Police arrested 10 disability rights activists, many in wheelchairs, on Thursday after a 58-hour sit-in protest in Sen. Cory Gardner’s Denver office.
The protest, which began Tuesday morning, was organized by national advocacy group ADAPT to implore the junior senator to vote against the Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Demonstrators say the act’s cuts to Medicaid would force them into nursing homes, or worse. Protesters live-streamed their sit-in – and arrests – on Facebook. “Rather go to jail than die without Medicaid,” they chanted as officers began the arrests.
Nine of the ten arrested remained in custody overnight. Attorney and longtime disability rights activist Carrie Ann Lucas was arrested but never booked, due to health reasons. Lucas relies on a ventilator, so police released her with a court summons.
“We’re really fighting for our liberty here — and for life,” Lucas told The Colorado Independent early Friday morning.
Lucas, like many of the demonstrators who use wheelchairs, relies on attendant care to get through each day. Training non-nurse attendants is far cheaper than hiring nurses to assist her, Lucas says, and would be cost-prohibitive.
But this kind of attendant care is only covered by Medicaid, not by Medicare or her private supplementary insurance. Under the Republican Senate healthcare bill, drastic cuts to Medicaid would eliminate this crucial coverage, she said.
Without the option to pay for affordable, one-on-one care, Lucas and others like her would likely be forced to enter nursing homes or acute care hospitals at four or five times the cost.“When disabled people are put into institutions, we get really poor care. We die faster, and younger,” Lucas said.
The protesters had vowed not to leave Gardner’s office until the senator agreed to vote against the healthcare proposal. Police officers gave all demonstrators the opportunity to leave the office rather than be arrested.
Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said officers were responding to a signed complaint from a representative at the senator’s office that people were trespassing, the Denver Post reports. According to a statement from Gardner’s office, demonstrators were removed “due to several factors including concerns for their health and safety, and the impact of the protest on other tenants in the building.”
In addition to the trespassing charge, Lucas faces an additional charge for “interfering with police,” because she refused to tell officials how to operate her electric wheelchair. “I gave them my name, I gave them identification, and I think that’s probably appropriate to require of me,” she said. “I don’t think I have an obligation to tell them how to operate my chair.”
Lucas, a practicing attorney, said she knows she could face professional consequences for her arrest. She long has been an outspoken activist for a variety of causes — “I see injustice, I address it,” she says — but says she has always been intentional about not putting herself at risk of arrest. “A law degree does me no good when I’m sitting in an institution.”
The remaining nine activists who are still in police custody are expected to be arraigned this morning.
Photo via Carrie Ann Lucas