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  • The First Amendment doesn't protect disorderly conduct

       September 28, 2004

    The Washington Post reports that a woman was arrested for talking too loudly on her cell phone. Despite the fact that they set it up as a "free speech" issue, especially with their oh-so-clever and whimsical headline "For Metro, a Case of Too-Free Speech," nothing could be farther from the truth.

    A brief background, some of which I've edited to remove the WaPo's clever re-casting of the story:

    (not a direct quote)
    Sakinah Aaron was walking into the bus area at the Wheaton Metro station talking loudly on her Motorola cell phone.

    Officer George Saoutis of the Metro Transit Police told Aaron to lower her voice.

    She told the officer he had no right to tell her how to speak into her cell phone.

    Their verbal dispute quickly escalated, and Saoutis grabbed Aaron by the arm and pushed her to the ground. He handcuffed the 23-year-old woman, called for backup and took her to a cell where she was held for three hours before being released to her aunt.

    She was charged with two misdemeanors: "disorderly manner that disturbed the public peace" and resisting arrest.

    OK, so the woman was behaving obnoxiously, disorderly, if you will, and when asked to stop, she bascially told the cop "f-you, I can do whatever I want!" Unfortunately for Ms. Aaron, she was wrong about that.

    Of course, the WaPo doesn't report this as a disorderly conduct case; instead, they try to frame the issue as if somehow disorderly conduct is a constitutionally protected right. They even cite an ACLU director:

    Johnny Barnes, executive director of the Washington area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Aaron's arrest "troubling."

    "There seems to be an unusual attention paid to activities of patrons," Barnes said. "One should be able to ride the Metro and exercise a range of rights without fear of intervention from Metro police."

    Yes, Mr. Barnes, one should be able to exercise a "broad range of rights" while riding metro. The problem with your argument is that disorderly conduct is not a right, disturbing the peace is not a right, dosobeying a lawful order from a police officer is not a right, and resisting arrest is not a right.

    What Ms. Aaron did is akin to walking into a Wal-Mart with a megaphone, then insisting that "free speech" protects her actions. That's ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as WaPo's attempt to manufacture "outrage" over this incident.

    Posted by jkhat at September 28, 2004 01:41 AM

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    #  March 7th, 2005 6:48 PM      Converted_Comment
    Converted comment: Posted by: kris at September 28, 2004 08:08 AM

    Excellent points. Too often people think freedom of speech means freedom of speech without consequences.

    #  March 7th, 2005 6:48 PM      Converted_Comment
    Converted comment: Posted by: billman at September 29, 2004 03:12 PM

    I agree! What's with this "exercise a range of rights..." nonsense? Shouldn't I be able to ride the Metro without having to listen to some idiot scream obscenities right next to me (while I sit in ketchup)?




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