Gov. Sean Parnell's push to put a light on the problems of domestic violence and sexual assault with dozens of marches and rallies around Alaska Thursday took a twist in Anchorage when activist Desa Jacobsson heckled the speakers and then was arrested after stepping onto the speakers' area.
Anchorage police handcuffed Jacobsson, placed her in the back of a police vehicle and charged her with criminal trespassing at Town Square, a municipal park, Sgt. Jeff Morton said. One of the arresting officers was Police Chief Mark Mew. She was cited and released.
"She was doing just fine exercising her First Amendment rights and then elected to go a step over the line by going up to the podium," Morton said.
The governor's office had gotten a permit for the event, Morton said.
Jacobsson, who in the past has described herself as a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, said later in the afternoon that "Choose Respect" rallies were just for political show and that Parnell and other politicians have failed to do enough to fight the problems.
"Shame on you!" Jacobsson yelled during the presentations. She said she was directing her displeasure at all of the political speakers. "Native women die, and you yawn."
The Anchorage speakers included Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Cook Inlet Tribal Council president and chief executive Gloria O'Neill, Gwen Adams of ChangePoint Church, and a woman identified as a survivor of domestic violence who said she stumbled upon Juneau's rally last year after a court hearing and was comforted by the support.
Jacobsson alerted the governor's office that she intended to protest peacefully and respectfully at the event, and Morton said he spoke with her and let her know the boundaries of where she could be.
During the rally, Murkowski approached Jacobsson "trying to diffuse the situation," Morton said.
The senator offered to meet with her later, Jacobsson said, to which she answered "absolutely not!" She was upset that Murkowski supported the new Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, which extended the power of tribal courts to prosecute domestic violence, but fails to include most Alaska tribal groups because it only applies to reservations. The only reservation in Alaska is in Metlakatla.
When Murkowski returned to the speakers' area, Jacobsson followed. Morton said he warned her to stop but she kept going. She was passionate about the issues, and when police arrested her, she cooperated, he said.
"That's how we roll," Jacobsson said.
Thousands of Alaskans showed up for "Choose Respect" events held in more than 140 communities this year, said Sharon Leighow, Parnell's spokeswoman. Communities stretched from Adak to Barrow to Hydaburg. Parnell spoke at an event in Palmer and intended to go to Old Harbor, on Kodiak Island, but that couldn't because of weather, she said. In Anchorage, the speeches went on despite Jacobsson's protest, Leighow said.
Jacobsson complained that too few communities have village public safety officers, who work under state troopers, and that Parnell is not doing enough to beef up their numbers.
But Leighow said Parnell has been adding 15 village public safety officers a year and that the number of VPSOs has doubled during his time as lieutenant governor and now governor. There were 47 VPSOs as of Dec. 31, 2006, compared with 94 today, according to figures from the governor's office. And 116 positions are funded. The jobs are demanding and hard to fill, Leighow said.
Jacobsson said she was upset that the death of an Iditarod sled dog that suffocated in a snow storm this year after being dropped from the race already was prompting new procedures, when nothing seems to change when Native women are murdered. Just this week, troopers arrested a man in Hooper Bay on charges of beating his girlfriend to death while their children watched.
"One dog from the Iditarod dies and the whole world protested," she said. "Native women are killed in Alaska all the time and everybody is still silent."
The governor's office remains committed to curbing domestic violence and sexual assault, Leighow said.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER