SPEAKING OUT:

The 'Crime' of Exercising Free Speech at Baltimore's Inner Harbor

by Scott Loughrey

"The public pays for the Inner Harbor's existence and upkeep. However, the city of Baltimore is telling us that they have suspended our First Amendment rights there."
I'm just back from leafletting the Ralph Nader flyer downtown with several others. (Editor's note: Nader will be speaking in Baltimore on June 26; see "Community Alerts" on this issue's front page.)

We were at what we three believe is a public sidewalk outside of Port Discovery at the Inner Harbor when a police officer and some security guys stopped us. Apparently these rent-a-cops have the ability to arrest people who hand out flyers--or even talk in public. (I was told in a very rude fashion that they were going to arrest me if I didn't immediately leave the vicinity.)

There is a big difference between leafletting in a bar versus on a sidewalk. None of us infringed on anyone's business. We weren't blocking anyone's movements. However, what we are consistently seeing is the growing number of people who have some affiliation with law enforcement who believe that they can suspend the Bill of Rights whenever they feel like it. These goons with badges and handcuffs are also enabling the entities which own private property there to encroach upon the public commons and claim that it belongs to them.

Recall the experiences of Women in Black at the Inner Harbor some months ago. They were just standing there having a silent vigil when they were told they had to leave. They cannot even silently express even a symbolic idea in public in the minds of these police officers.

Another thing to contemplate is that much of the Inner Harbor is a tax-free zone that was constructed through public subsidy.

The public pays for the Inner Harbor's existence and upkeep. However, the city of Baltimore is telling us that they have suspended our First Amendment rights there.

Welcome to the police state which has suddenly arrived.


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This story was published on June 22, 2003.