On May 22nd this year we had a trial in the Little Rock District Court with the Honorable Mark Leverett presiding. We defended the charges on the basis the the City of Little Rock’s public assembly ordinance was unconstitutional in that it permitted overly broad discretion to the governmental officials in the issuance and enforcement of the ordinance. At trial the officer who testified candidly admitted that the ordinance was so broad as to apply to birthday parties in War Memorial Park and that it would be up the discretion of an individual officer as to whether or not to charge those individuals with violating the ordinance. Today I learned that Judge Leverett granted our motion for a directed verdict and dismissed all charges.
The vigil was peaceful, though dozens of police had mustered on a parking lot at the other end of Capitol Avenue during the event as a precaution. Earlier, police had pulled back from a show of force on 12th Street when an unhappy crowd gathered following the shooting of Deon Williams, 26. Police Chief Stuart Thomas' decision to remove police and allow the spontaneous demonstration to wind down of its own accord proved wise Monday afternoon.
Lessons continue to pile up: In Florida, the person with the gun always has an edge. React angrily and physically to being accosted by an armed man for the offense of walking while black and you could be shot dead. The survivor wins. A juror has been quoted as saying she didn't see any racial profiling at work in the Trayvon Martin case. On that, I tend to be skeptical. But it's irrelevant to the critical self-defense question the jury considered. Still. Would George Zimmerman have taken up a gun to follow a young white person walking through his neighborhood at night? It might be hard for a white juror to understand, but it is not for black parents: There is more peril, and not only physical, in being a black youth than being a white youth.
In Little Rock, the evidence so far indicates police thought they had — but did not — evidence of probable cause to stop Deon Williams. The car he was driving wasn't stolen, as they suspected. The police account, after the fact, indicates the parolee was armed and carrying drugs. Not good. Could officers have legally searched him and arrested him had he not run? Unless there's a civil rights lawsuit, we're not likely to know and the final events in this case weigh against the dead man. It's true that federal courts have held that flight alone is not probable cause for an arrest. But picking up a dropped weapon after failing to heed an officer in hot pursuit is another matter. You may also curse a cop with protection of the U.S. Constitution. But, like running, it is not advisable.
UPDATE: In the vein of police interaction, the Democrat-Gazette's Gavin Lesnick reports this morning that a 31-year-old bicycle rider arrested near the scene of yesterday's spontaneous protest for telling a police officer to go fuck himself when ordered to move along. He was charged with disorderly conduct and attempting to incite a riot. Sounds like a case for the ACLU.
It happened again in the U.S. House yesterday when a Democratic representative took the floor to shame Republicans for stripping food stamps from the farm bill as part of a plan to gut nutrition assistance to poor families.
She was booed and silenced. This by a House majority that regularly uses the House floor to castigate the president, Democratic leaders and others they revile.
Her violation was telling, too. She quoted the Bible before shaming Republicans.
Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday threatened to strike a Democratic representative's words from the record and then booed her after she shamed them for cutting food stamp funding from the farm bill.
"The Bible says, to whom much is given, much is required," Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) observed during debate over whether funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be stripped from the farm bill. "And this is a sad day in the House of Representatives. Shame on the Republicans! Shame on the House of Representatives!"
After an objection from Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), Speaker pro tempore Kevin Yoder (R-KS) ordered Brown to "suspend" and "be seated."
"Excuse me," Brown replied, glaring at Yoder. "What did I say that was incorrect?"
Ultimately, Brown was again allowed to speak after a protest. She continued:
"This is a sad day in the House of Representatives, and to separate the farm bill from the elderly, from the children, this is a shame!" Brown exclaimed. "Mitt Romney was right. You all do not care about the 47 percent!"
Welcome to Republican representative democracy. You shut up.
She reports filming of the demonstrators and repeated suggestions — absent citation of law — that the four people were prohibited from demonstrations on the sidewalk and from taking photographs there. No arrests were made.
Not an encouraging episode. Wonder if the gun nuts could be encouraged to join Occupy Little Rock in a demonstration in behalf of the 1st Amendment?
