This much we know. Carol Trainer, a Prospect grandmother, was arrested last Monday, late in the final afternoon of a swampy Memorial Day weekend — Memorial Day itself — at the Abbey Road on the River festival in downtown Louisville.
To many onlookers, the irony was simply too much: an antiwar protester, handcuffed and led away from an event that celebrates one of the original antiwar rock bands, 40 years after the Summer of Love.
To others, it was a simple case of rude behavior being dealt with pretty much appropriately, however unfortunately.
Beyond the sundry superficial hot-button issues that get tapped in this type of scenario — baby boomers (and neo hippies) sympathetic to the whole hippie/Beatles vibe, co-mingling with regular folks who just like the tunes (and hold varied political views or none at all), mixing with various folks who just showed up to have somewhere to go — there are other, sketchier elements at play.
Memory and perception. Chaos. Fear and loathing. Defiance. Retribution. For starters.
Add heat and humidity, the first weekend of the year with air that actually resembled our beloved Ohio Valley Sludge.
Alcohol. God knows what else.
The subtle but looming presence of the King.
Maybe too much god-awful tie-dye.
At any rate, observers say, it blew up into something.
They just don’t quite agree as to what.
A Vietnam vet
Carol Trainer was born in 1947. She has three children and four grandchildren. Her husband, Harold (retired Air Force), is also a war protester and a frequent letter writer on that topic to LEO and The Courier-Journal.
Carol is a veteran — she served with the Air Force from 1965-68. She has been engaged in protesting the war, in Louisville and elsewhere, for about five years, under the auspices of both Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the Louisville Peace Action Community.
It was with her VVAW hat on that she trekked downtown each of the five days of the Abbey Road festival. For four days, she distributed fliers at the entrance and eventually went in to hear some music (she paid), without a protest sign. On Monday, having seen other signs, she took one inside, receiving explicit permission from the event producer to display it.
The sign read: END THE WAR. Her T-shirt, on the day she was arrested, read: BRING THE TROOPS HOME.
Her hat, a black visor, read: VETERAN AGAINST THE VIETNAM WAR.
By most accounts, Trainer is not a shy woman. By some accounts, she annoyed patrons with her sign. She told her attorney that she drank two beers in five hours and had bought a third that she did not get to drink. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Col. Carl Yates said alcohol was not a factor.
Before the headliner could take the stage on closing day at 6 p.m., Trainer was taken to jail, where she remained for some 12 hours. The story was on page 1 of the C-J’s Metro Section for one day. It hit local TV news like most nuanced stories do — like a butterfly landing on cotton candy. Too complex, too run-of-the-mill.
What did you see?
Carol and Harold Trainer are not speaking to the media now, on the advice of her attorney, Ken Nevitt, who says he wants to calm things down. Nevitt has also been active in the Louisville peace community, helping to form LPAC in 2003 and providing legal support to the group since. His stepped down as a facilitator after he got married in November.
Nevitt has discussed the case with LEO and provided names of people the newspaper could contact for their version of the events of last Monday. I called several of these people, and in a phrase, it is amazing, but not surprising, that two groups of people, who each sound reasonable, observant and articulate, and who each saw the incident from a relatively close distance, tell two diametrically opposed stories.
Trainer was either A) hastily grabbed from behind and subsequently manhandled, without provocation, by a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy or B) asked to walk with the officer to discuss a situation, as citizens are bound to do when the request comes from a peace officer, at which point she became belligerent and struck the officer in the chest.
Other key facts are more widely agreed upon.
The officer is large — everyone I spoke to described him as at least six feet tall and more than 300 pounds.
He had spoken to Trainer earlier that day, specifically asking why she insisted on holding a sign with an antiwar message, and why a simple peace sign wouldn’t suffice.
She explained to him that the sign expressly summarized her sentiments about the Iraq War.
The event producer’s right-hand assistant made a point to tell the officer that Trainer was there with the full understanding and blessing of festival brass. Trainer, on a blog post after she got out of jail the next morning, said the producer, Gary Jacob, thanked her for her efforts.
Also, after some confusion and initial disavowing by the Mayor’s office, it is now beyond dispute that Mayor For Life (or, as LEO fondly refers to him, when we’re not calling him Mayor Jer or Hizzoner or whatnot, “King Jerry”) Abramson was pretty much sitting within plain sight of the whole thing, which went down in a tight but open area to the left of the stage.
