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Religious Leaders Shackled, Held in Jail Overnight, After Praying in Protest Outside Supreme Court

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Nine religious leaders were arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday in Washington, D.C., after participating in a national day of action for the new Poor People’s Campaign. They were handcuffed for five hours and jailed overnight in cells with cockroaches before being brought into court in ankle irons. The religious leaders were among 100 people arrested in Washington, D.C., Monday as part of the protests against poverty and racism. We speak with Rev. Liz Theoharis, who was one of the nine arrested Monday.

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

AMY GOODMAN: After their arrests, the Reverend Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, then led eight other religious leaders up to the steps of the Supreme Court to protest the court’s ruling upholding Ohio’s controversial voter purge law.

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: We are the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. So, some more witnesses are coming forward to bring our message to the Supreme Court.

REV. WILLIAM H. LAMAR IV: William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

SHAILLY GUPTA BARNES: Shailly Gupta Barnes. I’m with the national campaign.

NOAM SANDWEISS-BACK: I’m Noam Sandweiss-Back. I’m with the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign.

MINISTER ROB STEPHENS: Minister Rob Stephens at Middle Collegiate Church in New York.

REV. GRAYLAN HAGLER: Reverend Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, here in front of the Supreme Court, basically to really raise up the questions about the decisions that this body makes, and particularly the decisions that they make in terms of voter suppression, like in Ohio, and the decisions just the other day in terms of really sort of legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ community.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re here in front of the Supreme Court. Nine people are being arrested. We’re not talking about the Supreme Court justices of the United States, but nine people of faith who are protesting the decisions of the Supreme Court, who are part of the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Reverend Liz Theoharis, who, together with Reverend William Barber, is leading the Poor People’s Campaign, as they get arrested each week, along with hundreds of other people around the country. They’re praying right now, and the police have told them that they will be arrested.

POLICE OFFICER: You’re in violation of Title 40. If you do not leave, you will be arrested.

PROTESTERS: Thank you! We love you! Thank you! We love you! Thank you! We love you! Thank you! We love you!

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of people are standing, lining the streets between the Supreme Court and the Capitol, where they just rallied, watching this arrest go down.

PROTESTERS: Thank you! We love you! [singing] Everybody’s got a right to dream / And before this campaign fails / We’ll all go down to jail / Everybody’s got a right to dream / Everybody’s got a right to love.

AMY GOODMAN: The scene in front of the Supreme Court on Monday, as Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Reverend Graylan Hagler and seven others, nine people altogether, were arrested just in front of the court. About a hundred people were arrested that day. They were taken from the Supreme Court to—well, we’re joined by Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis right now. She was released from jail last night, which means the nine religious leaders were held more than 24 hours in jail. What happened to you in jail, Reverend Theoharis?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Well, thanks for having us and for sharing the story about people all across this country, you know, standing up for justice and building this Poor People’s Campaign.

So, we were indeed arrested in front of the Supreme Court and moved around quite a bit over the past 24 hours. But we were, you know, held at the Supreme Court for a while and then moved into kind of city holding, and then we were—

AMY GOODMAN: All this time, you were—you were handcuffed?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Yeah. So we were handcuffed for the first, you know, five or six hours, while we were being processed at the Supreme Court. And, you know, I think—we know that there’s a kind of impoverished democracy in this country and that poor people of all colors are criminalized. And, you know, we see the connections between that and why we need this campaign and why people, including faith leaders from the Poor People’s Campaign, were standing up for justice this past week. So, yeah, so we were kept, for many hours, handcuffed. We were put into city jails with other—lots of poor people who suffer the indignities of life every day. We were kept at the courthouse for a while and then shifted to a federal court.

AMY GOODMAN: We had reports that your religious vestments were ripped off of you?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Well, so, we had to remove them. And, in fact, my stole, that says “Jesus was a poor man,” that Reverend Barber [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: This is the—

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: —has been taken away.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the sash you were wearing, “Jesus was a poor man.”

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: That’s right. And, you know, it’s a true statement from the Bible. It’s also something that during the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, the caravan from Marks, Mississippi, had that on there. And so we wear those in solidarity with the '68 campaign and with the Bible. And so, that was taken. And all of our, you know, religious collars and vestments were removed. The prayer—Jewish prayer shawls that someone was wearing were removed. And folks got some of them back yesterday. I'm still waiting to get the stole back.

AMY GOODMAN: You were held overnight, cockroaches in your cells?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Yeah, I mean, just like lots of poor people experience all across this country every day, we were held, you know, with cockroaches, with very little food, and—

AMY GOODMAN: And when you were brought before the judge, you were put in leg irons?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Well, so, we were shackled, actually, in leg irons all day, you know, which is the treatment that folks get, poor people get, across this country on a regular basis. And, you know, I think it just ties into why we need a Poor People’s Campaign, why we need to stand up and declare that we need the rights to living wages and to housing and to voting rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, we have to leave it there, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival. A major rally in Washington on June 23rd. Special thanks to Sam Alcoff, Carla Wills, Chris Belcher and our news director, Mike Burke.

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