Monday, January 29, 2007

Defacing the Capitol

Approximately 300 anti-war protesters were allowed to spray paint on part of the west front steps of the United States Capitol building this weekend. The protesters were allowed to spray paint "anarchist symbols", "Our capitol building" and "you can’t stop us" on the Capitol Steps.

According to U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Chief Phillip Morse

"The graffiti was easily removed by the dedicated [Architect of the Capitol] staff, some of whom responded on their day off to quickly clean the area."

He added, "It is the USCP's duty and responsibility to protect the Capitol complex, staff and public while allowing the public to exercise their First Amendment rights … at the end of the day, both occurred without injury to protestors or officers."

This is interesting when compared to my own experiences on the Capitol front steps. In 1979 I was traveling with the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps. We had been on the road for several hours and hit Washington DC late one night and the Corp director decided that the kids in the busses needed a stretch break. Breaking with his normal tradition of finding an out of the way place with bathrooms he decided that we should substitute bathrooms for culture on this stop. So we pulled up in front of the Capitol building at 2 AM in the morning and unloaded 3 bus loads of kids so they could run up and down the steps for a few minutes, check out the Columbus Doors and blow off a little steam before we continued on our way.

We had been on the Capitol steps for only a minute or two and a Capitol Police vehicle showed up. The officer scanned the crowd for a moment, spotted the group of adults standing off to one side and he approached us to find out what was going on. We explained that we were from Wyoming, just traveling through and stopped so the kids could see something of Washington DC besides the beltway. He nodded, and walked away talking into his radio. Two to three minutes later five patrol cars surrounded our busses and we were politely but firmly told to load up and move on – NOW!

Being hicks from Wyoming we didn’t understand the way things work in Washington DC. I guess if we wanted to stick around for more than a few minutes we should have started defacing the property.

One last nit to pick with Police Chief Morse The exact wording of the First Amendment is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

No where in there do I see anything about the public’s right to vandalize public property. We won’t even go into trying to describe what part of defacing the Capitol building is considered “peaceably assembling.”

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