"In early 1983, Thomas and fellow-participants in the vigil were using three large wooden protest signs or structures to bring their message to the public. Each of these contraptions consisted of several painted plywood panels attached to wooden frames mounted on wheels. The sign which Thomas ultimately set on fire depicted an alarming mushroom-like cloud on the front, with the words:
THIS NEED NOT
BE OUR END
IT'S UP TO YOU
appearing in the boldest letters on the (presumably) nuclear mushroom....
"On March 11, 1983, Thomas and his fellow demonstrators were advised by representatives of the federal and District of Columbia governments that they would have to remove their demonstration paraphernalia. United States Park Police officials, who were accompanied by two attorneys from the Department of the Interior, advised the group that the applicable regulations forbade the placement of 'structures' such as those used by the demonstrators on the White House sidewalk. Representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) told Thomas that he could not leave the contraptions in front of the Old Executive Office Building, or anywhere else on public property in the District, because they constituted 'living abodes.' Thomas was warned that he would be subject to arrest if he failed to remove the allegedly offending entities.
"Thomas initially remonstrated with the officials, challenging the legal basis for their actions. He contended that the activities now being prohibited had been permitted for several months and that the 'signs' were neither 'structures' nor 'abodes....'
"Thomas testified, for example, that Captain Canfield of the MPD told him that if he did not remove the signs or structures he would be arrested for vagrancy. Thomas pointed out, correctly, that the District has no valid vagrancy law.
"An hour or more after these discussions, Thomas set fire to Revelation from inside by pouring some kerosene on the floor and lighting it with a cigarette lighter. He then came out and began to address the law enforcement officials gathered outside. As he recalled on the stand, he told the group:
"'I'm tired of this ****. You people are a bunch of hypocrites. You claim to he concerned with protecting freedom and individual rights and yet you are constantly harassing me, trying to prevent me from speaking my mind.'
"He would have said more, but one of the officers noticed what had happened and stated 'Look, it's on fire.' A second officer yelled 'Arson! Arson! Arrest him!' Thomas related that he fell to the ground and went limp, in conformity with the teachings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus. The officers squatted on his back and handcuffed him while he yelled 'Democracy is dead! Long live the police state!'"
In clearing me of criminal charges, the court did not reach significant questions concerning subjective states of mind relating to the nature of Mr. Robbins' "good work," Mr. Watt's "intention to prohibit demonstrations," the various police agents working in concert, or any relation to my claims of being "repeatedly arrested, beaten, harassed and otherwise mistreated by the police in retaliation for my activities."
Mr. Spitzer was in on the ERA case too, and was aware of this incident, but didn't inquire about facts like why the combined law enforcement team, under Mr. Robbins' supervision, was threatening to arrest me for signs which were not yet illegal, or whether there was any connection between Mr. Robbins' meeting with Mr. Watt, and the sign removal operation.
While we experienced the crushing effect of police enforcement under color of his regulatory schemes -- at that point I'd been arrested almost twenty times in as many months -- Mr. Robbins, encouraged to new heights of exaggeration, began spinning the next stage of his regulatory web. Watching Mr. Robbins & Company nickel and dime the First Amendment to death, I decided to determine whether U.S. justice was indeed a two edged sword, or if it cut only as the government decreed.
Reopen Pennsylvania Avenue | Peace Park
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