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Sheehan and three other women from the protest group Code Pink were charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest for refusing to leave the plaza of the private office building at 140 East 45th Street, where the U.S. Mission, and the offices of Ambassador John Bolton, are temporarily housed.
"It's private property," said one NYPD officer on the scene. "If security or the State Department officials don't want to let them inside, it's their call."
Activists with Code Pink, who said they had notified police of the demonstration, said they were shocked that they were not allowed to deliver the petition. "A detective called me before and I told him exactly what we were planning to do and that we'd be marching from the United Nations on the sidewalk, and he said it would be fine," said spokesperson Andrea Buffa.
Instead, when the march got within shouting distance of the U.S. Mission, cops tried to corral the crowd of about 50 demonstrators into a protest area across the street. Sheehan and the Iraqi women pressed forward, determined to deliver the petition to the offices of Ambassador Bolton. "We come in peace!" Sheehan shouted. "We're coming in peace with a peace plan."
Police then moved in and forced the jostling media camera crews and demonstrators away from the building and onto the sidewalk, about 50 feet from the entrance, as security guards locked the doors.
"Is this what you do here? Is this the kind of democracy you're bringing to Iraq?" demanded Sureya Sayadi, a Kurdish refugee currently residing in the U.S., who complained that she'd been shoved aside by a police officer.
While the rest of the protesters were being forced out of the plaza, Sheehan and three other Code Pinkers sat down in front of the office building's revolving doors and refused to budge. "This is our delegation [to the U.N.], and they have no right to keep us out of it," Sheehan proclaimed, her arms locked to those of the demonstrators on either side of her.
After about 15 minutes, Sheehan and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin got up and approached the media. "All we want to do is deliver a piece of paper, and no one will come down," Benjamin shouted, waving a copy of the petition, which calls on the U.N. to send an international peacekeeping force to help restore order in Iraq, and also demands "the full representation of women in the peacemaking process." It has been signed by more than 72,000 people across the world.
"We have meetings in Washington with our Congresspeople tomorrow and we do not want to be arrested," said Benjamin, who is accompanying Sheehan and the delegation of Iraqi women on a month-long tour across the U.S. "It is absolutely absurd that they will not accept a piece of paper. We do not want to be arrested, but we are sick and tired of a government [that] will not listen to us."
As Sheehan began reading out the demands of the petition, printed on a large pink and white banner, three officers surrounded her and pulled the banner from her hand. She locked arms with Benjamin and appeared to go limp. At one point, Sheehan wound up on the ground with her shirt over her head and her stomach exposed as police strapped plastic cuffs around her wrists.
But the peace mom bore a smile as she was led into the arrest van with the three other Code Pinkers. "My son was killed in Iraq!" she shouted before the doors slammed shut in front of her face.
"Shame!" the demonstrators chimed in.
A State Deparment official dismissed the arrests as a media stunt.
"We were absolutely willing to meet with them," said Richard Grenell, a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission. "When the group showed up, we told them that an individual or small group of individuals could come up. . . . I came down and invited them in. But they weren't interested in coming in and having a rational discussion. They wanted a media event downstairs for the cameras."
Sheehan and her fellow arrestees were not available for comment because they were still in jail.
Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in protest of the American-led invasion of Iraq, said she was "horrified that the US mission had closed its doors" and was unaware of any offers made at the scene to meet with the delegation. "This was not a publicity stunt," insisted Wright, who was a senior envoy in the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Mongolia. "I was a diplomat for 16 years, and I received petitions from all over the world. Nobody was planning an getting arrested or anything like that. The whole point was to get the message to the U.S. Mission, that women in Iraq and around the world want peace."