Allies of a transgender woman have spent the past 24 hours rallying for her release from police custody—some of the time she spent in a men’s prison—after she was arrested at the Philadelphia Pride parade on Sunday. Police arrested the woman after she attempted to set fire to a “thin blue line” flag, which signifies support for law enforcement, during the celebration.
Footage of the arrest taken by local station 6abc Action News shows that the woman, who has only been identified by her dead name, did not set fire to the flag, but does show police handcuffing her while she laid on the ground. Officers are then seen holding a grey American flag with a blue line painted through the center and several other items, including a canister of paint thinner.
The woman has reportedly been charged with attempting to commit arson, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person, and related offenses, though the Philadelphia Department of Prisons and Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs did not confirm the charges with the Daily Dot. Sarah Reyes, deputy communications director with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, told the Daily Dot that information about any charges will not be provided at this time.
The First Amendment protects the burning of the American flag as a form of symbolic speech.
Shortly after 5pm ET on Monday, Shawn Hawes, public information officer for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, told the Daily Dot in an email that the woman’s bail had been paid and that her release has been processed.
In the video of the woman’s arrest, the crowd can be heard clapping and cheering after she’s led out of the public area, though it’s unclear what they are clapping for. A woman interviewed in the video said the woman was about to burn the flag “in a crowded area, so the cops had to detain her… Yeah, it was some kind of protest, I don’t know what though.”
According to Philly Socialists and local coalition Philly for Racial, Economic And Legal (REAL) Justice, the groups rallied at the Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters the evening after the woman’s arrest. Philly Socialists refrained from commenting to the Daily Dot about the woman’s arrest, stating they would release a statement after her release, and once she’s spoken to a lawyer, deferring to the group’s public Facebook posts for statements and updates.
The socialist group reported throughout the night and into Monday that the woman was scheduled to be arraigned at 1a.m. local time, but instead saw a judge around 4:30am, who had set her bail at $5,000, with 10 percent needed for her release. With the help of the promotion of the woman’s arrest on Twitter and Facebook, the groups were able to raise more than $2,500 through Venmo and PayPal to cover the woman’s bail, as well as any additional housing and court fees she may need covered.
A fluctuating group of 12 to 17 people also took post at the police department throughout the night, rallying for the woman’s release while supporters brought goods to the jail support. Misty, a 44-year-old transgender woman who attended the demonstration, told the Daily Dot that she does not know the woman jailed but found out about the supporters through social media. She joined the group between 10:30pm to 3am, she said, and brought candles, turning the event into a “vigil” of sorts. While Misty posted photos of the vigil, she later protected her Twitter account.
The group’s later posts report that in the hours before noon, the woman had been transferred to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, a maximum security men’s prison.
“We just found out a couple of hours ago at this woman was transferred to a maximum security men’s prison which is exactly what we were trying to prevent with the phone call campaign, vigil, and fundraising,” Misty told the Daily Dot. “The absolute priority is for this woman’s safety and for her NOT to be where she is right now.”
Across Twitter, supporters of the woman have shared their outrage that she had been arrested for attempting to burn the flag.
This woman is STILL being held under her deadname in a men's jail in Philadelphia— 5'7" Black Male (@absurdistwords) June 11, 2018
She should not have been arrested https://t.co/AKpqCM9ULQ
Update: She is still in custody. She is no longer at the roundhouse. She is at the criminal justice center at 1301 Filbert. Jail support is ongoing. She is being held under her dead name.— Dirty Rose (@Dinodelphia) June 11, 2018
This woman did not break the law.
Why was she arrested? Why is she still being held? https://t.co/sohaBQmzzA
This is more than disgusting. We HAVE to care more for our trans brothers and sisters. Not only that, burning a Blue Lives Matter flag is FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Do not let the police take away LGBTQ+ human rights ANYMORE, fight. Hold police accountable. https://t.co/ljG0je9C84— olivia (@okbabinn) June 11, 2018
Others, however, denounced the woman’s actions, alleging that the action could have been dangerous to others.
i watched the police detain this woman because she was wearing all black and a bandana covering her face while carrying a can of lighter fluid at the pride parade. cops can be brutal pigs, but in this case, they were just trying to protect the lives of the people around her https://t.co/kJBhbi68AS— er (@ejpdro) June 11, 2018
By 5pm Monday, Philly Socialists reported that the woman had been posted bail, but was still being processed at the prison. The group redirected all support to the prison.
Philly Socialists released the following statement regarding her arrest, writing that police have no place at Pride celebrations, and that they represent an “affront to LGBTQ people and people of color, many of whom have who have died at the hands of police.”
Misty said that she hoped people would know that the arrested woman was expressing her First Amendment rights and that even if she had ultimately committed a crime, her punishment was “exceedingly disproportionate.” (Misty was not at the parade and did not claim to know what crimes were committed.)
“Especially heinous was the Philadelphia police’s decision to relocate her to a maximum-security men’s prison for several hours, after bail was posted on her behalf,” Misty said. “A men’s maximum-security prison full of rapists and murderers is no place for a young woman who made a political statement.”
Update 5:10pm CT, June 11: This article has been updated to include comments from the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs and Misty, who attended the Philadelphia demonstration.
Update 7:30pm CT, June 11: Philly Socialists have identified the woman who was arrested for attempting to burn a “thin blue line” flag at Philadelphia Pride as ReeAnna Segin.