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Best of Boston 2009

Totalitarian ploy defeated

Free speech trumps Boston cops

Milan Kohout
For performance artist Milan Kohout, freedom of speech has prevailed. His legal woes — stemming from a political protest in the Financial District — were the subject of a recent Phoenix editorial. State prosecutors this past Friday asked Boston Municipal Court Judge Annette Forde to dismiss a widely criticized criminal charge against Kohout, according to Kohout’s pro bono attorney, Jeffrey J. Pyle.

In November, Kohout mourned the tragic human toll of the subprime-mortgage crisis by staging a protest in front of Bank of America’s Boston headquarters, setting down hangman’s nooses on the sidewalk next to a placard reading “Nooses on Sale.” Boston Police, woefully unversed in the First Amendment, stopped the protest and charged Kohout with being an “unlicensed transient vendor.” The police were serious about pursuing the bizarre and trumped-up charge against the artist, who came to Boston as a political refugee after being expelled from his native Czechoslovakia in 1986 for his pro-democracy activism. But the district attorney, either in an exercise of good judgment or in response to the sudden publicity, thought the better of it.

“I am gratified that the Commonwealth has dropped this absurd charge, which was an attempt to punish me for exercising my right to freedom of speech,” says Kohout. “I grew up in a totalitarian system which misused the law to prosecute dissidents for their critical expressions. For the government to use bogus charges to punish artists for their expression is a step toward that kind of system.”

Commentators disagree over the value of Kohout’s protest. The Herald called his message “absurd,” while the Phoenix hailed Kohout’s likening of Bank of America’s corporate officers to hangmen as “uncomfortably brilliant.” And passers-by couldn’t have been blamed for thinking Kohout’s statement was a racial one, in light of the noose’s long history as a symbol of anti-black hatred.

But the First Amendment does not pass judgment on the effectiveness or clarity of a protest, and it is clear that Kohout’s activity was just that — a constitutionally protected symbolic protest, not a literal vending of nooses. That the police officers who responded to complaints about Kohout were unable, or simply unwilling, to make such a distinction is troubling news worthy of an internal investigation.

One solution would be to train Boston police officers in constitutional rights along with their lessons in firearms and interrogations. Knowledge of — and obedience to — the First Amendment should be considered a necessary skill for any American cop.

Related: The case of Milan Kohout, The 11th Annual Muzzle Awards, Facing off over Facebook, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Boston Police Department, Constitutional Law, Entertainment,  More more >
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Totalitarian ploy defeated
Small wonder Boston Cops get "confused" about constituional issues. Consider who's leading the charge. In his February 12 interview with the BBC Antonin Scalia seemed to be saying that torture is not punishment because a suspect has not been convicted of a crime in a court of law. Therefore, torture is not punishment. I'm no legal scholar, but sometime between now and my high school civics class, they must have changed the part about a "suspect" being presumed innocent. Is Scalia trying to say that assault and battery is OK if your scared something bad might happen? It makes no sense to torture someone who is "presumed" to be innocent. According to Scalia's rational, it would be OK to have someone drawn and quartered, as long as they have not been convicted of a crime. If convicted it would be cruel and unusual punishment, but without a trial and sentence no punishment has been administered. The constitution does not directly address punishment or torture of the innocent. It shouldn't have to. That's a stretch, even for a Rove-bot. Someone needs to check Scalia's meds. There are good cops and bad cops, good judges and bad judges, good presidents and bad presidents. And this country is looking more like totalitarian regime everyday. The Reichstag fire was a pivotal event in the establishment of Nazi Germany. At 21:15 on the night of February 23, 1933, a Berlin fire station received an alarm call that the Reichstag building, the assembly location of the German Parliament, was ablaze. The fire was used as evidence that the Communists were beginning a plot against the German government. Van der Lubbe and four Communist leaders were arrested. Then-chancellor Adolf Hitler urged President Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree in order to counter the "ruthless confrontation of the KPD". Recent research has confirmed the widely-held belief at the time, that the Nazis organised the arson attempt in order to seize power. The burning of the Reichstag is analogous to 911. The emergency decree in order to counter the "ruthless confrontation of the KPD" is analogous to the Patriot Act. What happened in the Weimar Republic could as easily happen here.
By WarrenERock on 03/13/2008 at 4:24:02
Totalitarian ploy defeated
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I think "all men" even includes foreigners (Mexicans too). Human rights don't apply only to American citizens. We need to apply our principles of freedom and human rights to "all men" even enemy combatants. Anything else is hypocracy. We cannot win if we compromise our values. Ben Franklin said it best, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
By WarrenERock on 03/13/2008 at 4:34:11

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