Thursday, July 30, 2009

Prof. Gates' Unconstitutional Arrest -

It may have been a Town v. Gown controversy rather than a racial incident. Or even, as Steven Colbert proposed on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," a jock v. nerd matter with Sgt. Crowley as the jock and Prof. Gates, pictured riding his tricycle on Martha's Vineyard, as the nerd. But I prefer to agree with Massachusetts criminal defense and civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate, who, in this Forbes commentary, "Prof. Gate's Unconstitutional Arrest: There's a First Amendment right to be rude to a cop," argued persuasively that "fundamentally the situation can, and should, be analyzed as a free speech case."

In my two plus decade criminal defense career, I too saw many police reports that parroted the words "loud and tumultuous behavior which caused a crowd to gather and created public inconvenience, annoyance and alarm." Disorderly conduct is what the Boston police used when the City's equally unconstitutional "Sauntering and Loitering" Ordinance somehow didn't fit or wasn't enough. As a new, young, white law student in 1976, I was threatened with arrest by a Cambridge police officer for insisting that he shouldn't be smoking inside the front of the Porter Square Star Market right under the "No Smoking" sign. Unlike Prof. Gates, I swallowed my First Amendment rights and stopped my confrontation upon the police officer's threat even though I knew it would have been an unconstitutional arrest.

As Atty. Silverglate points out:
There is a serious problem in this country: Police are overly sensitive to insults from those they confront. And one can hardly blame the confronted citizen, especially if the citizen is doing nothing wrong when confronted by official power. This is, after all, a free country, and if "free" means anything meaningful, it means being left alone--especially in one's own home--when one is not breaking the law.

See the article also for Atty. Silverglate's brief but thorough history of First Amendment jurisprudence and the evolution of the "four exceptions to the First Amendment's protection for free speech."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, United States of America!

Happy Birthday, United States of America, may you continue to mature into the beacon of hope and liberty that your birth certificate envisioned.

See photo of original here: Rare copy of US Declaration found in England and the text here: Declaration of Independence from Boston Globe editorial page of July 4, 2009.