Free Speech: Constitutional Crisis in Carpentersville

If you find yourself in Carpentersville, Illinois, be careful what you say. Town Trustee and Obama delegate, Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, has been issued a citation for referring to kids in her tree as “monkeys” — a comment found offensive by the African-American family.

Carpentersville’s first constitutional crisis began innocently enough on Saturday when Ramirez-Sliwinski found two kids climbing in her small magnolia tree. Concerned about damage being done to the tree and the chance that they might fell, Ramirez-Sliwinski said that she asked the parents (who were watching) to get the kids down. According to Ramirez-Sliwinski, the father told her “none of her business.” Ramirez-Sliwinski said that she then “calmly said the tree is not there for them to be climbing in there like monkeys.”

That is when the mother called the cops and the Carpenterville police issued the $75 citation, saying that in Carpentersville it is illegal to say anything that “disturbs or alarms people.” For their part, the Obama campaign appeared to initially agree that she should not be a delegate due to the incident.

Putting aside the possibility that it was a clueless and innocent rather than intentional and racist insult, the actions of the city constitute a gross violation of the first amendment, which actually extends within the borders of Carpentersville. What is curious is why the police department does seem to know that.

For the full story, click here.

UPDATE: To the credit of the Obama campaign, they are not asking Ramirez-Sliwinski to quit as a delegate, calling the incident an “misunderstanding.” Now, we just have to wait for the Carpentersville to not only withdraw the charge but apologize to Ramirez-Sliwinski for the violation of her speech rights.

12 thoughts on “Free Speech: Constitutional Crisis in Carpentersville”

  1. Hi Rafflaw, I’m sure it isn’t either, it’s just the other incidents haven’t made it into the headlines that often. I find it rather discouraging that some people could be as vicious as to call the cops on neighbors or even family members they have disagreements with. I guess for some, talking a disagreement over like rational and intelligent adults is simply not possible.

  2. I do have an update on this situation. The Obama campaign refused her resignation and she remains a delegate. At least someone has some sense in this crazy scenario. Susan, this isn’t the first time a spiteful neighbor who gets to the police first can cause some grief for his neighbors. Maybe the authorities will learn something from this circus.

  3. With some of the more off-the-wall laws against this or that being passed these days, Ms. Ramirez-Sliwinski was lucky she only got a ticket, and not been hauled off to jail in handcuffs. The neighbors calling the police was ridiculous, in light of the alleged “offense.” Sounds to me that this law against so-called “disturbing or alarming speech” is being extended to include “anything that ticks me off.” Which basically means a spiteful neighbor can call the cops to settle a score or grudge against another. Now THAT, to me, is very disturbing.

  4. Until last month I worked in the town right next to Carpentersville, Illinois and they have been going through a long internal battle between a large Latino population and the balance of non-Latino citizens. The city fathers even tried to pass an English only ordinance recently. I don’t know if this silly incident is related to that friction, but it could be part of the reason why the police took the drastic step in ticketing her for her mere words. The local paper here also stated this morning that she resigned her position as a delegate with the Obama campaign. I agree that the government action seems obviously unconstitutional.

  5. It seems though, whether unconstitutional or not – the damage is done and the ultimate penalty has been handed out preemptively by the Obama campaign. This is essentially and argument between two neighbors, with a political agenda that has been falsely elevated by the Obama campaigns overreaction. This is very sad.

  6. Betta,

    The municipal “disturbing” behavior code when applied to speech is facially unconstitutional and will not survive challenge. When they wrote it, the city lawyers were possibly thinking of fighting words doctrine, but the code here is a poster child for being over-broad.

    Or at least that’s my two centavos…

  7. betta:

    Of course, you are correct. This is small town sensibilities and nanny mentality passing for law, and the result will be predictable. I tend to agree that this incident “seems” innocent enough, but as you no doubt know, the First Amendment (and related State Constitutional provisions) protects citizens from infringement of their free speech rights by the government, not a private political campaign or an employer in most circumstances.

  8. No one in the cheney-bush camp better go to Carpenterville or they will receive multiple citations for saying things that disturb and alarm people.

    betta, I’m not a lawyer but certainly this does seem unconstitutional and the law should be striken. Susan refered to the increasing number of laws being formulated to address what may be annoying (usually innocuous) but in no way illegal behavior.

    Susan, if you would let me know the original title of JT’s post on the this I’d be grateful. I don’t know where the post is. Thank you.


  9. Well, where are all the constitutional scholars on this one? They are all pretty silent on this free speech issue forget the fact that ticketing someone for calling kids monkeys is obviously unconstitutional.

    Come on SCHOLARS! Speak up……………

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