Saturday, September 8, 2007

Politics: Adam Kokesh, Tina Richards arrested for defying a poster ban

Updated below

The story here is that an Iraq veteran and the mother of a marine who did 2 tours of duty in Iraq were part of an activist organization,[ The ANSWER coalition, ] posting signs to announce a Washington protest on September 15. There was a dispute with the city over the posting of signs which they are fighting:

ANSWER Coalition Press Conference in Washington DC
to Announce Free Speech Lawsuit Against DC Government

Statement by Sarah Sloan
National Staff Coordinator, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition

August 20, 2007

The Department of Public Works is not telling the truth when they say we have improperly posted signs promoting the September 15 March to Stop the War. The fact is that we have posted these signs in accordance with District of Columbia Municipal Regulations.

Specifically, the 65 Notices of Violation sent to us last week from the Department of Public Works claim that we violated Title 24 Section 108.9 of the DCMR which states that “Signs, advertisements, and posters shall not be affixed by adhesives that prevent their complete removal from the fixture, or that do damage to the fixture.”

Therefore, an adhesive can be used to affix posters as long as it does not “prevent their complete removal” or “do damage.” All posters in question have been affixed with a water-based and water-soluble paste. Volunteers have in the past removed these posters following events and found that they are removed easily and quickly.

When politicians campaign for office they plaster their posters everywhere and frequently in a manner that is not in accordance with the law. They are provided 30 days following the election to remove the signs. Frequently they do not remove them. The ANSWER Coalition will remove the Sept. 15 posters following the demonstration…. read on

And so they held this press conference demonstrating that they were using the correct paste and that hanging signs was legal. A young cop, with way too much authority for his age, showed up and told them they needed a permit and they were defacing public property. Things went down hill rapidly from there, the press conference continued, the cops got all hot and bothered and the two were arrested.

This reminds me of the time a few years back when an old girlfriend and I were standing on a NYC sidewalk holding signs to protest a business that was ripping us off. We were not blocking anything or anyone. Just standing there, on a public sidewalk, holding the signs and talking to anyone who talked to us. The business called the cops who showed up and told us we needed to leave or be arrested because we didn’t have a permit. Baffled, we left the scene and went about trying to get this "free speech permit." When we got to the appropriate offices, we were told there was no such thing as a permit for 2 people holding signs.

That fact is that this is unconstitutional behavior but freedom is kind of an illusion at the individual level isn't it? The police were wrong in my case, they are in the wrong in this case and they were wrong when they arrested those two people with anti Bush T-shirts at a Bush event, but the people giving the orders don’t care. Those people won an $80,000 judgement against the government but they still got removed from the event. Mission accomplished for the price of a toilet seat in Iraq.

Nobody can challenge the police at the time, they are the authorities and they can taser you or beat you with clubs or even shoot you if necessary. They count on people lacking resources or being too intimidated to challenge them after the fact and, if they do, the government just says “oops” and uses taxpayer money to pay whatever penalty there is. I don’t know of any restrictions on a government from unlawfully arresting people and then paying court judgments against them as often as they want. The worst they will have is a pissed off comptroller. It’s a perfect workaround when you think about it. They basically just buy as many unconstitutional events as they want, and it’s not even their money.

Not to be cynical or anything.



It has been suggested that putting up this poster is a violation of the park rules but I would point out that they are not in the park. They are on the sidewalk of a street that boarders the park posting on a utility box. Cars are whizzing by. The mounted cop almost chases them into the street. This makes pretty clear to me that they are on city property not park property (as if that would really matter) and the law is very clear about the use of lamp posts, traffic signals and the supporting fixtures, such as junction boxes:

24 DCMR 108.4 Any sign, advertisement, or poster that does not relate to the sale of goods or services may be affixed on public lampposts or appurtenances of a lamppost subject to the restrictions set forth in this section.
The restrictions include details of how long the poster can stay up, the type of glue, the number of posters per block, the need to tell the city within 24 hours etc. If you follow the above link you can see the details. It is also interesting to note that The Partnership for Civil Justice has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that many of the restrictions are unconstitutional because they do not provide equal protection under the law. Political campaigns can post for longer than 60 days. Community crime related posters can be posted forever. Grass roots organizations can only leave them up for 60 days. Forcing people to register also violates the right to anonymous speech which is also protected. Would you want to register who you were voting for with the state before an election? The same protection applies here.

