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August 09, 2016

Protester Anni Ma Sues LAPD Over Topless Protest

LOS ANGELES—Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was pretty popular in L.A., and at a rally that was held at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire Boulevard on March 23, thousands of supporters who "felt the Bern" showed it. Trouble was, according to the LAPD, a couple of the attendees showed it a bit too much. Anni Ma is part of a nationwide protest movement called "Free the Nipple," and that's what she and fellow protester Tiernan Hebron did at the Sanders rally. Originally, the pair had masking tape over their nipples with messages that read "Free the Nipple" and "Feel the Bern," plus the words "Equality" written in marker above her breasts and "ERA" (meaning "Equal Rights Amendment") below—but at some point, Ma and Hebron removed their tape, revealing their areolas for all to see—including a couple of cops, who arrested the pair and took them to their precinct, where they spent a night in a cell. And now Ma has sued the city, the police department and the two officers who arrested her for $3 million, claiming that she was abused during the arrest, and that she contracted a urinary tract infection while in jail due to alleged unsanitary conditions. Other claims in the complaint include "serious constitutional, physical and emotional injuries, including, without limitation: illegal invasion of her person; pain and physical injury; humiliation, [and] emotional pain and suffering." But the real question is, why was she arrested in the first place? As readers may remember, AVN published an article online in June of 2014 about Scout Willis, daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, going various places around New York City with no top on, ostensibly as a protest against Instagram for having been kicked off the service after she posted a photo of two of her friends posing topless. "What began as a challenge to Instagram and its prejudiced community guidelines became an opportunity for dialogue," Willis wrote in an article for XOJane in late May of that year. "Matters like the taboo of the nipple in the 21st century, public breastfeeding, slut shaming, fat shaming, breast cancer awareness, body positivity, gender inequality, and censorship have found their way into mainstream discussion. But unfortunately the emphasis in the press has been on sensationalizing my breasts, chiefly in terms of my family." Willis didn't get busted for her topless journey because New York's laws about upper body nudity are sane and non-sexist: If men can walk around with their nipples showing, women can as well, the city's logic (and legal system) aver. So the question then becomes, what with Los Angeles being the epicenter of the adult entertainment content industry, not to mention home to most of the major mainstream movie production companies (which often feature topless characters in their product), how is it possible that L.A. still criminalizes going topless? The L.A. District Attorney's office eventually declined to file indecent exposure charges over the incident, but that didn't stop Ma from suing. "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," argued one of Ma's attorneys, R. Allen Bayliss, who has represented several nudist camps and clothing-optional beaches. "Breasts, by law, are not genitals; therefore, indecent exposure was not an appropriate charge," he later added. "A political rally is the one place where the First Amendment protection is the highest. So their arrest stopped her from exercising her First Amendment rights." But Ma is suing not only for the First Amendment violations, but also her Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure, and her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of due process—not to mention, "Freedom from arrest to move about freely and lawfully on a public sidewalk in the City of Los Angeles while appearing in public unclothed from the waist up by going natural, without government interference." Ma also notes in the suit that breast-feeding in public is already legal, so her breast exposure could hardly be considered "indecent." Ma's lawsuit could conceivably bring about a change in L.A.'s laws to allow women to be topless in public—certainly a change whose time has not only come, but is way overdue.

 
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