’re hearing, especially in terms of the African-American, Latino and the non-white communities, because many of the peace marches have still had very few or low participation level from those communities, even though in those communities the public sentiment seems to be more against the war than even in the general population.

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Well, obviously. I mean, obviously. If you can beat on a reverend in the halls of Congress, how many of you want to come out to these marches. You’re going to think the same thing’s going to happen to you. If you can beat on ministers and fathers and priests and women, this is going to have a tremendous effect on communities of color, and so they recognize this. So, obviously, their sentiment against this war is very high. They are against this war from the beginning, and it continues to be high.

But regardless of that, what we have been seeing now, so many who have seen the video, they are saying that we are fired up, and we’re not going to take it anymore. And there have been so many from the communities of color, black and Latino, who are saying that we will come out and we will march to the Capitol, because we recognize now if we don’t stop this madness seven years into the 21st century, there is not going to be a 22nd century. Humanity is on the line. So people of color are uniting. And you’re seeing a peace movement now that hasn’t been seen. You’re seeing black and white and brown and yellow, male and female, straight and gay, coming together, because we understand that this is one of the most important — this is our lunch counter moment for the 21st century. And if we don’t stand up now, we recognize that all — all — could be lost.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you be on crutches, as well, on Saturday, Reverend Yearwood?

REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD JR.: Unfortunately, I will be on crutches on Saturday. I’ll be on crutches for quite some time, unfortunately, for what was done to me. I might have been beaten in the halls of Congress, but my spirit wasn’t beaten. So I will be limping all the way to the Capitol on the 15th.

And folks can find out about this at We need everyone. If they can beat on me in the halls of Congress, they will come and beat on you next.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Lennox Yearwood, thanks very much for being with us, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, minister and community activist, one of the organizers of the antiwar march that will be taking place in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

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