Ann Arbor doctor 'not guilty' for protest involvement
By Will Youmans | Sunday, 12.09.2007, 07:20 AM

ANN ARBOR Catherine Wilkerson, a doctor in Ann Arbor, was among a small group of protestors at a talk on Iran sponsored by a pro-Israel group at the University of Michigan.  She was not aware that this event last November would lead to criminal charges against her for fulfilling the responsibilities of her profession.  Her intervention against the police's behavior landed her in a criminal trial, which just ended last week with a judgment in her favor. 

The speaker that night was Raymond Tanter, a professor at Georgetown University, and a former official in the Reagan administration.  The small group of protestors sought to voice their opposition against a well-known hawk with strong pro-Israel views and hard-line support for military aggression against Arab and Muslim countries.  His talk that night intended to drum up support for American military action against Iran.

Catherine Wilkerson

At the event, local peace and justice activists, including Dr. Wilkerson, staged a nonviolent protest outside the event, according to the Committee to Defend Catherine Wilkerson's website. During his talk, UofM police, acting on the request of the pro-Israel group, physically removed an Iranian-born woman who was heckling Tanter .
The website states this violates UofM's policy on "Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression."  The policy does note that "protestors have rights" and does not call for the immediate removal of hecklers.  It states that "protesters must not interfere unduly with communication between a speaker or artist and members of the audience."  Only if the protests disrupt the talk and the speaker's communication with the audience, should action be taken.
Diane Brown, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, claims that they issued several warnings to the protesters before acting.
Police soon moved to arrest three other protestors.  According to Dr. Wilkerson, she noticed that the officers held one middle-aged man in a face-down position as they handcuffed him from behind.  This position is known to possibly cause "restraint asphyxia." It could prevent breathing.  She heard the man tell the two police officers on top of him, "I can't breathe." He lost consciousness.
Later, the University Hospital emergency room report showed he suffered a brain contusion, according to supporters of the protestors.
Dr. Wilkerson protested and ordered the police back so she could check his breathing and pulse.  He was fine.  When Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel came to treat him, she was shocked they forced ammonia in his nostrils.  She called this a way of punishing him.  EMS personnel at the trial testified they stopped the use of ammonia after her protests.
When she tried to intervene against the EMS's treatment, the police detained her aggressively and injured her.  She said at the trial, "I saw someone who was suffering and might have his life at risk."
They did not, however, bring charges against her soon after.  It was not until nearly two months after the incident after she filed a police brutality complaint that the Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie's office, charged her with two attempted felonies.  They charged her with attempting to assault, obstruct or resist police and emergency medical technicians.
Dr. Wilkerson wrote about her reaction to these charges. "When I became a doctor I knew I would encounter a lot of human suffering, but I never envisioned a time when my efforts to alleviate it would get me brutalized by the police, then charged with a crime."  She also said she was shocked by the EMS personnel's violation of "the most fundamental principle of medical ethics: first do no harm."
A committee of local activists formed to support Dr. Wilkerson. They set up a website, a petition, sent out press releases, and advocated on her behalf publicly.  The committee felt she was mistreated by the police and retaliated against by university, city, and county officials.  They argued the events that night violated the protestors' rights.
Their work to defend her was rewarded Monday, December 3.  After four-and-a-half hours of deliberation the jury found her "not guilty."


By Will Youmans

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