It’s easy to judge how free a county is by the instances of wholesale violation of the liberty of the people. Grand acts of tyranny are hard to ignore. Yet it is even more dismaying when you see the rights of individuals violated in ways which are routine or almost trivial, trampled under the boot of an indifferent bureaucracy and its officious minions.
We saw an ironic example of this on Saturday morning when a small group of protesters were arrested for exercising their 1st Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly at the Jefferson Memorial. Infront of the statue of our nation’s greatest spokesman for liberty they were handcuffed and dragged off and ultimately charged with protesting without a permit for the desperate crime of dancing silently to the music on their iPods.
There was something almost macabre in the bizarre scene of bicycle-mounted park police in helmets and little shorts dragging away people who did nothing to harm anyone, shouting at those videotaping the event (in a building where photos and video have been shot by millions for generations), strongarming tourists out of the way and ultimately closing the memorial dedicated to the author of the Declaration of Independence to the public because eight silly people had been dancing there.
Watching the events on video I wondered what impression of America the tourists observing this scene came away with and I felt as if the giant statue of Jefferson ought to come to life at the outrage and rampage through the city which has forgotten the principles on which the government it is home to was founded.
Interestingly, this protest was in response to a ruling from the DC Appeals Court upholding a ruling by US District Judge John D. Bates earlier last year on the case of Mary Oberwetter who was arrested for silently dancing at the memorial to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday in 2008. The judge ruled that her actions were not protected free speech because the inside of the Jefferson memorial, a building paid for by tax dollars to which admission is not charged, is not a public forum.
I freely admit that these protesters, who include some prominent anti-government activists, are a bunch of anarchist clowns, but the whole point of America is the right to be speak out freely no matter how unpopular or juvenile that speech is and not be punished for it so long as it does no harm to anyone else. This protest was utterly harmless and sufficiently close to the norms of public behavior that those in the crowd at the memorial as it was going on probably would have taken little note of it.
I have to wonder what went through the minds of those policemen. Who raised them and where were they educated that they lack a basic internal sense of justice or the sanctity of liberty? How could their souls not rebel at what they were doing. What made them into sociopaths more loyal to a paycheck or more obsessed with their own power than the basic rights of other people?
I realize that bicycle policemen have shrunken genitalia and are in constant pain and danger of castration because of their tight polyester shorts. They look silly and feel emasculated and that presumably fills them with rage. But I do wonder how they were trained, where their common sense was, and whether someone really gave them an order to do the one thing which would make them look like unreasonable thugs. They could easily have looked the other way and the protest would have been forgotten minutes after it happened by anyone but those directly involved. Instead, their arrests and bullying behavior got the protestors local and national media exposure and hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.
What this incident highlights is the institutional indifference and arrogance of a government which puts the rubber stamp of a bureaucrat on a permit ahead of the fundamental rights of individuals. If you need a permit for free speech or free assembly then it is no longer free and it is no longer a right. It has become a privilege granted by the government which can also be taken away by that government. This is not what Thomas Jefferson intended at the founding of this nation and it is not what is written into the Bill of Rights.
We should be arresting the bureaucrats and letting the protesters go free as true representatives of the principles on which this nation was founded.