Citizens United Meets OWS: Occupiers To Pay Corporation For Free Speech Class

Dec 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

In case you were wondering where the Republican push for privatization of government services and the enrichment of the 1% meet at their most ironic crossroad, Los Angeles Chief Deputy City Atty William Carter says the Occupiers who pay for a class in “free speech” put on by a private contractor can avoid trial.

I kid you not.

The City says they are “offering” those Occupiers without priors (among the 350 arrested in LA) the “chance” to pay $355.00 to a private contractor in order to avoid trial. LA Times reports:

“The 1st Amendment is not absolute,” he (Los Angeles Chief Deputy City Atty. William Carter) said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled government can regulate when, where and how free speech can be exercised.

But a civil rights attorney who has worked closely with the protesters called the class “patronizing,” and said the demonstrators who were arrested are the last people needing free-speech training.

“There they were exercising their 1st Amendment, their lawful right to protest nonviolently,” said attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker.

Several Occupy protesters, many of whom are fueled by anger at what they perceive as corporate greed and the increased privatization of public services, have noted the irony of being asked to pay a private contractor for the program. The tuition will go to the company, not the city, officials say.

In the past, first-time offenders arrested in L.A. protests were typically granted an informal hearing at the city attorney’s office.

“First amendment rights are not absolute.” Carter is going with that as his public statement. He thinks that the lesson these protesters need to take away from being arrested and jailed for two days is that they were wrong about their rights.

The First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Illinois First Amendment Center sums the court’s position:

While some Supreme Court justices have declared that First Amendment freedoms are absolute or occupy a preferred position, the Court has routinely held they may be limited so as to protect the rights of others (e.g. libel, privacy), or to guard against subversion of the government and the spreading of dissension in wartime. Thus, the Court’s majority has remained firm — the First Amendment rights are not absolute.

Only two Supreme Court justices, Justice Hugo Black and Justice William O. Douglas, insisted the First Amendment rights are absolute and their dissenting opinions fell to the wayside. Most court cases involving the First Amendment involve weighing two concerns: public vs. private. Also, the Supreme Court has often defined certain speech, also known as “at risk speech,” as being unprotected by the First Amendment:
• Burning draft cards to protest draft — prohibited because of superior governmental interest.
• Words likely to incite imminent violence, termed “fighting words.”
• Words immediately jeopardizing national security.
• Newspaper publishing false and defamatory material — libel.

How exactly do the Occupiers qualify as needing their free speech limited? Did they threaten the rights of others (e.g. libel, privacy), try to subvert the government or spread dissension in wartime? Was their speech “at-risk” speech? Mr. Carter may think he can simply announce that the court agrees with his interpretation of the limits of free speech by noting that they have ruled in favor of limits, but luckily for us all, Mr. Carter is not sitting on the bench of the Supreme Court, though no doubt he may be courted by the corporate conservatives after this bit.

It’s disturbing that when the Tea Party was showing up armed to protest alleged socialism, we never saw the sort of arrests we see under Occupy or the attempt to limit free speech and expression. Yes, the Tea Party gatherings were not weeklong events, but they were often held in public spaces and inciteful, frightening speech was not exactly an anomaly. Often, such as at townhalls, their behavior prohibited the free speech of other citizens. And then there were the death threats against lawmakers, bricks tossed in windows, and coffins left on lawns.

As much as some of their protests terrified us, we acknowledged their rights; bending over to accommodate inciteful language lest we dampen free speech. When Sarah Palin put crosshairs over congresspeople’s districts, we were told that she was not responsible for the violence that later occurred in Arizona. Her right to inciteful speech was protected even at its most costly; but Occupiers are being jailed and fined.

Lending credence to the observation of this disparity, Carter also said, “First-time arrestees at other protests this year, including antiwar demonstrations and protests against tuition hikes, also may be offered a chance to enroll in the free-speech diversion program.”

Oh, so anti-war protesters, tuition hike protesters and Occupy protesters will be offered the “chance” to pay private contractors money. But the gun-toting Tea Partiers will not? Why did he fail to mention them, or the Westboro Baptist Church hate-mongers who stand on the street corners in LA causing mayhem with their offensive signs?

But when the American people are protesting corporatism, suddenly free speech is limited and some government officials determine that the people should pay a private company to learn about how limited their rights are.

Among their alleged “crimes” are not dispersing and jumping over a barrier. Were they unruly? Did they cause a fuss? Did they make a mess? Possibly yes. But then, they are angry. How else are they to be heard, when the government ignores them? Their mostly non-violent protests were meant to capture attention for their grievances.

LA’s policy highlights the most obvious problem with privatization: when you introduce the profit motive, justice is no longer blind and can be subverted. How do we know that all of these protesters deserved their arrests, when the city has a motive (their budget cuts have been severe) to funnel as many people as possible to a private contractor? It might be legal, but it does not protect the American system of justice.

It’s appalling that money is being introduced as a way to avoid court; not only did the majority of these protesters already spend two nights in jail and have a bail bond of $5,000, but now in order to avoid a trial, they can pay for a class from a private contractor.

The poor people will be shipped off to trial and those with money will be used to enrich a private company and the city by proxy. And Carter has the nerve to lecture the people about the law? Sweet justice weeps.

From Scott Walker trying to charge protesters for police protection to LA charging protesters for lessons from private contractors, free speech is being trampled by the corporate dollar. Ironically, as any of us who don’t live with our heads up the bums of the puppets for the 1% know, this is exactly the sort of unfairness the Occupy movement is protesting.

The unmitigated gall of suggesting that these protesters do not understand free speech is mind-blowing in its arrogance, coming from a city official and attorney who wants to charge people to learn about how wrong they are about free speech in order to avoid trial. A note to those who quote a lawyer to make their arguments: lawyers are not necessarily less biased or even more intelligent than the next person. Orly Taitz comes to mind.

This is bad press, it’s arrogant, it’s insulting and at its core, it demonstrates exactly why people are protesting. City officials need to stop talking down to the people and trying to squeeze corporate profits out of dry wells.

Yes, free speech does have some limits; but a wise government weighs those limits against the importance of free speech for democracy. A wise government would acknowledge that they were hearing the protesters. A wise government would never, ever try to charge the people hundreds of dollars to go to a corporation in order to avoid trial when those people were protesting corporate bailouts while they got sold out.

Perhaps Mr. Carter should just get on with it and suggest that free speech that he finds egregious may be costly for the citizen. Maybe we can just privatize free speech all together, since corporations are people, and anyone who speaks out in a way that offends the corporate Gods will be charged before speaking, thus saving us all of this pesky funneling of money to private entities at the end.

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