As you know, there was an incident not long ago in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, where an explosion, probably set off by a terrorist, killed 19 servicemen. Some feel that Bill Clinton caused or contributed to the cause of these murders. I personally disagree. It is not the President's job to micromanage security arrangements at military bases. However, there is certainly cause for disagreement over whether the U.S. should be using its military to prop up a dictatorship. I believe Clinton has only limited responsibility for continuing a policy handed down to him by President Bush, and that his continuing the policy of supporting Saudi Arabia is not the same as causing the deaths.
Regardless of what my views are, Mrs. Mendoza apparently does feel that Clinton is responsible. At an event known as the Taste of Chicago, she allegedly said to him "You suck. And those boys died."
Fifteen minutes after Clinton left, she was arrested for her comments. Her husband Glenn shouted out to her that she might need a lawyer. This intolerable use of speech caused him to be arrested as well.
As Dennis Byrne of the Chicago Sun-Times reported, this was not the only such incident. In 1993, William Kelly of Chicago was arrested for shouting to Clinton asking where was the middle class tax cut.
However, when an AIDS activist shouted at Clinton about not doing enough to fight the disease, he defended the heckler, citing his duty to listen to criticism. Evidently, the right to freedom of speech depends on exactly how much the President is embarrassed. Clinton is unlikely to lose the support of AIDS activists, no matter how disappointed they are in his performance. Therefore, no need to arrest. However, he might lose the support of middle class people wondering where is the promised tax cut, or the support of people who might think he is doing a poor job as Commander in Chief. That requires the firm hand of Government to throttle the critic.
In Houston v Hill, 482 US 451; 107 S Ct 2502; 96 L Ed 2d 398 (1987), the US Supreme Court discussed freedom to shout criticism at public officials. Hill was arrested under an ordinance that prohibited actions that "oppose, molest, abuse or interrupt any policeman in the execution of his duty." Hill was shouting at police, and later began screaming at police, to divert them from trying to arrest a man. His actions were disruptive and disorderly, and tended to interfere with the official actions of the police officers. The Court held he could not constitutionally be prosecuted for his words, despite his irate tone of voice, and despite his intent to disrupt police activity:
"Contrary to the city's contention, the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers. 'Speech is often provocative and challenging...[But it] is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious, substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest." 482 US at 461.In Pringle v Court of Common Pleas, 778 F2d 998 (CA 3, 1985), Pringle objected to police arresting someone. She protested the arrest by loudly shouting in a public place "goddamn fucking pigs" and "fucking pig, let him go." The US Court of Appeals held that this language was not erotic, hence not obscene, and was therefore constitutionally protected even though loud.
"The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state." 482 US at 462-3.
"Speech does not necessarily lose its constitutional protection because the speaker intends it to interrupt an officer." 482 US at 469.
In Boos v Barry, 485 US 312; 108 S Ct 1157; 99 L Ed 2d 333 (1988) the US Supreme Court held that:
"Our own citizens must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide 'adequate breathing room' to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment."See also Baker v Glover, 776 F Supp 1511 (MD Ala, 1991), holding that an individual had the First Amendment right to display on his car a bumper sticker saying "Eat Shit."
The arrest of Glenn Mendoza was equally illegal. Courts have held that it is legal for a person to shout out to arrestees that they have a right to remain silent and insist on a lawyer, even though that speech tended to interfere with police goals. R.S. v State, 531 So 2d 1026 (Fla App 1988); People v Pilkington, 103 NYS2d 64 (1951).
The courts have gone even further. In State v Jelliffe, 449 NE2d 810; 5 Ohio Misc 20 (1982), a concertgoer recognized an undercover police officer, and informed other concertgoers, which blew the officer's cover. The Court held, without reaching the constitutional question, that the law prohibiting interfering with police officers did not cover this type of speech. The Court indicated that if the warning inhibited people from committing crimes at the concert, that was a good thing that did not constitute a criminal act. The Court also cited to Warrensville Heights v Wason, 361 NE2d 456; 50 Ohio App 2d 21 (1976), in which the Court held that it was not a crime to warn people of the presence and location of a speed trap, even if it frustrated the police desire to ticket speeders.
All over America public officials ignore and violate the principles of these court rulings all the time. People are arrested, thrown in jail, and forced to spend time and effort defending themselves in court, for doing no more than speaking. One would think that the highest federal law enforcement authorities would make sure that they know the law, and that it is followed. One would be wrong.
Bill Clinton: tell your officers to obey the law.
Read how the post office treats those who dare to exercise free speech.
Return to The Injustice Line.