Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial: No arrests made at monument dance protest

Dancers converge on the Jefferson Memorial. (Photo: Mike Conneen/ABC7)

Dancers converged on the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday, once again in defiance of a court ruling banning dancing on the grounds of the D.C. monument, but this time around, no arrests were made.

A boisterous crowd, including one person in a full Thomas Jefferson costume, convened and began dancing in the shadow of the Jefferson statue just after noon.

Park Police began to attempt to clear the monument chamber after about 15 minutes. However, dancing continued inside the monument after the officers' first movement. There were about two or three dozen officers at the memorial.

The monument chamber and grounds were closed for about 90 minutes during and after the dancing, but both have since reopened.

More than 3,000 people replied to one of the events, dubbed the "Dance Party @ TJ's", by Friday afternoon, and a second event had more than 2,000 guests planning to attend.

“There's going to be dancing everywhere, you see, as well as the civil disobedient act of dancing actually under the rotunda,” said Eddie Freeman, one of the event’s organizers.

Sarah Smith says last weekend’s arrests won’t stop her from participating. “I'm going to put some sneakers on in case I have to run,” Smith said.

Last Saturday, five dancers were arrested at the memorial after police repeatedly asked them to leave the space. A YouTube video shows one dancer appearing to be body-slammed by police. It prompted an internal investigation of the officers involved in the arrests.

The event's organizer, who was among those arrested, says he feels the police violated his rights.

“We're expressing our First Amendment right and we're going to show the world how police treat peaceful people,” Krystle Ortiz said.

Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said Monday that concerns have been raised about the actions of some of the officers, and the chief has directed the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation. Schlosser says the protesters were arrested for demonstrating without a permit.

The ban on dancing at the memorial stems from a recent Court of Appeals decision.

In the decision, the court ruled that the Jefferson Memorial was “a nonpublic forum reserved for the tranquil commemoration of Mr. Jefferson's legacy,” and that the officer had probable cause to arrest a woman who was dancing there after she twice refused to leave.

A lawyer described his take on the case on We Love D.C., saying that while the memorial is an open space, the government can place restrictions on expressive activities there.

One visitor to the Jefferson Memorial on Friday called out the protestors on their subpar dance moves.

“The dancing was so bad, that (getting arrested) is the only way he could get it on television because they certainly wouldn't be able to get it on Dancing with the Stars. That's for sure,” Keith Bradburn said.

The National Park Service says it supports free speech -- just not inside any of the monuments or on the steps. They say visitors are welcome to go to any of the surrounding grassy areas to dance or demonstrate.

It's unclear what measures will be taken by park police Saturady by the time the dance party begins at noon.

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