The laissez-faire approach police took to the teen who brought explosives into a clinic this week is only the city’s latest failure to protect its repro rights advocates.
Moises Trevizo arrived on site, apparently to apply for a job at a Wichita business. On his back was a pack full of knives and a small homemade explosive device. Had he been applying at a bank, a police station, a military base, a courthouse, the state capitol building, an elementary school or myriad other sites, there is a very strong possibility that he would be facing federal charges at best, or potentially harmed by police or others in a worst-case scenario.
However, Trevizo was allegedly applying for a position as a canvasser for a political group connected to South Wind Women’s Center, the local abortion clinic. Because it was an abortion clinic he was trying to enter, rather than a bank or airport, he had the opportunity to explain why he was carrying potentially dangerous weapons, why he had a bottle with gunpowder and a wick on him, and why neither of these facts meant that he had any intention to do any harm to either the clinic or the people associated with it.
Trevizo, according to new reports, was either “homeless” or “had just moved out of a house.” Because his birthday apparently happened in mid-news cycle he is either a man or a teen depending on the source reporting on the incident.
Much like the subjective nature of the reporting on Trevizo himself, the seriousness of his crime (and carrying homemade explosives is, in fact, a crime) seems to vary depending on the person responding to the incident, as well. Julie Burkhart, owner of South Wind, remained alarmed about the entire encounter, telling a local news station, “Maybe he didn’t intend to harm us, but the sheer fact that he had an explosive device means that his intentions certainly weren’t pure.”
On the other hand, police were far less likely to see a threat in Trevizo’s actions. Captain Doug Nolte dismissed any potential for too much damage, saying, “It was dangerous. Don’t get me wrong. But it was the size of a salt shaker,” while Lt. James Espinoza stated that, “I think it was just an error in judgment for him to have that on his property.” Police also noted that the explosive was “a ‘big firework; that could blow off fingers, but not walls’,” according to KAKE.com.
Major physical disability apparently isn’t that serious of a consequence to the authorities in Kansas. Meanwhile, the state legislature is convinced that terminating the pregnancy the size of a grape will cause permanent and irrevocable physical and psychological damage to a pregnant person that can never be undone.
In an age where clinics are vandalized to the point of destruction and doctors wear bulletproof vests and disguises to ensure their own safety entering and exiting their place of work, it’s hard to believe that police are so eager to simply take a person at his or her word that a bag full of potentially deadly weapons really was simply an “error in judgment” rather than a looming threat that was thwarted before it could occur. Then again, this is the city of Wichita, where an anti-abortion activist named Angel Dillard has had a longstanding and rather unbelievably successful run at arguing that a letter she sent to local doctor was an example of “free speech” and not, as most would view it, an actual threat of violence against a potential local abortion provider.
Dillard, a proclaimed friend and admirer of Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Wichita abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his own church on a Sunday morning, has long claimed that she has been wrongfully accused of threatening Dr. Mila Means in order to frighten her out of performing abortions in the city. Dillard sent a letter to Means warning her that abortion opponents “know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live … You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”
According to one judge, Dillard’s letter was protected speech rather than a threat, because it wasn’t a “true threat,” meaning that there was no indication that anyone would definitely go through with the acts in question. Regardless of whether the threat was “true” or not, Means chose not to go through with her plan to start offering abortion services in Wichita.
Intent appears to be much harder to substantiate in Wichita than in the rest of the country, at least when it involves actions surrounding an abortion clinic. Threatening that someone may place an explosive under a doctor’s car is protected speech as long as no explosive is actually found. When police do come in contact with an explosive at a clinic, however, it then becomes vitally important to discern the explosive carrier’s motivation for bringing it to the clinic, and “Oops, I guess I shouldn’t have done that” is an acceptable excuse. Until an explosive is actually detonated, well, then, the police seem more than willing to give a suspect the benefit of the doubt.
Obviously, innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock of the American court system and one that should be embraced. In that respect, it is good to see it occasionally put into action. It would just be nice if this didn’t only happen when the potential target is an abortion clinic and its workers. Having an explosive or a collection of knives—intentional or not—is a serious crime in any other secure building, and is treated as such whether the person intended to detonate it or not, if for no other reason than to deter future incidents and keep these volatile areas safe. However, in Wichita we learn that good excuse is all that is necessary to bring weapons to an abortion clinic—as long as you have the ability to claim you don’t intend to use them.
Of course, intent can never completely be proven until the explosive actually goes off, or the knives actually come out.
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