Josie Valadez Fraire knew that protesting a Donald Trump event could end with her arrest.
But she couldn’t have guessed that she would soon be locked in handcuffs and hauled away by police ostensibly for carrying a sacred indigenous object.
Fraire, 22, who is Xicana (Chicana) and a member of MEChA, a national Chicano/a activist student organization, attended a protest outside of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on Friday. Inside, Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was scheduled to speak at the Western Conservative Summit.
But outside on the street, Denver Police, donned in riot gear, had set up barricades to separate the hundreds of protesters there from the convention grounds.
Fraire and other members of MEChA had arrived at about 9 a.m. Almost immediately, Fraire said, she lit a bundle of sage and began smudging the area and anyone who asked her to.
While smudging, Trump supporters called her names.
“They were very nasty,” she said. “A woman of color said, ‘It stinks like you do. It stinks like your ugly face.’ Trump supporters were trying to intimidate us – several of them were arrogantly just walking through the crowd (of protesters).”
Fraire, still holding the smoking sage, had made her way nearest to the police barricade when a fight broke out, allegedly putting police on edge, pushing people off the street, according to Fraire.
By this time, the young University of Colorado Boulder graduate said she had been holding the smudge for roughly two hours, in full sight of police.
Suddenly, a Denver police officer (a woman of color, Fraire said) allegedly shouted “put out your fire.” The officer was referring to Fraire’s sage.
“There is nothing for me to put out,” Fraire responded. “Ma’am, there is no active fire here. I tried to explain to her that it’s similar to a cigarette.”
“Come here!” the officer ordered Fraire. As demanded, she made her way through a small space between the barricades and into the street where police were standing guard.
“(The officer) grabbed my hand forcefully and forced it behind my back,” Fraire said. “(The police were) incredibly forceful. At one point, there were four police on me. They definitely used an excessive amount of force.”
Fraire said she repeatedly told police that there was no fire, therefore there was nothing to put out. “I don’t have a fire lit,” Fraire recalled saying.
“The only other way to put it out was to crush it completely, and I was not willing to do that,” Fraire said, citing that smudge is sacred to millions of indigenous peoples.
“She started to yell at me, telling me to ‘put it out!’ or I would get arrested,” Fraire added. “I just couldn’t do that.”
Fraire said at that moment “a tall white man” – a police officer – grabbed her left hand and began twisting her arm, trying to release the sage from her grip.
“He was hurting me,” she said. “I told him, ‘You have no right to take my sage.’ Eventually, he held my hand so tight he took my sage.”
At one point, he dropped it to the ground, Fraire said.
“(They) handcuffed me and they were again telling me that I wasn’t obeying orders.”
At one point, Fraire said one of the officers commented, “Smoke alarms us.”
“How come you’re not arresting people with cigarettes because it’s the same concept,” Fraire asked, attempting to logic with the officers.
“An officer of color – the one who was trying to move the ticketing process forward, told me, ‘You’re either going to get a ticket or go to jail.’”
“This is against my rights,” Fraire said. “I am practicing my spirituality. There’s no reason for a ticket.”
Fraire was then taken behind a nearby Sheriff’s van, she said, where officers took her mug shot and was issued a ticket for disobeying a lawful order. Her Court date is set for August 1 at 8 a.m. Fraire said she plans to contest the charges.
“There’s no way I can disobey orders that I cannot fulfill,” she said, which she reiterated on a video posted to YouTube over the weekend.
After police released Fraire, she returned to the location she was arrested and continued to protest. She said Trump and his policies are “misogynistic” and “exemplifies hatred.”
At the time of the publication of this story, representatives of Denver Police did not respond to ICTMN’s request for comment.