Respectfully submitted by Lawrence Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger
The term is one that is familiar to all of us. The First Amendment gives all citizens the right of Freedom of Speech and the right to assemble. Simple enough, right? Evidently it is not so simple in the State of California. Recently, members of Occupy Los Angeles were arrested while making full use of their First Amendment rights and after posting a $5,000 bond to get out of jail, were offered a deal to avoid a trial. The Free Speech defendants were told that if they took a class offered by a private company for the mere cost of $355.00, they would not have to go to court for a trial.
At first glance that offer sounds reasonable. Just what is the “class” all about? “For $355, protesters can pay a private company for lessons in free speech. American Justice Associates offers the educational program taught by an attorney – Neil G. Anderson – a former police officer and Supervising Deputy District Attorney for Sacramento County, and his partner attorney Deborah Bryce McKinley of Atlanta, GA.” Crooks and Liars This story is amazing to me on a couple of levels. First of all, what can attorneys teach protestors who were arrested while exercising their First Amendment rights? Are they going to tell them how many ways the government can try to control and limit those rights? Are the teachers going to give the “students” lessons on how to maximize their First Amendment rights? Is the class just a bad dodge by the State to avoid further bad publicity by eliminating the need for trials where the protestors can exclaim to the world that they were arrested because they had the temerity to actually use their First Amendment rights of Free Speech?
This attempt by the City of Los Angeles to make it more difficult on people who protest is an affront to the very Free Speech ideas that they claim will be taught in this class. If anyone should take the class on Free Speech, it should be the City police and the City Attorney who is pushing this nonsense. The protestors and their counsel are not taking this class offer lightly, but they are fully aware of the irony caused by the offer. “But a civil rights attorney who has worked closely with the protesters called the class “patronizing,” and said the demonstrators who were arrested are the last people needing free-speech training. “There they were exercising their 1st Amendment, their lawful right to protest nonviolently,” said attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker. Several Occupy protesters, many of whom are fueled by anger at what they perceive as corporate greed and the increased privatization of public services, have noted the irony of being asked to pay a private contractor for the program. The tuition will go to the company, not the city, officials say.” LA Times
It amazes me that our society has not reacted more forcefully against these arrests and post arrest tactics as well as the many militant arrests made throughout the country against Occupy Wall Street protestors. Maybe the class offered in Los Angeles will be able to explain just what happened to the Free Speech that our Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote the First Amendment.
I wonder if the “teacher” of this class will assign a homework protest. Maybe the company pocketing the $355.00 will hire Prof. Turley to be a visiting professor so he can explain what true Free Speech is! Maybe not.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!