Another Inauguration, Another Arrest for Capitol Character
Jan. 16, 1989
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Another presidential inauguration is likely to mean another arrest for Stacy Abney, an expatriate Texan who is routinely carted away by police from a Capitol archway whenever new presidents and foreign dignitaries appear.
Abney has been arrested 21 times for refusing to leave the archway, where he has slept on scraps of carpet for the past 14 years.
Rain falling on a recent January day sluiced over the edge of the archway and kept Abney from his usual daytime perch in the middle of the Capitol's main steps, where he crouches with a placard listing health problems blamed on his World War II military service.
Tourists, he says, have told him the Capitol steps ''are too good'' for someone like him. But as the chilling cold turns each word into puffs of mist, he declares that he isn't going anywhere until the government relents and gives him disability payments.
An arrest at this year's inauguration of a fellow Texan, George Bush, ''is a given,'' says U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Dan Nichols. ''As part of his protest he refuses to leave.''
Abney is cited for unlawful entry when he won't budge for police securing the building for special occasions. So far, he's been arrested 21 times, Nichols said.
He is taken to a District of Columbia jail, but always comes back to the Capitol upon his release.
''Mr. Abney is never disorderly,'' Nichols said. ''He's very docile as far as police go. He presents no special problems.''
Nichols, who used to patrol the east side of the Capitol where the 77-year- old stages his lone and silent protest, says tourists sometimes complain that Abney ruins their pictures, sitting on the imposing Capitol steps with his roughly scrawled cardboard sign.
Nichols says he always explained to the visitors that only in the United States would a protester be allowed to demonstrate at the foot of the Capitol. ''They should be happy that's allowed in our country,'' he said.
''We consider him a demonstrator, not a homeless person,'' Nichols said. ''He demonstrates every day on the Capitol steps and at night, by being on the Capitol grounds.''
Born a mile from the Louisiana border in northeast Texas, Abney says he came to the Capitol to fight for disability benefits he believes he deserves for serving in the military - 18 months and six days in the United States and 25 months and two days overseas, in England, France, Belgium and Germany.
He said that after his discharge, doctors told him not to work on account of his weak heart, high blood pressure, gout and arthritis, and he hasn't held a job since 1948.
''I don't get nothing from the VA (Veterans Administration) in Texas for 29 years,'' he says, so he came to Washington.
He says some people give him food and money as they bustle past him on their way to tend to congressional business, but he still shivers through the winter and swelters in the summer.
''When the wind comes through here, it's as cold as ice. I stand here all day in the cold, freezing weather. I ain't got no sign of fire, no sign of heat,'' he says, wiping a drop of rain from his face with a crumpled paper towel.
In the summer, he says, he finds places where he can rinse the dirt from himself and his clothes.
''Then I sit out in the sun like an animal and get dry,'' he says.
He refuses to move to a shelter for the homeless, because, he says, it would be ''h-e-double-l.''
''Why sure, I'm lonely,'' he says. ''Who wouldn't be, stuck out here like this 24 hours a day? But no, I'm not sad. I'm not worried.
''I wasn't getting anywhere so I came up here and decided to fight until I get it. I haven't gotten it but I'm still fighting.''