For war protester Eve Tetaz, 78 is hardly the time to retire

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's a familiar scene for Eve Tetaz. She sits in the cold, damp holding cell, crammed together with other women. Some, like her, were arrested for protesting. Others are locked up for drugs, assault or prostitution.

The other women in the D.C. jail affectionately call her grandma. Her cellmates, or as she calls them, her "sisters in chains," let her sleep on the bottom bunk so the 78-year-old doesn't have to climb to the top. Instead of letting her stand in line to get her jail-issued bologna or cheese sandwiches, many of the women bring them to her. "These are women I probably even wouldn't see passing on the street," Tetaz said. "They are very gracious to me."

With her white hair and black glasses, Tetaz is a familiar figure to the Capitol Police and at the courthouse. Since 2005, court records show, she has been arrested 20 times and convicted 14 times of various offenses, including unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, contempt and crossing a police line. As she and other demonstrators march around various parts of the District, from the White House to the Supreme Court to the Capitol, her protests center on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Most District judges who have heard her cases have dismissed them with a citation or fine or sentenced her to time served, usually one or two days in jail, and sent her home. But her repeated arrests have left prosecutors and some D.C. Superior Court judges exasperated. On Thursday, just days before a D.C. Superior Court judge was scheduled to sentence her in another case, Tetaz picked up her 21st arrest when she and about 40 other protesters were charged in a war demonstration on the Capitol grounds. A hearing was scheduled for March.

Tetaz has stood before Magistrate Judge Michael McCarthy for arraignments so many times she has become "a familiar face," he said. At one recent arraignment, he warned Tetaz that she might one day stand before a judge who "may say, 'enough is enough' " and force her to "pay a price" for her multiple arrests.

On Monday, an obviously frustrated Judge Lynn Leibovitz sentenced Tetaz to 25 days in jail and placed her on probation for a year after a jury found her guilty of disorderly conduct in October. Prosecutors say Tetaz and at least three other people attended a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing May 21, stood up as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) began to speak and yelled out: "No more blood money! Stop the war!" Police said Tetaz and the other protesters then threw dollar bills into the aisle of the Senate chamber. The money had been covered in Tetaz's blood as well as the blood of the other demonstrators, drawn from each by a doctor friend.

Standing next to Jack Baringer, her court-appointed attorney, and wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'm not disturbing the peace, I'm disturbing the war," Tetaz often smiled as Leibovitz criticized her decision to disrupt a Senate speech and pass out blood-tainted dollars. The move, Leibovitz said, "demeaned the action of protest" and bordered on assault. "Ms. Tetaz has repeatedly over time ignored court orders and our laws," the judge added. She sentenced Tetaz to 75 days in jail but suspended 50 days -- unless Tetaz is arrested again while on probation for 18 months.

Tetaz, whose supporters in the audience risked being kicked out of the courtroom for cheering her on, read from a statement, vowing to continue to "give voice" to nonviolent protest. "I believe that nonviolent protest against government policies will continue to be the only authentic form of individual political action," she said.

After her sentencing, U.S. marshals immediately led Tetaz away to jail.

Just eight months from turning 79, Tetaz is one of the oldest demonstrators of the District- and New York-based group Witness Against Torture. Matthew Daloisio, one of the organizing volunteers, said police, noticing her frailty, often offer Tetaz the option of receiving a citation and release from jail, but she declines, choosing to remain locked up with other demonstrators. "Eve lines up her life with how she thinks the world should be," Daloisio said. "She has a spirit that transcends her age and her physical limitations."

And it is her physical limitations that concern her attorney and family members. She carries bags of medications for glaucoma and heart trouble. She also has leukemia, which doctors said they can treat with medication. Judges must speak loudly or she has to wear headphones to be able to hear the proceedings.

Widowed since 1995 and with no children, Tetaz says she's the perfect demonstrator. She has no responsibilities. She is retired after spending 30 years teaching English in D.C. public schools including Eastern and Dunbar, as well as a brief time in 1948 when she taught school in Harlem, N.Y.

Protesting isn't new to Tetaz. During the Vietnam War, she and other demonstrators were arrested on the steps of the Capitol. She spent three days in jail.

"It's often the poor, uneducated, inner-city kid who has no other recourse than the streets or the Army. I'm fighting for him," she said, days before Monday's sentencing. "This is a terrible waste."

Tetaz, like many of her fellow demonstrators, is spiritual. She often speaks of wanting to "follow Jesus" and lives a simple life in an Adams Morgan apartment with two cats and a bird. "In everything I do," she said, flashing her large smile, "I want to be a reflection of my faith."

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