“State of Despair” Protestor felt “Intimidated” During Teacher Walkout
A Native American advocate said she was questioned by state troopers during the teacher walking because she displayed the same banner she showed during Governor Mary Fallin’s from state of the state address
Ashley Nicole, a graduate assistant at the University of Oklahoma, said she felt threatened when two state troopers approached her and two other women while they sat on a statue at the state Capitol building Nicole said other protestors were also utilizing and displayed the large ‘State of Despair’ banner that she had unfurled during the state of the state address, earlier this year.
“While displaying the banner, an Oklahoma State Trooper approached me and called me by name, asking to speak to me after I was done,” Nicole said. “That I was identified, targeted, and picked out of such a huge crowd was scary and seeing more troopers create a perimeter around us definitely felt intimidating.”
She said protesting peacefully is a constitutional right, but she didn’t want to push her limits.
Nicole said she felt like the troopers were either, “trying to escalate a peaceful situation, intimidate me from returning during the protest, or trying to entrap me or incriminate me to justify targeting me.”
Lieutenant Larry Saxon of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the officers were never there to start a scene, but rather protect the rights of those protesting
However, because of Nicole’s past action at the state of the state Saxon said OHP policy tells them what they can and can’t do. Saxon said putting a banner up inside of the capitol was not allowed.
Nicole said she told the officer involved in the incident she didn’t want to talk.
“I stated that I was afraid of police and it was at that moment our allies intervened, which enabled us to safely exit with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma legal observers escorting us,” she said.
Nicole had a friend record her being followed by state troopers despite her insisting to not speak with them. “The ACLU instructed us to all record our interactions with our phones and their legal observers were also recording,” she said. “Once we got off the platform, the Troopers rushed us and since I had already refused a request to speak with him, we began to exit the Capitol.”
“In a state that is as heavily policed and reliant on the prison, oil and gas industries as Oklahoma, it’s not a safe strategy to assume state agents are here for anything other than to enact the will of the state,” she said.
In the video, the officer follows Nicole until she crosses the street, when a second officer saw Nicole’s friend recording the encounter.
He said, “You know I know you’re videotaping me.” He then told her to walk in front of him as she followed Nicole who was further ahead.
The officer then told Nicole’s friend he wanted to introduce himself, “because she and I have been in a lot of different things together where she’s protested and I’m not here to tell her she can’t protest.”
The officer said he wanted to guarantee she had her right to protest in the video.
“I was trying to talk to her up there to make sure she knew she can sit up there all day long if she wants to, she’s here to protest like everyone else is trying to protest,” the officer is heard saying on the video. “Because I know that she tells people that law enforcement is after her, or something, and we’re not. We’re here to protect her right to be able to protest.”
The officer then said one of her friends, Mark Faulk, was trying to steal her “limelight” when earlier stopped officers as they followed Nicole.
Faulk said he ran into Nicole at the Capitol. “She’s an organizer and advocate I really admire and we have supported each other’s efforts,” he said.
Faulk said he helped Nicole onto the statue along with the two other activists in order for their “State of Despair” poster to show.
“After a few minutes, Capt. Tipton from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol came up and said, ‘Ashley can we talk when you get down?’ The fact that he knew her name was disturbing, and she was understandably upset. She asked if I would talk to them with her, I said yes,” he said.
Later, after the officers surrounded the statue, Nicole said she no longer wanted to speak to them.
Faulk said he talked to one officer. He said, “To try to give her time, which worked because they were able to get away.” Faulk said the officer pushed him several times before the officer turned around to confront him. In the video the officer confronts Faulk.
After trying to explain the situation, Faulk said the officers were being aggressive by surrounding Nicole and calling her by name. The officer, he said, knew who Nicole was “because she posts on social media, and we want to make sure she doesn’t hang her banner inside again.”
Faulk said the officer ended the confrontation with, “we know who you are too, and we know what you do for a living.”
Saxon, the OHP officer, said it’s common for the OHP to do intelligence about protestors to differentiate peaceful protesters from agitators. He also said many of the people at the Capitol didn’t have the same permit the teachers had to protest. Saxon said some people were there without one.
The ACLU said in a statement there were no agitators as far as they could see.
“Legal Observers have been present at the Capitol since the first day of this walkout and have witnessed nothing inside or outside the building that constitutes a threat. In fact, the only thing our observers have witnessed are educators, public employees, and their supporters engaging in the most American and democratic practice of peacefully petitioning their government,” the organization’s statement said.
ACLU spokesperson Allie Shinn, said she couldn’t personally speak on the issue regarding Nicole but confirmed there were legal observers present at the Capitol to ensure protesters were allowed to protest peacefully.