Pro-family activism that makes a difference!

A day in the life of a pro-life activist: Harassed, handcuffed, and threatened by Somerville police

Yet Peter D'Attilio managed to reach many high school students with message of life!

POSTED: Jan. 24, 2012

As told by Peter D'Attilio to MassResistance:

On Thursday morning, Dec. 8th at about 7:15 a.m. I arrived at Somerville High School by myself without a camera and with my pro-life sign and stayed on the sidewalk by the entrance. At about 7:40 am while I was handing out bookmarks I saw a woman in her early 40's get out of her car, which was parked in front of the school, and call someone while looking at me. She seemed angry. Not a lot of students even went by, maybe a few  dozen or more.

Police come and threaten with arrest

About five minutes later two cop cars showed up with lights flashing. One male and one female cop got out and said "Get outta here." I said "OK," and started walking away. They followed me on foot a block then stopped me. They ordered me to sit down on the ground. They were seemed upset that I was getting away without any charges. They asked for my I.D. I asked "Why?" We went back and forth in a long conversation. He said he needed to I.D.  me. I asked why again. He said “So we have it on record.” I asked why again since I'm not breaking any laws. I said “You need a warrant to harass someone on the sidewalk holding a sign.” He said he will arrest me for "failure to submit" Then he phoned in to the station.

Then they told me I was trespassing. I said no I wasn't.  They said yes I was and they had proof. I asked, "Do you mean crossing the entrance to the other sidewalk, is that what you mean by trespassing?" They didn't want to reveal their bluff. They said they had me on school property. They were very insistent. I said “Prove it. Show me the cameras.” They became quiet. I said I never was nor had any intention to go on the property. Then they tried to say, "The whole area is school property" without giving any dynamics. I said that I have a right to walk up and down a public sidewalk and that they were now illegally detaining me.

Harassment over pro-life message

I began to talk to her about abortion. I started with Project Rachel, and after a minute she told me to shut up and put my sign down so children wouldn't see it. She swore and said, "There are f***ing children here!" I told her children like my sign.

I said, “Seventeen year-olds are not children.” She said she was going to arrest me for disorderly conduct. I said "What?" She said they were flooded with calls, people were upset over the sign and I was causing a disturbance. I said, “People having a difference of opinion is not causing a disturbance.” I said that if someone calls to complain about someone’s opinion, why don't you just say, “I'm sorry sir no laws are being broken here.” She didn't want to have to admit that I was right, but she didn't know what to say to that. I heard her ask the other cop "Are seventeen-year-olds considered children?"

The other cops began to complain that my sign was graphic. "This is a public service announcement, not a protest,” I told them. “The basis is for education. Nothing in my sign says ‘stop abortion’ or ‘abortion is bad’ or ‘vote pro-life.’ This is just basic scientific facts on a legal medical procedure." 

I said “Seventeen is not too young. Children are having abortions at twelve years old. They have a right to know.” She got upset at that. I told her, “Why is it ‘children’ younger than the ones here today at the high school can have abortions and you’re not upset at that?”  She told me to stop talking.

Handcuffed and put in a police van

Then the other cop got off the phone with the station and said, "Put your hands behind your back -- we are gonna arrest you." I said, "Ok, ok, I'll give you my I.D." He said, "Nope, too late." He cuffed me, searched me, emptied my pockets and put the contents on the ground, (including the “get out of hell free” cards which the male cop asked if he could have one and I agreed), wallet, stickers, bookmark, keys, napkins which blew away, and a cell phone. The bookmarks also began to blow away so she picked them up, saying she was worried that "children would find them by picking them up off the ground.” They looked through my wallet, couldn't find the driver’s license, then put me in the police "patty wagon."

I asked what the charge was. First he stuttered, then paused for about ten seconds and couldn't come up with a law. Finally he said, "Failure to submit." He also advised that I hold on to the straps, because, in back of this big empty van was nothing to hold on to if going fast around corners, etc., except a strap that ran across the metal bench. Since I was handcuffed, it is designed to hold on to while your hands are behind your back. Then he closed the door and locked it.

Then released, but they wanted to keep the sign

But then another cop showed up and opened the door and asked where my license was. I said it was right there. He couldn't see it in the pocket of the wallet. Then he let me out.

When I got out of the van the older cop said he needs to keep my sign. I basically said, "OH, NO YOU DON'T!  Now I have to get my lawyer involved." After that, he immediately let me have my sign back. The magic word was lawyer.

I said to the female cop, "You look disappointed." She said, "I am!" We went back and forth about my rights and the law. She told me to go in front of the clinics, just not here.  She also said I had no right to be by the school or even in Somerville, for that matter. She said that I had no right giving out free bookmarks to students. Finally, I said, "We are just gonna have to let a judge decide between you and me." She didn't seem to like that prospect too much. I said to her, “What if I show up here with a group and we stand at all four corners of the school this afternoon?” She was shocked and worried and asked me if I really planned on doing that. “Why not,” I said.

Verbal city-wide “no trespass” warning

I began to talk to her again about a "wonderful loving support group for women who had abortions, very healing, very compassionate, it helps to talk to someone..." She literally walked away 20 feet and out of hearing. Then I began to walk in the opposite direction of my vehicle. They pulled up beside me one more time and said I was verbally being given a trespass warning from ALL CITY PROPERTY, the town hall, the library, schools, everything in the city. I asked, “What if I have to go to city hall to pay a parking ticket? " He said, “Not with that sign you are holding you don't." I told him that my sign is actually neutral, it doesn't say abortion is bad or vote pro-life or stop abortion. It is simply the medical facts. He agreed, then told me to go to Cambridge and do it.

As one of their final questions before we departed they asked me why I was there. I told them, "Because I have a deep concern for the public welfare and especially for women to not be lied to or deceived by the abortion clinics." They accepted my answer although they had no choice. I could tell they were looking for something more radical.  

After they let me go and I began walking away they pulled up one final time to "Verbally trespass" me off all city property.  I told them, "It is common knowledge that all sidewalks are public property" They listened to what I had to say and paused, without questioning it.

Then back to the school – and more pro-life work!

After that, I walked around the back of the school and kept running into late arrivals even up to 9:00 am (school started at 7:50). So I showed them my sign and they were all very interested and showed signs of being extremely pro-life; the look on their faces was one of shock and disgust. When the girls put their hands over their mouths and gasped, like on my video, that was nothing compared to today. I mean you should have seen their reaction to how horrible abortion is. It was clear they were converted against it. It was interesting how all the late students stopped and listened and were interested, more than the early arrivals. They all took my bookmarks and stickers.

Outside of Somerville High School. D'Attilio was standing near phone booth on corner (see arrow).

When told by police to "get outta here" he started walking down the sidewalk from phone booth (foreground).
Police followed him to front walkway of school and ordered him to sit down on sidewalk here, then handcuffed him and put him in police van.
Peter was holding this sign when stopped by police.

Peter was handing out these bookmarks to kids (see closeup of both sides HERE).

Here is the "Get out of hell for free!" card the police took out of his pocket, and asked to keep one (see closeup of both sides HERE).

Here's the back of the sign he was holding. The police REALLY didn't like that.