Do you have free speech? I thought I did until I was arrested for speaking. Like many folks raised in these United States, I grew up with the understanding that our society is considered to be “free”. I did not question this perceived truth until last October when I was put behind bars for exercising my so-called “freedom of speech”.
After the initial shock of my kidnapping and detention by an armed officer of the law, I began to question my preconceived notions about how free our speech really is. In this five part series I tell the story of my unlawful arrest and explore the many first amendment violations happening almost daily in our so-called free society.
On October 12, 2009 just after 6:30pm I pulled into the courthouse parking lot in Maplewood, Missouri with a friend of mine who had traffic court.Upon arrival, we joined approximately 45 people standing in line bearing a cold mist in the dim dusk light. By 7:15 pm the crowd had begun to mingle and uniformly express frustration with the conditions which we were forced to endure.When about 15 people were let into the courthouse, the group moved forward and stepped onto a well lit patio area at the entrance doors to the building.
A police officer soon came out of the courthouse, demanding that folks line up against the wall. Under the impression we still had freedom of speech in this country, I made a comment that immediately caught the officer’s attention, “Get in line, show us your papers, give us your money” I said, “Welcome to the New America”. Immediately after, the officer ceased his badgering and asked me to repeat myself. I repeated my statement and he asked me if I wanted to go to jail, stating he would “make up a reason” to arrest me. He even asked the crowd if anyone had a leash they could put on me.
After his threats I pulled out a piece of paper and asked my friend to gather witness signatures in the event he really did arrest me. Sure enough, within a few minutes I found myself in handcuffs traveling to the local jail. As many of the officers were clearly not aware of my constitutional rights, I decided to give them a lesson, throughout the entire duration of my stay.
Upon my release I filed a compliant and submitted an open records request for the video surveillance footage captured by the police department. I also scheduled a Constitution Course for the citizens of Maplewood and distributed fliers local communities and businesses. The charges were eventually dropped and I received an apology letter in writing from the Chief of Police. No apology can take that traumatizing experience away from me. Imagine how some of the victims of police brutality who have violence used against them feel. If speech is truly considered free, how did I end up behind bars that night?
Future topics in this series: “Free Speech Zones”, institutionalized political profiling and the recent trend in police brutality against the press and Americans exercising their right to peaceably assemble.