It’s their Capitol, too

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Starting five years ago with rallies dubbed Moral Mondays at North Carolina’s Capitol, the Poor People’s Campaign has grown into a national movement for economic and racial equality and against war and environmental destruction.

Not, apparently, until Monday in Kentucky had the demonstrators ever been barred from a state capitol building.

This is not a proud distinction for our state.

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The Capitol is the preeminent place to assemble and seek redress from the government, a right that is guaranteed to all U.S. citizens by the Constitution.

The public is owed an explanation of the policy cited by Kentucky State Police who barricaded the Capitol and blocked entry to an estimated 400 people who are part of the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign.

The demonstrators, who had rallied on the Capitol grounds, were told that no more than two at a time could be inside the Capitol building.

KSP spokesman Joshua Lawson told The State Journal of Frankfort that the two-person limit was put in place in response to earlier demonstrations by the Poor People’s Campaign which began on Mondays last month. Lawson said the new rule has only ever been invoked against the Poor People’s Campaign. Some protesters at one of the earlier demonstrations staged an overnight sit-in at the Capitol, and authorities wanted to avoid a repeat of that.

Lawson did not say who created the rule, who approved it or how it was communicated to the public. Someone should explain all of those things.

We understand that KSP, like most of state government, is running on a tight budget that allows little overtime — either to arrest protesters or guard the building’s interior overnight.

It’s possible that whoever imposed this new rule did not consider the constitutional implications of barring citizens from peaceably exercising their First Amendment rights in the seat of government.

The Capitol isn’t a museum or gallery. It’s the heart of the state’s government. And there’s no indication that the demonstrators, including Kentucky Council of Churches President Kent Gilbert, who raises important questions, intended anything but a peaceful demonstration.

All Kentuckians, not just those who were barred from their Capitol, are owed an explanation.

Lexington Herald-Leader