I suppose it’s to be expected when one has suffered from police brutality it would eventually turn up in one’s musings.   The date was  June 17, 1989.   The place, Summit Women’s Center,  West Hartford CT.    On April 1, 1989, a rescue had taken place at the Summit Center.  (A “rescue” may be defined as an attempt to prevent the killing of babies in the womb by non-violent, passive means.) When it was learned that the rescuers had been brutalized by the West Hartford police, a bigger, better rescue was planned for June 17.

On June 17, 1989, the Center was prevented from performing any of the scheduled abortions. On both days the demonstrators’ unruly conduct required the intervention of approximately forty West Hartford police officers of the Town of West Hartford (“Town”)–a third of the town force.

I was in the June 17 contingent.   Over 250  of us invaded the abortion clinic facilities that morning and sat down.  In due course the police arrived and started to remove us.  We expected brutality and we got it.   Afterwards we were asked to write down exactly what we experienced  while it was still fresh in our memory.   I wondered whether to include on this blog the whole report, which is quite detailed,  but decided I would, just for the record:

Dorothy A. Vining, age 65, Baby Jane Doe #91, 6/17/89

We arrived at the Summit Women’s Center about 8 AM and immediately entered a side door and went up a number of flights of stairs and through an open door into the “clinic.”  I personally sat down in a hall behind a door which had been somehow secured.  We heard the sound of someone removing the hinges of the door and then the police started to remove us.  They would drag each person down a hall to a corner and then we would hear screams from around the corner but could not see what was happening.  When they reached me one officer said, “This one next,” and I was dragged by my clothing down to that corner.  They snipped the tape off my left hand.  I had protected my right hand with an orthopedic splint of leather and velcro as I have had wrist problems in the past and do typing for a living.  [A friend of mine had suffered nerve injury during the April 1 rescue.]  I told the officer this was a real splint and I really had a bad wrist.  He told me to get up and walk.  I said they could move me without injuring my wrist.  He said “no” and tossed the splint aside, as well as my purse.  This contained my  glasses, a camera, some money, etc.  I have not seen it since.

Then I went around the corner.  An officer behind me raised my left arm over my head and down behind my back and I shrieked with pain.  [I did not know this was a move that the human body is capable of!]  This particular maneuver had no purpose that I could see other than to hurt me.  They then cuffed my hands behind me quite tightly and somehow applied pressure that popped me up in the air, again screaming with pain.  [I still have in my possession a tape showing me being taken down the hall and the subsequent two screams are quite audible.]  They walked me backward to the elevator and outside, still applying pressure but lessening it somewhat as we got outside and were visible to others.  I cried out again when they pulled my head back for the picture and my picture shows me with my mouth wide open.

Coming off the bus was the same story with me walking half bent over with  them lifting up on the cuffs.  I was put down on flagstone or tile in the courthouse.  The cuffs were removed, my glasses, my shoes, as well as everything from my pockets.  A woman officer patted me down, recuffed me, and I was dragged into the courtroom and dumped.  The time was 11:30.  I was later dragged the length of the courtroom by one arm (the right).

We just sat around and watched the victims accumulate.  I had been there nine hours before any water appeared  and in the cuffs four hours before they were removed.  By that time my hands were quite swollen but when one of the women asked an officer to remove them he said I had enough room.  We had no food whatever until 8:30, and of course slept on the floor or benches, wherever we could find room.

On Sunday, 6/18, breakfast consisted of an egg and sausage sandwich, with milk or soda, and after 24 hours without food was greatly appreciated.  There was no lunch and supper consisted of two slices of white bread and a single slice of baloney.  No drink — just water, then another night on the courtroom floor.

Monday, 6/19, we got another sandwich about 8:30 for breakfast.  Judge Norco presided and the few people who chose to give their names and bail out were disposed of.  They were then left with over 100 people who had no names and would not move.  Gradually as the day went on they matched the pictures with names and we were taken rather roughly forward.  Lawyer Altham asked us to mention any injuries we had received.  At one point an officer kicked a man and Altham called it an “outrage,” saying he had seen it himself.  Judge Norco said something like “don’t let it happen again.”  Later, toward evening, they brought in some of the men from upstairs and we could hear them screaming as they approached.  One in great pain lay on the floor and a medic was asked to look at his arm.  The medic said his shoulder was not dislocated.  When asked if his arm could be broken, he replied, “I don’t have x-ray eyes.”

When Father Norman Weslin was brought in all order in the courtroom vanished and  someone  started a rosary with most of us gathered about him.  At the last decade someone asked Father to lead it, which he did, battered as he was.  It was a very moving scene.  Another powerful scene was on Saturday when a man was brought into the courtroom in great pain and there was a near riot as we rose up in outrage.  A young girl with the pen-name DAB reminded us of our non-violent stance and prayed for peace to descend.  It was a very powerful prayer and the peace was almost tangible.

By 7 PM Monday I still had not been identified and was re-photo’d, and given the letter F, and a court date of June 21.  Atty.  Altham moved for dismissal but Norco said they could hold us for 24 hours to see if they could identify us.  There were two other women in the same boat and several men.  Consequently we arrived at Niantic prison quite late.    We had been put on chairs with wheels to get on the bus and got off the same way .  En route, Lt. Davis, of Niantic, said that many of us had injuries and assured us we would not be hurt at Niantic.  He said his job was to see that we remained safe and well until we bonded out or  our court date arrived.  He also said that a person without a “dream” was a nothing in his book.

