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   Where Are Our 'Commons' for Free Speech?

COMMENTARY:

Where Are Our ‘Commons’ for Free Speech?

Eight antiwar activists arrested at a Towson mall on March 1. Their crime: distributing leaflets.

by Scott Loughrey

“…and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land;…”

—Article VI, US Constitution

Whither the commons? For eight antiwar activists who were arrested on March 1, it is not to be found at Towson Town Center.

Eighteen members of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a group that practices nonviolent civil disobedience, arrived at Towsontown on a very busy day. I was one of them. Each of us had taped pictures of Iraqi children to our clothing. We were “armed” with leaflets that argued against the expected war against Iraq.

At 3:30 p.m., we began leafleting peacefully. Fifteen minutes later we were told by mall security and the arriving police that we had to leave or we would be arrested. Still, we continued to leaflet for another 45 minutes. Finally the police informed us that if we did not immediately leave we would be arrested.

Eight among us stayed. At approximately 4:30 p.m. they were promptly taken away in handcuffs. The remaining activists applauded their steadfastness; and the noise grew very loud when many mall patrons joined in.

At the police station the Towson Town Eight were told they would be released in a few hours. This was not the case. As if to teach a lesson, the eight were only released between 5:45 and 6:30 a.m. the following morning.

The eight arrested are Max Obuszewski, Maria Allwine, Levanah Ruthschild, John Dornheim, Marcel Estevez, Donny Gann, Mark Giffen and Ann Forno. They were released on their own recognizance after being charged with trespassing, failure to obey a police order and disorderly conduct. They are going to trial on June 10th, 2003.

Mall patrons, police officers and local media alike each asked me why we believed we had the right to leaflet on private property. After all, would we feel entitled to go unannounced to someone’s home to do the same thing?

My response is to point out that if George Bush authorizes an invasion of Iraq—a war and sanctions-weary country which has not attacked us and which poses no credible threat to us—he will clearly be in violation of the UN Charter. Considering the overwhelming world opinion against this war, such an attack will violate not just the letter but the actual spirit of international law. Not only does the US remain signatory to the UN Charter, but Article VI of the US Constitution specifies that it is the “supreme law of the land.” In other words, George Bush’s anticipated pre-emptive attack on Iraq would violate our own laws and Constitution, as well as international law.

In light of the expectation that George Bush will commit a crime of this colossal scale, I told the questioners that we believe that standing in a mall wearing anti-war messages and peacefully handing out leaflets is a moral and defensible activity—indeed, a duty of law-abiding citizens.


For more information about the Iraq Peace Pledge-Baltimore, call 410-323-7200.


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This story was published on March 5, 2003.
  
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