FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR WHAT?
On March 29, 1999 at 4:00pm, I
was picketing in front of the British Embassy by myself. I was
in no way, shape or form engaging in any disorderly behavior.
I was located across the street from the embassy. I was walking
up and down the length of the sidewalk.
A short time later I observed persons at the front door
area of the embassy staring and pointing at me. Five minutes or
so later, two incidents of threatening gestures and shouted words
in a language I did not understand happened. It came from people
in cars that slowed down as they got closer to me. At this point,
I was very concerned about my personal safety.
About 4:20pm a Secret Service police car pulled up along
side me and a female officer spoke to me through the passenger
side window and demanded that I tell her my name, organization,
and how long I would be there.
I told her that I could not comply with that request because
I was concerned about my safety. She insisted, but I still told
her I cannot comply with that request because of concerns for
my safety. She got out of her car, very agitated, stating that
I am in DC now and I have to tell her my name, that there is a
DC law requiring me to tell her my name. I told her I know of
no such law and that she was incorrect. She then stated that I
was demonstrating without a permit. I said that a permit is not
required for a person picketing peacefully by themselves.
By this time four more Secret Service undercover police
cars had arrived. An older officer with stripes on his arm (sergeant?)
stated that I must comply with the other officer's request or
they will take me to central cell block as a John Doe and that
I will not enjoy the experience very much.
They kept asking the question: "Do you want to get
arrested? It's up to you." I asked the sergeantt, "What
is the charge? On what charge am I to be arrested?"
He did not say anything. After a minute of silence I said:
All I want to do is walk up and down the sidewalk and be left
The sergeant answered: If you don't tell us your name,
you're going to jail. After a minute of silence, he tells another
officer to cuff him (me). I was put in the back of a squad car
and taken to second district police station. As I was being booked,
I asked again, "What is the charge?"
The officer stated, "It is up to the Corporation Council
to determine that." As the officer was writing the report,
his radio was activated by a transmission from Secret Service
Uniform Division to say a camera was on the way to take pictures
of my signs. A voice replies that it is no longer necessary.
The sergeant comes into the room and states that it I tell
them who I am they will let me go without charge. He further states
that if I had just told them ANY NAME, John Smith, etc., I would
not have this happening to me. If I had just done what the officer
asked and told her a name, it did not even have to be a real name
this would not have happened. To end the harassment, I volunteered
to tell them my name and address. I was then released without
charge and given a document.
THE NEXT DAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE
I was standing with my sign in the middle of Pennsylvania
Avenue in front of the white house on the right side where the
press campout is. All of a sudden four Secret Service police on
bicycles and one on a motorcycle, for a total of five, rode up
to me and placed themselves around me in a circle.
I spoke first and asked if I was in violation of anything?
One stated, "No, you are
not in violation, we just wanted to talk to you." He went
on to say, "We see you support the Serbians."
I responded that I am here to exercise my First Amendment
rights, while I still have them.
He said, "Yes, we understand that, and you still have
First Amendment right to do what you am doing. I just saw that
your sign says Serbia and we have a concern about that and we
need to check that out."
I politely repeated that all I am doing is holding a sign
and using the first amendment right. A man from the crowd, who
had been observing the situation, walked over to hear what was
being said. A Secret Service officer told him it did not concern
him. I heard the man from the crowd say that he was concerned
about what was happening. I told the man the police told me I
was not in violation of any law. I then asked all the officers
one question before the man left: "Am i free to leave?"
They said, "Yes,"
I was free to leave.
I said, "In that case I am going to start walking
along Pennsylvania Avenue holding my sign."
After I was 20 feet away, a Secret Service bike officer
rode over to me and told me: "We know who you are and it's
my job to know everyone down here. We are at war and your sign
says Serbia on it. It implies that you support Serbia and we needed
to check that out. Plus, you were just standing there and we have
to guard against terrorism."
I said, "In that case, I will keep moving. He struck
a friendly tone and said he would appreciate that, and thanked
me. He then rode over to the man who had inquired about what was
the reason I had five Secret Service police around me. I do not
know what was said between them. But the officer would occasionally
point over at me as he was talking.