Another issue of general concurrence involves Abramson. At some point after the Sheriff’s Deputy, Ted Mitchell, approached Trainer — whether she followed the officer as he asked and she then bolted, or whether she broke away from his vise-like grasp — Trainer made a beeline toward a small set of bleachers, diagonally oriented in relation to the stage, and slightly behind and to the left of the area where the incident occurred.
Abramson, attending the festival like a regular Joe along with his son and his son’s friend, sat dumbfounded in the bleachers. Trainer got close enough to the mayor to French kiss him, if she’d been so inclined (see the photograph a New Albany man snapped at that moment), and pled her case. Witnesses told me she implored the mayor to stop the police from hauling her away, that she had the right to protest. Witnesses told me — but disagree about the manner — that Mitchell then took hold of Trainer’s arm.
Some say he grabbed her lightly — “like you might grab your 10-year-old,” said C.A. Johnson, who told me he witnessed the incident — and that she flailed her arm wildly in what must have been a reflexive manner. Others say Mitchell snatched Trainer’s left arm, then virtually bear hugged her off the ground before he and a Louisville Metro Police officer, who was holding one of Trainer’s signs, whisked her off to the far left side of the stage, brutally applying the handcuffs somewhere along the way.
Countless cameras were whirring by that time, and there are photographs, taken sometime after that, that show Trainer sitting handcuffed on a set of bleachers, with a group of men gathered nearby. Some witnesses told me the men were taunting her. Others said the gaggle had been urging Trainer to calm down and avoid arrest.
The peace action folks have been around long enough to know the ropes. A call was made to a judge who said he would call downtown and get Trainer released on her own recognizance. If so, she typically would have been released by 9 p.m. For whatever reason, she did not emerge until 6 a.m. the following day. No one seems to know why.
Trainer soon posted a brief account of the incident on a Democracy for America blog (http://blogforamerica.com/view/21014), in which she said: “They dragged me for a while, then stopped to handcuff me. … I cried out in pain the way they jerked my arms in back and lifted them … At that point, I really screamed out in pain and was crying uncontrollably. I yelled out that I am 60 years old and have arthritis in my shoulders and they didn’t have to treat me that rough. I begged them, to no avail. Then I was put in the cop car handcuffed and taken to the jail to be booked.”
The Courier-Journal message board is on fire with posts, many vilely predictable. There are fewer such posts on the Abbey Road site, but they’re there — some rant about the incident, which they see as wicked karma placing Louisville in an extremely unfavorable light. Others take pains to point out their true liberal colors, then say Trainer was out of line.
Jacob, the producer who moved Abbey Road on the River from Cleveland to Louisville three years ago, admits giving Trainer the permission to protest, and told me she largely reflects his own political sentiments. He also said he has heard consistent stories from a disparate group, many of whom would fit the liberal/antiwar stereotype, and that Trainer seems to have crossed the line of acceptable behavior.
Jacob said he has enlisted Mitchell’s private security firm, which Mitchell operates on the side, each year the festival has been in Louisville, and that he has been extremely pleased at the rarity of incidents.
Jacob did not see the incident, but based on what he has heard, he thinks Trainer may have gone too far. “I am from the ’60s,” he said. “This was not a cops vs. us issue. … I’ve seen cops vs. us issues. I know what they look like. This wasn’t one of them.”
Asked why Mitchell’s arrest report didn’t include a mention of Abramson — “subject decided to stop and talk to someone,” the report reads — spokesman Yates said the identity of the person she stopped to speak to is not germane.
He said Mitchell had no intention of arresting Trainer, but that changed when she touched him. “When it gets to the point where they shove or hit you, you’ve got to make a decision very quickly,” he said. “You’re not hurting the person, you just want to get them away from the crowd, before more people feel like it’s OK to join in. The last thing you want to do is be standing there in the crowd. That’s why when she stopped, he was concerned and wanted to get her out of there.”
Hizzoner takes a hike
Trainer was charged with three crimes: resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, and assaulting a police officer (third degree), a Class D felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. She was arraigned last Wednesday morning and entered a plea of not guilty. A preliminary hearing is set for June 28 in Jefferson District Court.
