Free the Nipple Carries Message to Los Angeles

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — Feel the Bern, Free the Nipple and sue Los Angeles police are the themes of a civil rights lawsuit from a topless protester who was arrested at a Bernie Sanders rally.
     Anni Ma was arrested on Wilshire Boulevard outside a Bernie Sanders rally on March 23 and accused of indecent exposure.
     “Plaintiff was dressed in a skirt and, initially had no clothing on her upper torso except for masking tape covering her nipples and areolas which had the words ‘Free the Nipple’ and ‘Feel the Bern,'” she says in her Aug. 4 federal lawsuit.
     She had “Equality” written above her breasts and “ERA” below them.
     That, apparently, did not bother the LAPD.
     However, “Plaintiff Ma removed the masking tape covering her nipples and areolas thereby legally going natural. Plaintiff Ma was attired in such a manner that she was not in violation of any law.”
     There the police disagreed. Defendant Officers Weston and Bermudez seized her, pushed her up against a pole and “told her that she must put the tape over her nipples or she would be arrested.”
     She didn’t, and she was.
     Weston assaulted and battered her with unnecessary and excessive force, pushing her face into the ground and his knee on her back, she says. “While being forced into the police vehicle, plaintiff yelled several times ‘Free the nipple.'” Bail for indecent exposure was set at $10,000.
     Her nine-count lawsuit also alleges constitutional violations, gender discrimination, and violation of state and federal civil rights laws.
     The “Free the Nipple” movement began in 2014 with a documentary film of that name. Nipple activists have sued at least two cities — Fort Collins, Colo., in May this year, and Springfield, Mo., in October 2015 — challenging laws that criminalize women, but not men, for exposing their breasts in public. The Missouri lawsuit claimed the Springfield effectively criminalized breastfeeding in public. Plaintiffs in the Colorado included a woman, an unincorporated association of women and men, and “a non-binary person.”
     Ma says she spent the night in jail, where she “contracted a urinary tract infection due to the unsanitary conditions.” She was released the following evening.
     City prosecutors declined to press charges, her attorney R. Allen Bayliss said in an interview.
     California’s indecent exposure law “only applies to genitals,” Bayliss said. “It says nothing about breasts.”
     Ma was never “nude” under the indecency law, according to the lawsuit, “because ‘mammary glands’ are obviously not sex organs.”
     But the officers, the city and the LAPD subjected her to intimidation and violence, “serious constitutional, physical and emotional injuries, including, without limitation: illegal invasion of her person; pain and physical injury; humiliation, emotional pain and suffering,” according to the complaint.
     Bayliss, who also represents naturists fighting for clothing-optional recreational areas, said incidents such as Ma’s arrest lead police to assume it is illegal in California for a woman to appear in public “top free.”
     Some municipalities and the state Department of Parks and Recreation do prohibit women from exposing their breasts, but Bayliss and co-counsel John R. Cogorno are fighting some of those laws, Bayliss said. They also represent Ma in a lawsuit against San Diego.
     Ma’s fellow Free the Nipple activist, Tiernan Hebron, also was arrested that night but has not brought suit, he said.
     Ma seeks general and punitive damages.
     A spokesman for the city attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
     Bayliss’s office is in Huntington Beach, Cogorno’s in Westminster.

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