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Re: Recent violation of First Amendment by a municipality
like to express my concern and outrage at the Lincoln police
officer's actions on April 11, 2006, involving the gasoline price
protestors on College Street. The protestors were engaged in a
peaceful, lawful and informational picket. The First Amendment of
the United States Constitution specifically states that "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 Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the state of
Illinois in Article I, Section 4 and 5, guarantees Illinois citizens
freedom of speech and the right to assemble. The officer's actions
are a violation of both federal and state law.
Under threat of arrest, a lawful protest was dismantled based
solely on one police officer's judgment that the signs involved were
obscene and offensive. The Supreme Courts of both Illinois and the
United States have considered protests that were much more offensive
in tone and content and have affirmed the protections of the rights
of citizens under our Constitution. Whether you agree with a
person's point of view or not is not the issue. We have a long
history of soldiers sacrificing their lives for this country to
protect our freedoms. Clearly, our founding fathers intended these
rights be protected when the Bill of Rights was drafted by James
Madison and ratified by each state.
If our rights can be trampled so easily by law enforcement on a
very noncontroversial issue like gas prices, how can our freedoms be
protected on much more serious issues? Do we no longer possess the
right to question the judgments of our government on issues such as
war, religion, and the right to bear arms?
Beyond all of these rights that require protection, it is almost
laughable that the signs described in the article were deemed an
obscenity and the officer involved was praised by his chief of
police for his conduct. When the city of Lincoln gets slapped with a
federal lawsuit for violating people's constitutional protections, I
hope the chief of police and the officer involved are prepared to
chip in to pay the damages assessed against the city that are
otherwise going to be the responsibility of the taxpayers of this
Considering the potential consequences to our city and to each of
our rights, I believe that we should all demand an apology from the
Lincoln Police Department and the officers involved, and barring
that, there should be some other action taken to make everyone
involved in this outrageous action accountable. I hope that the
mayor and the city council will also address this issue.
Jessica L. Shawgo-Ferguson
[to top of second column in this section]
In reference to this incident on April 10, 2006:
Our officers had been dispatched to the old Kroger parking lot in
reference to the informational picket going on there. The reason for
our officer being dispatched to the picket was that a passerby saw
some of the signs and believed there was some obscene writing on the
signs and took offense to what was written. One of our officers went
to the old Kroger store lot and met with the informational
picketers. I have talked to the officer that responded to the call.
The officer advised the individuals involved why he was there (the
possibility of the obscene writing on the signs). The officer
recommended some different wording to the individuals that they may
use other than what was supposedly used. At no time while the
officer was present did he make threats to the individuals that they
would be arrested for any reason, and he also did not tell them that
they had to stop picketing.
Lincoln Police Department
(Posted April 18, 2006)
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