Last Saturday, Crystal and I took one of the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. As we rounded University and Main–well, more or less, because of construction–I consulted my iPhone to get the correct address. That way, as we passed the unassuming green house, I could point at it and say, “That’s the house that was raided because of the Twitter thing.”
It’s an ill-omened block, apparently.
If you’re not up on the news, here are some relevant links:
In particular, pay attention to the Luciano column, because he was actually able to get Mayor Ardis to comment on the record. And, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look very good. Mayor Ardis talked a lot about how the content of this Twitter account–with 50 followers at its height, remember!–was “vile” and unprintable in the local news. He talked about the effect on his family. He called out the perpetrator to reveal his name. But he failed to speak to the one thing that is actually on everyone’s mind:
By what right can you do this?
Put yourself in the shoes of the occupants of 1220 N. University (aka the “Stately Wayne Manor”). You answer a knock at the door to find police yelling at you, forcing themselves into your home, searching through your private spaces, and taking some of your most expensive stuff. But that’s not all. For some, police showed up at their workplaces to arrest them. For Jake Elliott, one result of this mayhem is that the job he’s had for twelve years is now in jeopardy. (Source)
Lives have been shattered over this. The sanctity of someone’s home has been violated. Peace of mind has been exploded. Or, to put it another way, their right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects was violated.
And essentially, the only defense Mayor Ardis makes is that he didn’t like what they were saying.
That’s not good enough. As a public official, Mayor Ardis is limited in how he is allowed to respond to such issues. That’s pretty much the point of the First Amendment. Admittedly, most Americans appeal to the First Amendment to argue that they can say whatever they want without repercussion, a belief that XKCD recently skewered. But the First Amendment does mean that citizens are free to engage in speech about their government without repercussion.
You know, like saying that the mayor does drugs.
So, why does this matter?
As I type, I’m just a few blocks from where this happened. The victims of this raid all live in University East. This means that police raided my neighbors. These are my people. And that’s reason enough.
But let’s go a step further.
There’s a famous poem about the Holocaust, written by Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Whenever force is used to suppress political dissent–even juvenile dissent–it harms the entire community and creates a chilling effect on other forms of political speech. Because we all received the message: say something the mayor doesn’t like, and you too could be raided.
There’s a public meeting on Wednesday about the traffic diverted in my neighborhood. Is it safe for me to air my opinion? What if my opinion is that I don’t trust the City to actually finish a project well and that they need to sequence any updates to make sure that my neighborhood doesn’t get screwed by a half-assed job? Can I say that safely?
Some of you might brush that away as hypothetical. Of course that sort of speech is protected. But how am I supposed to know that?
Or, to put it another way, a couple days ago, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to blog about this. And she was afraid, because I was going to criticize the mayor, and I have more reach than this silly Twitter account that we’re talking about. She got the message from the mayor, loud and clear.
But here I am anyways, asserting my First Amendment right to engage in political speech.
Mayor Ardis, you need to fix this. You have overstepped your bounds. I don’t care what was being said about you. You are the public servant holding a sacred public trust. A trust that you have violated. You need to apologize to the inhabitants of 1220 N. University. You need to drop all related charges. You need to return all items seized, plus restitution. You need to go public and admit that you were wrong and acted improperly.
You can still fix this.
Because, if not, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that this incident is reason enough to try to get you run out of office. If we can’t trust you to safeguard our basic rights, can we trust you with anything else?
The city awaits your reply.
The title for this post comes from comments by Jon Daniels, the author of the fake Twitter account.
“Tell them my name. Tell them I did it,” he said, acknowledging the cops have him cornered. “But when they lock me up, tell them to tweet using the hashtag #freesleezyd.”