Law enforcement officers from three agencies detained several people Monday after protesting in the gallery of the Montana House against the Republican Speaker’s silencing of Missoula Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
A Lewis and Clark County sheriff’s deputy said eight people were inside the jail awaiting booking for criminal trespassing around 5:30 p.m., Monday. People who were at the protests originally said they believe six to 10 people had been detained.
Around 7:20 p.m., one person who had been detained, Paul Kim, was released; Kim estimated seven people had been arrested.
Zephyr, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, and more than a dozen others who participated in the protest were at the jail late Monday afternoon awaiting the release of those who were detained.
More than 100 people had gathered at a rally on the Capitol stairs at noon Monday to protest House Speaker Matt Regier’s ongoing ruling that Zephyr will not be recognized on the House floor until she apologizes for telling Republicans last week they would have “blood on (their) hands” if they voted to support a bill banning gender-affirming care in Montana.
Zephyr, who is Montana’s first openly transgender lawmaker, has tried multiple times over the past week to speak on the floor about bills involving the LGBTQ+ community and housing but has been denied by rulings from Regier and votes from most House Republicans.
Several extra Montana Highway patrolmen stood in the Speaker’s lobby, on the House floor, and in the gallery at the start of the floor session during the afternoon. Toward the back end of the session, Zephyr again tried to speak during discussion on a bill on parental rights involving school children, but was again denied.
Democrats stood up to protest, as they have on each occasion since a rules debate last week, and the House again had to vote whether to uphold Regier’s ruling that she was out of order and not abiding by the chamber’s decorum rules.
Republicans except for Reps. Greg Frazer of Deer Lodge and David Bedey of Hamilton, voted to support Regier’s ongoing ruling.
After Democrats in the House stood up to support Zephyr, a person in the gallery yelled an obscenity.
At that point, dozens of people who had been at the rally and who had packed the House gallery, started to shout down to the floor, yelling, “Let Zooey speak,” which comes from a social media movement that has drawn momentum in the past week.
“Let her speak.” “Let her speak.” “Let Zooey speak.”
As more people started to chant, the several Montana Highway Patrol, Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office officers that were stationed around the House for the floor session started to try to quiet the protesters.
House lawmakers were moved to the wings of the chamber. Most Democrats remained, as Zephyr stood alone in the middle of the floor with her hand and a microphone raised in the air, watching and thanking the many people yelling in support.
Republicans largely left the chamber after a few minutes.
Once most were gone, officers in riot gear were brought in through the House floor and up to the gallery. Several protesters were seen being detained before the riot officers arrived. But once they made it to the north side gallery, they started to push protesters out of the gallery.
Protestors chanted as security officers detained people and tried to clear the room, and protestors stomped their feet to the cry.
“Whose house? Our house.” “Whose house? Our house.”
“We pay your bills.”
At the start of the floor session, Regier had asked people in the gallery to refrain from cheering or booing.
“The gallery is for observing only,” Regier said.
Many left filming the scene with their phones.
At least five law enforcement officers in riot gear eventually used batons to forcibly push people out of the gallery. Downstairs, some representatives remained on the floor and witnessed the protest.
Officers detained more people after they cleared the room.
Several people involved in the protest said afterward some of the officers hit people with shields and batons as they forced protesters out of the gallery.
They were forced out of the gallery and downstairs, where several were seen being handcuffed with zip ties and seated near the Capitol’s south entrance. The protesters said their compatriots were not fighting back with officers.
Two people were seen being handcuffed and put into MHP and Helena Police Department squad cars. Others who were detained were put into a transport van.
At the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, people waited in the jail’s lobby to get word on the charges those detained would face, when they might be booked, if they would need to post bond, and when they might be released.
Izzy Milch, the advocacy manager for Forward Montana, said the group of protesters and advocacy groups had already secured any bail money those detained might need, as well as funding for legal representation.
“It took like five minutes,” Milch said.
They said the group had only planned a rally and had not planned what transpired in the House chambers. But they said everyone who did go from the rally into the House gallery wanted to speak up when Zephyr could not.
“We were there to support Zooey and use our voice,” said Chloe Runs Behind, an organizer with Forward Montana.
MHP Sgt. Jay Nelson said the sheriff’s office would likely be issuing a statement on behalf of the law enforcement organizations involved at the Capitol.
A message left with the sheriff’s office was not immediately returned, nor had the office issued a statement as of 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Kim, a policy associate with the ACLU of Montana, said the dozens of people who protested Monday felt represented by Zephyr.
“If what the Republicans are doing was able to pass, and they’re continuing to be able to silence Zooey, and nobody were to speak up, that would be a really dangerous precedent for politics in this state – and simply one as a young person who dreams of having a life here that I wasn’t willing to accept,” Kim said. “For me to put my body on the line in the smallest sense, and knowing that I have a community of advocates and community in Missoula that was ready to catch me, made it an easy decision.”
As of press time, Zephyr and those who gathered at the jail were still waiting in the lobby for the people detained to be released.
The Daily Montanan’s Keila Szpaller contributed to this report.
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