On the day of Thomas Jefferson's birthday, 17 people set out to celebrate the Author of the Declaration of Independence by gathering at the Thomas Jefferson memorial statue and dancing in silence. The park officers interrupted the joyous celebration by first warning the individuals then arresting them for disobeying the law. When asked what law they were disobeying, the officer avoided the question by stating again, "Sir, I'm just giving you your warnings right now. If you demonstrate you will be arrested."
Again, the question was asked, which was followed up with, "You'll find out (if you dance)" by the officer.
Once the officer was unable to state what law they would be breaking the group challenged the officer's authority with a display of movement which the officers took as "Dancing" and arrested the group.
While the 1st amendment allows for Freedom of Speech, there is an added addendum to the law that adds "FREE SPEECH ZONES" Free Speech Zones are areas set aside in public places for political activists to exercise their right of freedom of speech as an exercise of what is commonly called "TPM" or "time, place, manner" regulation of speech. Free speech zones are set up by the Secret Service who scout locations near which the president is to pass or speak. Officials may target those displaying signs and escort them to the free speech zones before and during the event. Protesters who refuse to go to free speech zones could be arrested and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. In 2003, a seldom-used federal law was brought up that says that "willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting" is a crime. **Wikipedia**
Demonstrations are defined as The Regulations provide that, within the park areas of the National Capital Region, Demonstrations” include: picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the 6 conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to
draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.
So according to the letter of the law, the officers choice to arrest the group were upheld in court.
Ok so now for my own personal opinion.
Though it may appear to some that the group of people were being disrespectful to the Park Officers and the court dismissed the claims made by one person in particular stating that her first and fourth amendment rights had been violated because the group had no literal message that could have been passed on, I still think this was a clear violation of the groups rights. They weren't doing anything seriously wrong and for the most part had the officers just stood back and let the group celebrate for a few minutes the entire thing wouldn't have been used to bog up our court systems. As it stands though, the officers behaved like bullies on a playground. The day wasn't going the way they planned and so they decided to step in and make more of a spectacle than necessary.
The idea that a small celebration can't be held in front of the very place designed around the individual who WROTE the Declaration of Independence is appalling to say the least. It wasn't like they were trying to vandalize the place. I wonder what would happen if a flash mob decided to meet at a particular time and all just stand still in a pose at the same time. Would the officers then arrest them for standing still?
The single question that seems to be amiss here is the simple freedom of expression. Is it really illegal to dance in silent reverence to the single person who helped create this fine land we live in and call our own? According to the courts, the answer is yes. So then I have to take this to the next level, what is a legal form of expression and why is it not unconstitutional to dictate legal forms of expression? At what point do we say hey I've had enough when it comes to my personal freedoms being violated? Why is it that the law is designed much like the speech in The Devil's Advocate. Are the rules there really to protect our freedoms or are they more control factors set about by a nation full of fear?
The officers acted on fear, stating in court that they had no idea if this would have started a riot. To which I reply, "Dancing, to no music, in silence, start a riot? Really?" If that isn't the lamest excuse to squash freedom of expression then I don't know what is.
There are those who will state the officers were disrespected and so the group got what they deserved. To those who would think along those lines, I ask you this question. At what point do we remember that this nation was born out of ternary and refusal to be governed to a point of having almost zero rights? America was born out of the simple refusal to be dictated when it came to our simple freedoms. Are we really going to stand by and allow this country to be taken back to a time when the government Park Officers (Rent a cops) included could do as they pleased without consequence?
There are those laws on the books that go against everything this country is supposed to stand for. The law of Extraordinary Rendition is one example. When we turn a blind eye to the smaller freedoms being shred, it makes it easier for the bigger ones to simply disappear.
Though the group was not, so far as I know, taken out by Extraordinary Rendition, this nation, our nation, AMERICA is currently living in a state of fear. It is a silent enemy that attacks without warning and does more damage than an AK-47. We now live in a society where it is better to turn our heads and ignore what is really going on. We live in fear of economic collapse and we live in fear of another attack. We live in fear of being politically correct and have forgotten what the nation stands for. Have we really forgotten the blood that was shed for the very freedoms we say we hold dear? If the answer to that question is no, then as a nation we must look at the truth of what is going on in today's society. We focus more on who the next American Idol is rather than what laws the government is sliding in under the table. We have allowed the Constitution to be shred a little at a time and smiled about it. We have taken out loans on land to bail out big businesses who line the pockets of the very people we elect and behaved as if it's status quot.
Since when has it been ok to not say, "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!"
I'm not trying to start a riot here. I'm just asking us to look at the consequences before we turn a blind eye to everything that is going on in today's society. I'm asking to for this nation to say, I can dance when I want to. I stand and cheer for the people who gave us our freedoms and I can say no to laws that are not in MY countries best interest. I can do this because I am an American. I was given this right by my founders, ancestors, grandparents, parents, and all the soldiers who fight the battle of freedom every day.
It is the very right I have been given by the Constitution so many of our governmental officials want to ignore. To those in power, I ask you to remember those of us you govern and please don't forget that we can fire you. That is OUR right.
As for the group who only wanted to celebrate one of the founders, you have left an impact that much is sure.
Thank you so much for listening to me during this, my own personal rant.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Posted by Joann H. Buchanan on 12:32 PM