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  • Thursday, February 02, 2006


    Oops! So Sorry About Your False Arrest!

    Once again from Democracy Now! (which is apparently where I got all my news today.)
    Capitol Police Apologize, Drop Charges Over Sheehan Arrest
    One day after Cindy Sheehan was arrested for wearing an anti-war T-shirt to President Bush'’s State of The Union address, Capitol police have dropped her charges and apologized. Sheehan, whose son Casey died in combat in Iraq in April 2004, was removed from the House gallery Tuesday night after unveiling a T-shirt that read: "2,245 dead and how many more?" --– a reference to the number of US service members killed in Iraq. In a statement, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said Sheehan should not have been arrested. President Bush began his speech shortly after she was removed.
    While Cindy Sheehan has done some excellent anti-war work this past year, that's not what attracted me to this news note. The ability to express opinion in public is important. Laws define what forms of expression are legal and not legal in particular situations. Famously, shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre when there is no fire is illegal. But more importantly, political officials set policy about free expression in certain situations based more on convenience and stifling dissent than actual legality. Was the T-shirt a disruption? I doubt it but it did distract from the Prez's message du jour. And that was the real crime.

    In a political regime and atmosphere which is very actively hostile to opposing views, the attitude of contempt percolates through the security structure. The mere hint of dissent brings down disproportional force to nullify it and remove it from view. This is where the Bush administration has taken a tactical page from the military handbook: instantly use massive force to overwhelm the enemy/dissenter.

    These kinds of attacks on any expression of opposition at Presidential events have become so common it's astonishing that we aren't outraged by them. I'm sure someone can make a case for the need for security but these incidents are almost always about dissent rather than danger to the President. Ms. Sheehan was in the visitors' gallery and undoubtedly went through metal detectors and vigorous security to get there. She was not a danger to the President.

    So security acts as if simple, often non-intrusive, expressions of dissent are illegal. Police the thoughts and the coverage will follow.

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