So, I will say it again: This cop was a punk who didn't know the law and got uppity with a citizen because he felt like his little tin badge ego was being challenged. It has been reported that he is 35 so I will accept that it is poor professionalism and maturity rather than youthful inexperience.


Anonymous said...

"A young cop, with way too much authority for his age, showed up and told them they needed a permit and they were defacing public property."

That cop is 35 years old. I know him quite well! He appreciates your compliment on his young looks. BTW, he's the same age a DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. I guess Fenty had better resign, apparently he's not old enough to have authority.

The cop clearly says in the video that they have to remove the table if they don't have a permit. That's Federal law. It has been on the books for many, many years, and is enforced regardless of who is demonstrating, or what their cause is. He never says stop the press conference. He never prevents their first amendment right to free SPEECH. He later warns Richards to stop defacing the box or she will be arrested. She did what she came there to do, force her own arrest! This was a trap the officer had no choice but to fall into, because he is sworn to do his job. Posters cannot be put up in Lafayette park for ANY reason.

Do you see any other posters on that junction box? Of course not! It's ILLEGAL. Free speech is not a guaranteed right to slap a poster on anything, anywhere. It's the right to say anything, anywhere, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others (like yelling fire in a crowded theater, and causing people to be trampled and injured).

Plisko said...

I appreciate your insight. I know all about this claim that you need a permit to do anything that an officer doesn't want you to do.

The only violation that the city claimed in this case was that they were using the wrong glue. That means the city was unable to cite them for the posters themselves. The press conference was held to demonstrate that it is the right glue. The cop clearly did not know what the law was. He was just pissed the people weren't listening to him. Believe me I work with cops all the time. I know that attitude when I see it.

Maybe the correct word for the cop would be that he is too immature and unprofessional for the authority he has rather than too young. City ordinances are not the constitution. Political speech on public property is protected and that includes posting or passing out notices. That officer should have known that his authority and his duty is to protect the rights of citizens not to protect an electrical box or to protect his power to order people around.

If you are also ready to justify charging a horse at people standing on a sidewalk while screaming at the top of your lungs to protect said electric box, then I guess we won't agree. Maybe we need a constitutional lawyer to clear a few things up here.

I am constantly amazed by how many people, including law enforcement, really have no understanding about what it means to be American. City ordinances are not infallible. Neither is the understanding of such ordinances by a police officer.

Plisko said...

I've found some more information on this subject that might be of interest:

There is a very compelling suit being filed against the DC postering laws because they discriminate. They allow better quality free speech to politicians and crime prevention efforts than to grass roots groups. They also have ambiguous standards for posting. One standards insists that the glue be strong enough that the weather won't make it fall down and the very next standard states that it must not be strong glue that is difficult to remove. This allows officials to apply their own subjective standard and selectively enforce. They also have crippling penalties that will bankrupt organizations or put them into years of servitude even if they themselves didn't commit the violation.

The details of the suit also reveal that city regulations allow posters on lamp posts. The definition of lamp posts includes traffic lights and utility boxes. Once again, evidence that this cop did not know the regulations about posting. The electrical box and the sidewalk may not have even counted as park property.

The park police have also been in trouble in the past regarding first amendment rights. A park police official, Richard Murphy may even be personally liable for a mass false arrest where police surrounded the whole park and arrested everyone who happened to be inside, protesters and bystanders alike. These people were then all put into an FBI intelligence file which the court ordered destroyed.

DC police have also been in trouble in this area. They unlawfully restricted people's access to Bush's inauguration route. They also sent plain clothes spies weeks ahead of time to illegally infiltrate organizations. Other plane clothes officers in ski masks were spraying mace and assaulting people randomly to stir up trouble in the event itself. This all led to court ordered reforms of the police department and a $685,000 settlement.

This leads me to look at the DC and Lafayette Park police as a perpetrator who has a rap sheet in this area already. Why should I trust their interpretation of the law when it comes to free speech and civil rights?

Plisko said...

The information about these incidents can all be found at this link:

Partnership for Civil Justice

Anonymous said...

btw, the claim that "Volunteers have in the past removed these posters following events" is completely ridiculous. Walk up and down Wisconsin avenue and you will see posters from this year glued over the last batch of posters from the previous march. Whether you believe it is legal or not, how can anyone come to any other conclusion other than this is defacing property? It destroys the beauty of neighborhoods. Every morning i have walk by dozens of these gaudy horribly designed signs that will be up for months to come just like the last set. Is that right? Can I come to their neighborhood or place of business and tag some spray paint graffiti on their block? The paint can be removed with some effort, just like the posters.