Letter to Richard Robins 11/14/94

William Thomas
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038

November 10, 1994

Assistant Solicitor Richard Robbins
Department of Fish and Wildlife
Department of Interior
D Street NW
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Robbins,

Warmest greetings.

As you know I have been maintaining a vigil, with signs, in Lafayette Park for a number of years now. This vigil figured, quite unintentionally, in a series of regulatory cycles. Personally, I feel I am already indirectly responsible for too much "bad law." This letter is an attempt, prompted by recent law enforcement opinions and threats, to break that cycle.

Increasingly, over the last several days, a small cabal of police officials have decided that a specific object, which I believe is unquestionably a "sign" as defined by 36 CFR 7.96 is a structure.

On Monday, November 7th, USPP Officer O'Neill informed me that one of two signs I was attending was "a structure." I reminded Officer O'Neill that 36 CFR 7.96 (g)(x)(A)(4) states the "term 'structure' does not include signs...." and that (g)(x)(B)(2) specifies "signs" are "exclusive of braces that are reasonably required to meet support and safety requirements and that are not used so as to form an enclosure of two (2) or more sides...."

Unreasonably, it seems, Officer O'Neill maintains that, due to four (4) thirteen (13) inch 2x4 supports, the sign had become "a structure," in violation of the CFR, and subject to removal from the Park. I purposefully designed this particular sign to be aesthetically pleasing and enhance public safety. I don't think it can reasonably be argued that the four, thirteen inch pieces of 2x4 supports constitute a security or aesthetic concern.

The number of law enforcement personnel in the Park on a regular basis has increased dramatically during the last week or so, but only three have made any comment about this sign. The second came at approximately 7:00 pm, November 8th, when an officer whose name I don't know, but whose unfriendly behavior had commanded attention in the past, approached me and asked whether someone hadn't mentioned something to me "about that structure yesterday (emphasis in the original)." I indicated that Officer O'Neill had expressed a similar opinion. and that I'd told Mr. O'Neill the idea was so amazing I was going to ask you about it.

The third occasion was on November 12th, when, so I've been told, a Park Police sergeant affirmed the opinion that this object was a "structure."

I'm hoping these three officers are just a few proverbial "bad apples," letting their authority go to their heads. In my perception several experiences lend credence to this possibility. For just two examples, in March of last year Officer O'Neill arrested me; charges were tossed out of court. On November 7th, Officer O'Neill escorted a group of Catholic University students and their instructor, Father Mike Manyon out of the Park because they were "distributing sandwiches without a permit."

Reasonably, no police actions have yet been taken against my signs. I believe I have a duty to communicate as effectively as possible. The sign in question was designed to comply with the regulations in effect, and be as safe and effective as possible.

Much to your credit, you've consistently emphasized the need to "balance First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression against the rights of ... traditional recreational and aesthetic purposes." This is an instance which calls for balance to insure that Officer O'Neill, with only the best of intentions, doesn't run amok and arrest someone under the pretext of a "structure" which complies with the definition of a "sign."

If you are unfamiliar with the sign in question I urge you, in your capacity as legal advisor to the Park Police, to go by the Park and inspect it. If you agree that the object is a legal sign, perhaps -- to help ensure that they don't repeat the mistake of threatening harmless people without justification -- it would be appropriate for the officers to apologize.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that you too think this "sign" is a "structure" under the applicable regulatory provisions, please specify the precise structural alterations you believe would be required to bring the "structure" into compliance as a "sign." ADDITIONALLY, PLEASE MAKE THAT INFORMATION AVAILABLE TO ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE SO WE CAN DISCUSS POSSIBLE CORRECTIVE MEASURES THEREBY AVOIDING A BASELESS ARREST, AND THE UNNECESSARY DISRUPTION OF MY RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.

In service to peace through understanding,