Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil

Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil
PO BOX 27217, Washington, DC 20038 USA
202-462-0757-- (voice) | 202-265-5389 -- (fax) -- (e-mail) | -- (Web)


November 7, 1996

Dear President and Mrs. Clinton,

Congratulations on your re-election! Unfortunately, some weird things have been happening here outside your White House while you've been campaigning. I think it's important that you know that the First Amendment is being whittled away to little more than a whisper.

For example, the Park Police arrested my husband, Thomas, the founder of our 15-year-old antinuclear vigil in Lafayette Park, in front of dozens of shocked tourists, the day before the election. The reason: The officer told a TV news crew they couldn't interview Thomas in the park without a permit!!! This is clearly unconstitutional, and selective enforcement. There had been dozens of TV news crews on election eve, doing interviews of dozens of people. None were warned except the one interviewing Thomas. After Thomas advised the officer he was incorrect, the officer told Thomas "If you do anything wrong, I'll arrest you," then told him to leave the park!

The officer, who was young and probably bored (there are so many police hovering all the time, and so little for them to do!), perhaps was improperly trained, and hadn't been taught that police officers are supposed to leave their egos and prejudices at home.

Other young officers are also stretching themselves. Almost daily some non-threatening demonstrator has been searched or interrogated, intimidated and chased away for making a speech or playing a musical instrument, or merely wearing a Santa Claus suit; it seems as soon as they've attracted official attention, they have to leave. This is blatant police misconduct in America's traditional First Amendment park, which the courts have found to be a "quintessential public forum" protected by the Constitution. Firm precedent allows loud and boisterous or otherwise creative free speech.

It would really be too bad if our fellow baby-boomer president, anti-war demonstrator in his youth, let the police and regulations writers nickle-and-dime the First Amendment to death in Lafayette (Peace) Park.

I sure would like to know that you received this note, and will help us civilize the police.

Your friend,

Ellen Thomas