Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Health and Safety" trumps 1st Amendment rights in L.A.

                        Guy Fawkes of Occupy Los Angeles stands in front of L.A. City Hall

Perhaps someone will explain to me why the so-called "liberal" majors of cities across the U.S. have suddenly decided that protecting "public health and safety" outweighs First Amendment protections of "the freedom of speech ...[and] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Are there worrisome signs of illness at Occupy sites?    Beyond the news of police beating, gassing and pepper spraying demonstrators, is there compelling evidence of danger to public safety?  The sites I've visited have been clean, orderly and welcoming with no signs of disease beyond ordinary autumn sniffling from allergies and colds.  Yet we are led to believe that the encampments are major hazards to our physical well-being.

Here's the crucial part of the statement of Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, justifying his order to evict Occupy Los Angeles on Monday.

The Occupy movement is now at a crossroads. The movement faces the question of how it can build on its initial success.  It is a question of whether energy will be consumed to defend a particular patch of earth or whether that energy will be channeled to spreading the message of economic equality and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society.

The encampment in City Hall Park is not sustainable. This is especially true from the standpoint of public health and public safety. Accordingly, we must close, repair and re-open the park to public access. For this reason, we will close the park on Monday, November 28th at 12:01 am. The park closure will include a set of measures that will assist Occupy LA participants to move their personal belongings and property from the park. We will also offer social and health services for those in need.

I am very proud of the fact that since the start of the occupation of City Hall Park, we have done things differently in Los Angeles. We have not stared each other down from opposite sides of barricades and barbed wire. We have communicated. We have listened. We have negotiated. It has allowed us to solve problems peacefully and to avoid the scenes of violence and brutality that have strained the civic fabric of other cities.

It is my hope that we can conclude this first chapter of Occupy LA in a similar spirit. I admire your courage and character. You have opened the eyes of your fellow citizens to the economic hardship in their midst. I am encouraged by your passionate commitment to social justice and look forward to the continued progress of your efforts.

The condescension that drips from this proclamation appears to be an attempt by Mayor Villaraigosa to salvage his reputation and (until now) promising political career at the very moment that he's calling in the riot troopers.  His promise of "health and social services for those in need" will come in handy for those likely to be injured in the tomorrow's melee, since Occupy L.A. has promised to stand firm.  His praise for the his efforts "to avoid the scenes of violence and brutality that have strained the civic fabric of other cities" leaves out an additional phrase -- "until now!"

The flagrant dishonesty of the rationale the Mayor offers has become standard boilerplate in justifications for brutal crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide.  If public health and safety have somehow become America's most urgent problem right now, why are budgets for Medicaid, public health services and local law enforcement being slashed in our towns and cities?

Do us a favor.  Just tell us the real reasons for the arrests, beatings and episodes of political cleansing taking place in America right now. We can handle it  (and make plans accordingly).


  1. I loved your point that, if the OWS protesters had to be evicted in order to protect public health and safety, how come it's acceptable to cut the budgets of programs that give people access to health care, or the budgets that help provide day-to-day police protection?

    I've cited some of your thoughts in my own blog post on the usefulness of acceptable resistance.

  2. Langdon8:43 PM

    I'll check your blog. It sounds interesting.
    The bogus claims about public health and safety continue in cities affected by Occupy protests. That was the rationale for the crackdown in San Francisco last night. I'm beginning to wonder if free speech and public assembly is now seen as equivalent to the medieval bubonic plague. "Help! Help! They're questioning the integrity of our basic institutions! Where's my face mask? Where can I get vaccinated quickly? Oh, my ears are burning! Aahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!"

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