Pierce's account follows:
The prosecuting attorney's office this morning asked that the case against the four members of the Occupy Little Rock group who were arrested last year for refusing to leave their camp downtown be nol prossed, the lawyer for the four, John Wesley Hall, said. The prosecutor told District Judge Alice Lightle that they were asking to drop the case because none of the four had been arrested since the May 16 shutdown of the camp by the city of Little Rock.
The prosecutor had offered last September to drop all charges if the four weren't arrested again within six months, an offer the four refused. At the time, Occupy member Glenn "Mac" Miller said the not guilty plea the four entered was to force the court to determine the limits of their rights to peaceably assemble.
Seen this? High-tech pranksters have used the good name of Crystal Bridges, the Alice Walton-backed museum in Bentonville, to draw attention to a union protest of Walmart employment practices in a Black Friday event that has drawn a court effort by the retailer to shut it down.
At the link crystalbridgesfoundation.org, you'll find a news release (partially shown above), which is clearly a putup job ( I'm reasonably sure the website is a creation of pranksters with no connection to Crystal Bridges, though it picks up standard features and links from the real Crystal Bridges website and likely will be targeted soon for infringing on that trade dress):
The website was created Nov. 19 and registered by a web hosting company, according to a quick search. Said Museum spokeswoman Dianne Carroll:
It is indeed erroneous—and we appreciate our thorough reporters who vet something like this before reporting.
We have been alerted about the information; the website “crystalbridgesfoundation.org” and all related content have not been generated by Crystal Bridges, and all information contained in the press release is false. Crystal Bridges will be open Friday, Nov. 23, from 11 am to 9 pm., and we welcome all to come explore the Museum galleries, grounds and additional offerings. The official Crystal Bridges web site, with accurate information, is CrystalBridges.org
We’re also investigating next steps.
Following is the news release ginned up by the satire site. In case it should disappear, it's shown in full. It reflects a bit of Onion-worthy sophistication and fine art knowledge in the course of injecting the needle:
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to Close on Black Friday; Statement from Alice Walton, Chair of The Board of Directors
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BENTONVILLE, AR- The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will close on Friday, November 23, out of respect for the Walmart workers engaging in Black Friday strikes, walkouts, and pickets. Alice Walton, Chair of the Board of Directors, also asks all Americans to stay home with their family rather than shop on Thanksgiving, so that Walmart workers do not have to report to work in the middle their Thanksgiving meals on this national holiday. The Museum will reopen on Saturday, November 24.
As Ms. Walton explained, "Since Black Friday is the unofficial start of the Christmas season, and this is the season of giving, I and the staff of Crystal Bridges have decided to stand with the workers of Walmart, the source of my family's fortune, in their Black Friday strikes, walkouts, and pickets. I recognize this may come as a surprise to both Walmart workers and the American public. I have always assumed these hard-working men and women were being treated well, paid well, and being compensated with proper health benefits and vacation time. On this holiday, I give thanks for the fortune I inherited and for all the workers who earned it for me. They deserve to share its benefits. I was shocked to the point of disbelief when I first learned of the working conditions these decent Americans endure at the company that bears our family's name. As a Walton, I cannot stomach the thought of our employees working for poverty wages, without sufficient healthcare, on a permanent part-time basis, or under threat of harassment, retaliation, or termination for organizing in their workplace. The workers of Walmart deserve better."
"However, Walmart's hostile battle against its own workers and their attempts to organize their workplace, improve working conditions, and earn a living wage, is not the only reason to stay home on Thanksgiving and on Black Friday. In the race to profit from cash-strapped deal-seekers desperate to save a buck, Walmart is now asking its employees to report to work in the middle of the Thanksgiving holiday in order to open stores that evening. This poor treatment of workers and crass commercialization of the holiday stamps 'Black Friday' with a whole new meaning: the black mark of shame."
"Let us all stand in solidarity with these decent working Americans. Let us respect their struggle and their strike and not shop at Walmart on Black Friday, let alone on Thanksgiving day. In fact, let us not shop anywhere this holiday. I wish the entire nation a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas."
"Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again,"
New Temporary Exhibition Honoring Labor
In honor of the 1.3 million workers of Walmart and especially all those who earn the minimum wage, the Museum also announces a special temporary exhibition on labor in American art. Drawn from the collection, the exhibition centers on Winslow Homer's The Return of the Gleaner (1867). Gleaners were the poor, most often women, who were permitted to pick through a farmer's field after it had been harvested, in search of leftover grain. Homer's painting ennobles this stooped, back-breaking labor and his stirring tribute to the survival of the American spirit is echoed in other works by George Wesley Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Ralston Crawford, Francis Criss, Eastman Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, and Everett Shin. The exhibition, titled "Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again," will be on view November 24, 2012 - January 28, 2013.
Gregory Nelson of Fayetteville, with an Arkansas flag decal sewn on his vest, is drawing headlines in New York today for saying he punched an Iranian official in the stomach during an anti-Iran demonstration in the city after a speech by Iran's president to the UN.
“It felt really good,” said Nelson, 50, after delivering his shot to the Iranian bigwig’s stomach. “It wasn’t that hard, but he felt it.”
Nelson was flanked by a horde of protesters, many of them Iranian immigrants demanding democracy in their homeland, when Mehmanparast walked past after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s United Nations speech.
The former Army National Guard member, doing his best Mike Tyson impression, saw an opening and swung at the spokesman’s midsection before he could escape.
“We don’t usually conduct ourselves like that, but he’s a murderer,” said the bearded, ponytailed Nelson. “That whole regime, everybody is responsible for the murders that go on.”
The widower came up from his Fayetteville, Ark., home to join thousands of boisterous demonstrators gathered outside the UN as Ahmadinejad spoke inside to the General Assembly.
UPDATE: Here we go. Iran is blaming this on a "terrorist sect." But this story also quotes the police as downplaying the contact:
The New York police characterized the incident involving Mehmanparast differently. There were no arrests.
“He was verbally accosted by anti-regime protesters who apparently recognized him,” Browne said. “While there was some pushing and shoving, we are not aware of any assault involved, despite one protester’s claim to have punched the diplomat in the stomach.”
More from New York Times.
There's a 50-year-old named Greg Nelson on Facebook whose page mentioned Tuesday that he was heading to New York to protest at the UN. His activities include the National Council of Resistance of Iran and includes the photo below. Tats appear to match with those in the Daily News photo of a smiling protester Nelson.
A trial was scheduled in district court today on a trial of four people arrested when they refused to leave the Occupy Little Rock camp downtown when the city moved to clear it May 16. David Koon reports:
Today's scheduled trial for four Occupy Little Rock protestors turned out to be a non-event, with the four protestors refusing to take a plea deal and then being told that their trial would have to be rescheduled until Jan. 23, 2013 because witnesses weren't there to testify.
Glenn "Mac" Miller, one of the four protestors arrested in May, said prosecutors offered to drop all charges after six months if they weren't arrested again, an offer which was refused. After defense attorney John Wesley Hall conferred with Judge Alice Lightle and prosecutors, Miller said the four defendants were told that some of the police officers involved in their arrest weren't there to testify. Their hearing was then rescheduled. Reached after the hearing, "They have choked our free speech for another four months," Miller said. "What's the problem?" Miller said he never considered taking the plea deal, because a hearing to determine their limits of their rights to peaceably assemble and protest was the reason the four decided to be arrested in the first place.
Greg Deckleman, another of the four OLR protestors arrested in May, said that he believes prosecutors thought they'd take the deal. "I think it'll be much different [in January]," he said. "I hope they've got their ducks in a row, because we do."
Robert Nunn sent me a note that says the North Little Rock City Council last night, led by Mayor Pat Hays, endorsed the resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to override the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that gave personhood to corporations. He said Tea Party-style mayoral candidate Mark Clinton spoke against the resolution.
Occupy Little Rock is linking up with a cross-country Occupy caravan for an action at Capitol and Broadway, beginning about 11:15 a.m. Financial issues were said to be a focus. Flash reports welcome.