At Niantic we were given a sandwich and “juice” and asked about injuries and medical problems.  I told them my shoulder had been injured (it was comfortable at rest but I could not lift anything or make certain movements without pain.)  I expected it would heal with time.

I have no criticism of Niantic.  On Wednesday, when I and Peggy and Siena had to go back to West  Hartford,  they woke us at 6 AM and we left at 7 on a bus with other inmates, in both handcuffs and foot shackles.  We went to Hartford via New Haven, Bridgeport, and Meriden and finally arrived at 11:30 for court.  Siena was still going DM [defenseless mode] and we were informed that they weren’t going to move us anymore and if we wouldn’t move to go to court we would be cited for failure to appear and get another felony on top of our felony and that could go on a long as we liked.  Various inmates helped move Siena so we wouldn’t be left behind.  The Hartford officers said “Get her out of here,” and the West Hartford officers said, “We aren’t moving her.”  She is one gutsy little lady.

On the way to court I had the opportunity of talking with a girl, Beverly, who cried as she told me of an abortion she had had several years earlier (because she was on drugs) and told me of her rape.  She said when she is scared she feels it in her womb  (I suppose because that is where she had been injured.)  The results at court were that Peggy and I were identified and Siena was set free.  I was not present but was told Siena had pleaded guilty and burst into tears and said she wanted to go back to Niantic.

We were asked many times where our shoes were.  The inmates felt it was not right that we did not have shoes.  “Shoes is not personal property; shoes is clothing!”   There was strong pro-life sentiment among the prisoners and even many of the officers (but they did not approve of having to carry us around.)  They suggested that we thereby hurt our cause.  On the way back to Niantic two of the girls gave us woven crosses that the men make (I don’t know where) and another girl walked out of her shoes and made me take them.  She said she had more and was being freed in six days.

I bonded out on June 28  because my ears were ringing, I had a bad head cold and sore throat, I couldn’t sleep for coughing, and I felt I had left my 94-year-old mother long enough.  Bonding out was uneventful but expensive. My son, daughter-in-law and their two children came for me.  Unfortunately my shoulder, which had been smouldering, flared up as soon as I tried using it.  On June 30th I visited orthopedist, Dr. Fornshell,  (after two nights of extreme pain), had it injected with cortisone, put in a sling, with Naprosyn and Tylox prescribed.  I hope this will help explain why my typing is so lousy.  I am hoping that by July 1 I will be well enough to return to work.  They are considerably upset with me.

After more cortisone and physical therapy, my shoulder has since returned to normal.

So much for passive resistance!  No wonder the West Hartford police took off their badges.  They didn’t want to be held accountable for what they were going to do.  I have limited this report to my personal experiences because to write about the abuse  others  suffered would be much too long.

Thomas Droleskey made the following comment about the aims of Operation Rescue:

The “something” that simultaneously galvanized and polarized the pro-life community was Operation Rescue. Rescue galvanized many in the pro-life community as it held out the hope that massive sit-ins and blockages of abortuaries might singe the conscience of the nation. It polarized others in that same community, especially those who believed that we had been making “progress” in the 1980s and that we had to work through the electoral system to effect change incrementally, pragmatically. Some Catholics were critical of the whole concept of Rescue, arguing that it was wrong to adopt the tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, worse yet to entrust the leadership of such an enterprise to evangelical Protestants who believed that they had the responsibility to take Catholics out of the Church to “save” them. Despite the polarizing aspects of Rescue, however, many thousands of Catholics were among those who were arrested at rescues between late 1987 and 1994, the time that Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Bill (FACE), with the help, it should be noted, of a few supposedly “pro-life” senators and representatives (could you imagine them voting for a “Freedom of Access to a Concentration Camp Bill”)?   A lot of Catholics were involved in the high-level leadership of local rescues.

Posted  by John R.  Kladde,  Director, CT Pro-Life Action Network,  April 2004, when he announced that our case against West Hartford police would finally come to trial:

A quick recap of the case: It took 3 years to file the case. It took five complaints and 8 years to finish the pleadings to start the case. Then it’s taken 4 years and three appeals of motions to dismiss to get to trial. There will be no other activity besides jury selection and trial. Bear in mind, this will be the only full jury trial in the history of Rescue.

West Hartford won, of course.  We weren’t cooperative;  they had to hurt us.  So  much for passive resistance!

Below – a glimpse of Operation Rescue in action.

~~~

It is easy to look back on those who broke the law [in Scripture] and praise them. But when the same challenges that they faced face us, we find it difficult to acknowledge that sometimes the law must be broken. That’s because now the sacrifices will be made by us. I have never broken the law. I have never been arrested. But I simply cannot guarantee that I never will. — Fr. Frank Pavone
I have heard some say that Operation Rescue is damaging to the Pro-Life Movement.  Who can be angry with an honest judgment?  I can’t — but I can disagreeWere I ever tempted to agree I would look again at pictures of people like Bishop Lynch and Bishop Austin Vaughan, for whom my respect is unbounded, and whos integrity I rust completely.  — Cardinal John J. O’Connor