When Police Brutality Is Allowed : Abortion: The killing of a Florida doctor inspires a ban on even peaceful protests.

Patrick Riley is director for governmental affairs of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and teaches philosophy at the Catholic University of America.

On the screen, we see police break the arm of a man who is walking peacefully beside them toward the paddy wagon. We see a grandmother screaming as she lies face-down on the street while a cop, kneeling on her back, binds her hands behind her with plastic handcuffs.

There was no threat, no violence, no resistance to arrest. But there's no national outrage, no prosecutions.

When you learn the grandmother had been praying the rosary outside police lines, you'll know what she and the others were: pro-life demonstrators.

The videos came to the attention of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which turned them over to the Justice Department. Investigations began in San Jose, San Diego, Atlanta, West Hartford, Conn., and Pittsburgh. Eventually, the investigations were dropped; there was no proof of intent to violate the law, prosecutors said.

The matter went before the House subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, where Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) subjected a Justice Department official to ruthless questioning on the kind of evidence needed for conviction. Pro-choice Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose) joined Hyde in promoting legislation against the savaging of peaceful demonstrators outside abortion clinics. Even the pro-choice American Civil Liberties Union condemned the police brutality. "Most of those people are demonstrating peacefully," said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. "Even if they are trespassing, they do not represent any danger to the arresting officer." But the measure never made it out of Congress.

Then, in Florida, a pro-life demonstrator was accused of killing an abortion doctor. This was not only a crime from everybody's point of view, but a blunder from the pro-lifers' point of view.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would effectively criminalize peaceful protests outside abortion clinics, with up to a year in prison for a first offense. With White House backing, it is given a better-than-even chance of passage. Recently, Sen. Edward Kennedy's Labor and Human Resources Committee approved the bill, while the House version lingers in committee. The legislation would enable clinics to get injunctions against protesters, paving the way for suits for ruinous damages. It would make police brutality unnecessary.

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