UPDATE: Fox 16 reports.
The confusion over location was supposed to be handled at 4:30 p.m. yesterday when I heard from the medical marijuana people. At 6:30pm I heard from Baker Kurrus [working on ethics petition drive] who said there was still a problem and I gave a 2nd directive that the petitioners had a right to stand at the gate entrances and solicit signatures.
At 10 pm I also heard from Nate [Coulter, another ethics petition supporter] who also told me of the situation. I again contacted both [City Manager] Bruce [Moore] and the [police] Chief and reiterated the directive.
The Chief contacted me and advised that the scene commander had advised the troops and the issue had been corrected. He advised that there was a dispute with the RF staff over the "leased premises." I just read your post about Kum and Go. I am very angry about this and about this and intend express my extreme displeasure. Ridiculous!
UPDATE: A Riverfest spokesman insists this morning that this was all a case of miscommunication and that Riverfest never wanted to suppress canvassers outside the festival grounds. In any case, canvassers were lawfully petitioning without problems by 11 a.m. The photo shows them gathering for instructions before hitting the streets this morning.
In the event you missed it, a variety of people carrying petitions to address their government were warned last night by Little Rock police that they would be arrested if they not only attempted to gather signatures but even talked to anyone about their petitions on the streets blocked off around the Riverfest grounds along the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock.
Riverfest Inc., the private nonprofit that rents the park for the annual music festival, has an agreement with the city that allows it, I'm told, to prevent commercial vending and political petitioning not only in the park itself but on streets barricaded for closure around the park, though pedestrian access is unlimited. The map below indicates how broad this area is. This rule, in theory, prevents me from asking people to sign a petition as I stand in front of the entrance to my office at Markham and Scott. I'd be willing to argue against a limitation on political speech within Riverfest grounds to which admission is required. But I don't see a way in the world the city of Little Rock can cede control of political speech on public thoroughfares to Riverfest on the ground that they are closed to vehicles so as to ease access to a controlled entertainment venue nearby. The city could contract all manner of unconstitutional power to Riverfest, but it doesn't make it legal.
As noted last night, all types of speech are underway on Clinton Avenue in the River Market district. But only those with political petitions were threatened with arrest for exercising their speech. I note with interest that a commercial business, the Kum and Go convenience chain, is exercising commercial speech by running up and down Markham Street with pedicabs branded with the store logo. Their branded vehicles are NOT barred from the closed streets. The chairman of Riverfest this year is married to an executive at Cranford Johnson, the ad and PR firm that represents Kum and Go, just FYI. Ah, but he says Kum and Go is a "sponsor." So the city allows Riverfest to sell speech to some but prohibit others. No way this can stand legally.
If Kum and Go can exercise free speech on Clinton Avenue — and get an exception to the vehicle closure rule — then I think people hoping to gather petitions for an improved ethics law, for a gas severance tax increase, for medical marijuana and for expansion of casino gambling could be given freedom to use the public street for a less intrusive and constitutionally favored purpose. Our founding document values speech above pedicabs, believe it or not.
If not — and the response from Mayor Mark Stodola and other city leaders last night was non-existent (all seem to point to the unconstitutional contract and past practices at Riverfest as justificationi for an unconstitutional practice) — the question is what now? There's a lot of interest in forcing police action — multiple arrests, for example. But there's greater interest, I think, in allowing free speech to flourish, if not by a recognition of city leaders that the 1st Amendment should take precedence over the delicate political sensibilities of Riverfest organizers, then by court action. But the damage might be done by the time that can be accomplished.
It is a sad day for Little Rock. You need only attend Riverfest to understand the burden this places on petitioners to be forced to the unlighted fringes of a vast area, rather than being allowed to operate where the bulk of the people are. Meetings are scheduled this morning on further action.
Little Rock government outrage of the day:
When the powers that be don't want petitions signed, petitions will not be signed.
The police force of the city of Little Rock is preventing canvassers for various initiative petitions from gathering signatures on public streets near, but outside, the entrance to gated grounds of Riverfest. David Couch, a lawyer representing the ethics petition gatherers, said police are acting on the orders of Riverfest officials.
