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'Choose Respect' rally features fiery exchange between activist and lieutenant governor

Katie Medred
A Choose Respect rally on Thursday ended up in Anchorage's Town Square. Katie Medred

On a blustery dowdy day in Anchorage some 200 people gathered at Delaney Park in downtown Anchorage during lunch hour to demonstrate their support of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's Choose Respect campaign.

Once assembled, the group -- made up of women young and old, men, children and the occasional dog -- tromped steadily down F Street from Delaney Park Strip toward Town Square.

Along the way coworkers and friends chatted casually about their day. One woman explained to another that she'd taken her lunch break early to join the procession, while a young man in a fitted pea coat talked cynically about Alaska politics. Black police cars were stationed at every intersection, and officers were sprinkled through the crowd.

As the procession arrived and funneled into Town Square, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, wrapped in a thin olive-green Arctic Winter Games jacket, took the stage. Resting his palms on either side of the podium and leaning in toward the microphone, he surveyed the crowd before beginning his speech.

"We're going to hold those who hit or harm accountable for their actions," he said. "There are some who say this is not happening fast enough (and) to those people I say, 'I agree.' One assault is too many. One rape is too many. We're working to have a village public safety officer in every village. That is the goal."

As Treadwell spoke of the horrors of violence against women in Alaska, one voice from the crowd could be heard alongside his, competing for attention. A slight woman with graying hair stood near the foot of the stage, alongside Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was preparing to take the podium next.

"You're letting this happen," she loudly scolded the senator. "And who are the primary victims? Native women!"

Murkowski listened attentively, nodding occasionally.

The woman, later identified by Murkowski as community activist Desa Jacobsson, who was the Green Party candidate for governor in 1998, turned her attention to Treadwell. He responded: "We've got places of shelter, we've got counseling, we've got comfort for the abused." 

"Yeah, they just cut the funding," Jacobsson yelled from the crowd.

"And we have places for abusers to get help too," he continued. "Let's just stop the violence before it even starts by addressing the root causes."

"Another Native woman is dead!" Jacobsson shouted, referencing the late Pauline Mann of Hooper Bay whose boyfriend, according to KTUU, is accused of "beating and stomping" the 27-year-old to death "during a drunken rage."

Treadwell asked the crowd to pray for Mann and the children she left behind, adding "remember 'choosing respect' means getting involved. Silence condones violence."

Jacobsson wasn't satisifed. "Native women are being neglected," she said.

Treadwell continued, unfazed. "If you see evidence of abuse, be proactive ... The way forward is through individual responsibility and community involvement. Like TSA says, if you see something say something."

At the end of his speech, Treadwell invited Murkowski to the podium. She positioned herself behind the microphone, where she made a few light jokes before focusing on the issue.

Within a few minutes, Jacobsson began moving toward the stage and mounted the first two steps before police hurried to restrain her. Three male officers escorted Jacobsson off the stage stairs and away from Town Square. Murkowski didn't miss a beat but instead appeared more fervent.

"When a local newspaper calls Alaska the 'rape capital' of the nation that should devastate us all," she said. "And, to Desa Jacobsson, who was just here calling us to shame, we should be ashamed. I am ashamed. I'm ashamed that in a state as beautiful and majestic as it is, that we are the rape capital of the nation. This is horrible. This is absolutely intolerable and we must end this. We must end this."

The crowd broke into applause.

Murkowski never made any direct mention of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) or the controversy her amendment caused.

Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com