Nevitt was guarded in discussing her case, saying that as an activist, he is concerned about possible injustice, but as her attorney, his main responsibility is to adjudicate the case in her favor. He did describe previous engagements between Louisville peace protesters and Louisville Metro Police. After one incident — during a 2005 event featuring then-U.S. Rep. Anne Northup at the Olmsted in St. Matthews, police made LPAC members disperse, though they were acting properly. Later, Nevitt said, he spoke with police and highlighted parts of the Metro Parade Law that allow for peaceful assembly on public rights of way. Nevitt said Metro Police then acknowledged that the protesters had done nothing wrong and informed officers of how to properly enforce the law. Trainer was present at that event, Nevitt said, adding that the peace community has generally felt good about its interactions with Metro police.
As for the mayor, he got the hell out of Dodge soon after Trainer was in his face. As word circulated that he’d seen the incident, people began to call his office on Tuesday. LPAC member Marge Manke said she reached Steve Fenster, one of Abramson’s bodyguards, who told her Abramson was in a completely different area at the time. After hearing at Wednesday’s arraignment that Abramson was there, she called Fenster again. This time, Manke says, “He laughed. It was a kind of ‘the joke’s on us’ laugh, like he had been wrong. He said he spoke to Jerry after I called the first time, and Jerry told him he saw a disturbance but didn’t know what it was about and was not close to it.”
Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor, chalked Manke’s concerns up to “misinformation,” and said he doesn’t understand why Fenster was taking such phone calls and responding to e-mails. Poynter acknowledges that Abramson was present, and said the mayor told him he had heard some patrons complaining that Trainer’s sign was blocking their view. The mayor didn’t notice the police involvement until he heard Trainer scream, Poynter said, and it was only when the mayor read the story in The Courier-Journal last Wednesday that he understood the nature of the incident.
It would have been inappropriate for Abramson to intervene, Poynter said. “You have to remember, he (didn’t) know the context. He had no idea if she was a danger to him or others.”
Jacob, the producer, said as well that it would have been inappropriate for him to try to intervene.
Where are we now?
So what do we really know?
We know tensions are running high.
One witness, C. A. Johnson, told me he believes anger started the incident. He said he was about 50 feet from Trainer and noticed her leave the area, leaving behind a protest sign that was stuck in the ground. When she returned, he said, the sign had been stuffed in a trash container. Trainer retrieved it, he said, and seemed visibly angry. He said she began to argue with several people nearby.
But Kimberly Woods, who said she was sitting in a lawn chair about 15-20 feet from Trainer, told me she could see Trainer the whole time, and that Trainer was dancing and not really talking to anyone in particular. She insists the deputy approached Trainer and immediately grabbed her sign before taking her away. She noted that a number of Metro officers accompanied the deputy.
Clearly, it is difficult to project how the legal case will turn out. At the end of the day, though, we know the lefties are angry (certainly this telling has not gone far enough for some), and they fear that legitimate dissent has been marginalized in the United States, to the point of tyranny.
The righties are up in arms, too — any sympathy for the pansy left is sorely misguided, and surely this account is far too generous. With the right’s false dichotomies and their ever-so-effective name-hanging apparatus, they could make you think people like Carol Trainer spend their spare time uploading pep talks to Osama bin Laden’s smartcavephone.
There are other aspects. Who can protest, for example? Some folks say people who have been in the military get wider berth, automatically, to speak out … unless they leave the farm and go soft, of course, or run their mouth before they serve out their time. Others would like to think that a principle is a principle is a principle, and that what you see happening around you could, in fact, be as every bit as bad as it looks.
Regardless of what actually happened down at the Belvedere last Monday — and many people expect video of the incident to emerge, yet they are uncertain whether even that will prove anything — the heated and confused aftermath stands as a pretty good summation of where America finds herself in 2007:
Befuddled, agitated, and not too keen on having bad shit brought up when WE’RE TRYING TO HAVE A GOOD TIME. We certainly don’t seem to be able to speak about disagreements, beyond finger-pointing, whining and name-calling, brinksmanship and intimidation.
The real irony may be that 40 years removed from the era that might have been a defining moment in our young republic’s history, the sort of motivated and focused action that went down back then is not evident in sufficient quantities to put a plug in the fear fountain. That is why, as you may have noticed, I refrained from naming some sources who gave a specific account of seeing the incident. Some expressed extreme discomfort about having their names associated with the story in print — one person mentioned getting in hot water at work, where a boss has foisted political views, and action, on employees. There is no point in furthering that fear.
And so, while this may all sound like shades of ’67, it is hard to avoid the feeling that that so-called magic year’s rosy afterglow, to borrow a phrase from John Hiatt, seems awfully long gone.
Uh, like a Nixon file.