Said Couch, "Little Rock police are taking the position that anything that's blocked off is under the control of Riverfest. Riverfest people asked them not to allow them to canvass on those localities." The effect of this is to push canvassers blocks away from entrances and the biggest concentration of people. They can encounter only a trickle of festival goers, such as at 2nd and Cumberland, rather than thousands in front of the River Market on Clinton Ave. three blocks away.
Couch said he was told by an officer, in response to a question, that if canvassers continued to gather signatures they'd be arrested for interfering with governmental operations. The officer said he'd also been asked to stop all canvassers, to get information on each of them and to ask them to stop.
Information on each canvasser? Blocking of petition gathering on an open thoroughfare? Couch thinks it blatantly unconstitutional and so do I. Couch had his encounter in front of the Arkansas Studies Center, where he noted that a street musician, mimes and a preacher were soliciting contributions and other commercial activities were underway. The only thing being prohibited was petition of government.
Couch said calls had been made to Mayor Mark Stodola, who, Couch was told, promised to correct the situation. When canvassers returned to the street, however, a police lieutenant told Couch he knew nothing of any mayoral intervention and said arrests would be made.
I suggest we arrange this: A few hundred people march down to Cumberland and Markham, get some petition forms — preferably from Regnat Populus 2012, but the gas tax, casino proposals, medical marijuana or anything else are OK — and start taking signatures. We'll be sure Brian Chilson is on hand for the photograph of citizens engaged in lawful activity, petitioning their government, being arrested, cuffed and loaded in a paddy wagon. Or maybe a quick legal action for injunctive relief. Irreparable damage to the petition effort has already been done.
I'm so mad I could scream. This city, utterly controlled by a narrow sector of the business establishment, has done it again. Spit on its citizens.
It is hard for me not to believe that this isn't related to the Chamber of Commerce's effort to stifle petitioning for the gas severance tax increase, an effort that has already produced intimidation tactics. I have no idea if communications were made, but the suspicion is hard to resist. Shut them all down, using taxpayer police, and it saves the Chamber a lot of money in sending out hired goons to do the job one by one at a mass event attended by a quarter of a million people. That's only speculation. Unless the city says the 1st Amendment does apply in Little Rock after all, I will presume the worst.
Mayor Stodola, how strong are you? Strong enough to defend the 1st Amendment?
I'll update if I'm able.
Really. Does Riverfest get to decide who walks on blocked-off streets? Because if it decides what speech is legal there, the power is the same.
I wrote a column this week about the fact that Robert Johnston had said he intended to reinstitute the Occupy Little Rock demonstration at 4th and Ferry with a weekly sit-in. He had his first sit-in today. His report:
20 adults, 3 kids, 2 dogs, and several flags met/ sat-in for an hour today at 4th and Ferry.
The general consensus was that the 1% have more than their share of political and economic power.
The group will meet/demonstrate/protest again next Wednesday at 6 pm and next Thursday at 9 am
We invite others to join. Bring a lawn chair.
We discussed the City of Littlle Rock, the Tech Park, national, state, and local politics and economics
For more info email email@example.com [Robert Johnston]
Now it appears Lance Hines had a deeper concern — anarchy and revolution. Which means, of course, that it really was a political move on his part to squelch the protest. Which the city did. Hines doesn't call me, so I'll just let his e-mail exchange with one of the arrested protesters speak for itself on the issue. It won't lift your confidence in our City Board of Directors.
Hines said he saw a self-proclaimed Occupy Wall Street anarchist on the Sean Hannity show and that was proof enough for Lance Hines of what the Occupy movement is about. Occupy LR may not be a bunch of anarchists — maybe they're merely unaesthetic blights on the landscape — but Hines said in a note to Mac Miller, arrested in the Occupy LR eviction, "You are the friends you keep, in other words."
Miller, a military veteran with cogent thoughts on why Occupy is protesting, wasn't happy about Hines' description of him.
The exchange was provided to me by Robert Johnston.
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