Capitol Police arrest Rayburn projection protester, confiscate equipment

Equality Act protest projection results in arrest by Capitol Police

Capitol Police arrested a man who was projecting the words "Discrimination is Wrong" onto the Rayburn House Office Building. (Photo: Robin Bell)

Capitol Police arrested a man projecting the words “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Rayburn House Office Building Wednesday night. Robert Diesu, a collaborator of projection artist Robin Bell, was arrested and USCP seized a laptop computer, battery, projector and stand as evidence.

Capitol Police told Roll Call in a statement that Diesu was arrested at about 8 p.m. for “unlawful demonstration on Capitol Grounds by projecting an image on the Rayburn House Office Building.”

“Projecting of images is an unlawful demonstration activity. It is unlawful to demonstrate in, on, or against Congressional buildings. It is in violation of both DC Code and the Traffic Regulations for United States Capitol Grounds,” said USCP spokesperson Eva Malecki in an email.

According to an incident report provided by the Metropolitan Police Department, Diesu was charged with “demonstrating in a prohibited area.” 

The MPD report does not cite a D.C. code violation as the reason for the arrest. Diesu was taken to Capitol Police headquarters and then released, with a court summons for April 17.

Bell, who was not arrested, told WAMU that Wednesday night was the third time they had projected images onto Rayburn and that he believed that the projection was lawful.

The installation was on the sidewalk in a self-contained rolling cart that included a laptop computer, battery and projector. The whole unit was seized as evidence by USCP.

Bell also told WAMU that in his experience on Capitol grounds, officers typically issue a warning before making an arrest.

“We were pretty sure we were pretty versed in the law,” Bell told WAMU. “The main thing is as long as it’s not an advertisement, we were pretty much told that it looked like we were able to do this, so it was a little bit surprising to see the commanding officer’s reaction.”

The projection onto Rayburn also included the words “Equality Act” and the hashtag “#EqualityAct.” It references a bill introduced this week that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the classes protected against discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Bell has been projecting words and images onto buildings across D.C. for years, and his political projection work was showcased at the Corcoran art gallery earlier this year. Last year, Bell projected the message “Pay Trump bribes here” on to the Trump Hotel. He has also projected “Brett Kavanaugh is a sexual predator” onto the courthouse where Kavanaugh used to serve as a judge.

Anti-Brett Kavanaugh messages projected on the United States Court of Appeals Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Anti-Brett Kavanaugh messages projected on the United States Court of Appeals Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The artist has set up a GoFundMe with a goal of $20,000. The fundraiser had raised $1,250 within the first hour of it going live on Friday morning.

“We are raising money to replace projection equipment that was confiscated by the Capitol Police, and funds to help pay for legal fees to get the equipment back,” the page said.

The page also includes a video of the arrest and the projection equipment being loaded into the back of a pickup truck. At the end of the video, Bell asks viewers to contact the USCP Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct by USCP employees.

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