A Conversation about the Courthouse
The ordinance would make it a violation of the law to be on the grounds of the Courthouse from 9:30 PM to 6 AM. It would also make it illegal to affix signs to County property or to run string across County property. Being in response to an “urgency,” the ordinance would take effect immediately if passed by four of the five Supervisors.
Perhaps a mini-dramatization can help explore the issues…
(Scene: A federal courthouse. Time: perhaps sometime soon.)
Explain again why you made it illegal to stand outside the Courthouse at night?
Your honor, this group had been at the site for nearly six months. They were making a complete mess of the area, frightening people going in and out of the Courthouse, making it difficult for people to do their jobs, posing a threat to the security of the jail, urinating in public, defecating in public, the list goes on and on.
OK, let’s start with the urination and defecation. Isn’t that already illegal?
Yes, your honor, but we can’t have a personal attendant watching each demonstrator at all times to make sure they don’t do it.
I see. Well, what percentage of the demonstrators use the portapotties?
There are no portapotties.
Huh? The demonstrators didn’t bring portapotties?! Why?
Well, your honor, we wouldn’t allow them.
You wouldn’t allow them? Why? I’d have thought if public defecation and urination were serious problems, you wouldn’t just allow them, you’d provide them yourselves!
But, your honor, if we did that, we’d be making it easier for them to stay right where they are, in front of the Courthouse, where they are causing terrible problems.
I see. But you’re saying one of the serious problems is public urination and defecation?
Yes, your honor.
OK, let’s move on. You say they are frightening people trying to work at the Courthouse? How?
Well, just the other day, one of them shouted curses at a small woman trying to enter the Courthouse and blocked her path.
That’s terrible. Was the woman opposed to their position? Did she support Wall Street?
No sir, not as far as we know.
Then why was he angry with her?
We’re not sure. We’re not sure he was angry with her.
Well then why was he cursing her? That doesn’t make much sense. What did he shout?
I believe he shouted, “Bitch, tie your shoes.”
That sounds like he might be mentally ill, doesn’t it?
Yes, sir, he probably is.
Then what does he have to do with the protest.
He’s part of it.
Really? How do you know?
He wouldn’t be there if the protest weren’t ongoing.
Again, how do you know?
He wasn’t there before the protest started.
O… K…. How did the Sheriff’s office respond? Were they anywhere nearby?
They have offices in the Courthouse. I don’t believe they considered the issue was one to which they could respond.
They didn’t think they could arrest the man, because he hadn’t made physical contact with the woman.
So they just spoke with the man cursing and blocking people outside their offices?
Well, your honor, they never spoke with the man. They are at a loss, as we are. The District Attorney was unwilling to prosecute the man.
Excuse me? How could you know that if you never spoke with the cursing man?
The DA hadn’t been willing to prosecute similar cases.
That’s surprising. What similar cases?
A week or so before this incident, a Sheriff’s deputy was assaulted in front of the Courthouse, but the District Attorney wouldn’t prosecute.
I’ve never heard of such a thing. That’s a disgrace. Describe the incident.
The Sheriff’s deputy was taking a sign from the person…
Stop right there, please. Why?
I don’t know.
Was the sign a hazard?
No, your honor.
Were there witnesses to the assault?
I believe so, your honor, but I’m not sure they’d support the deputy. They would have been protesters.
Oh, that begins to be a little more understandable. A Sheriff’s deputy was trying to yank a legal sign away from an American citizen, and the American citizen may have held on too tight?
Possibly, your honor.
And that’s why the Sheriff’s office wouldn’t respond to a mentally ill person harassing people entering a building housing their offices?
I can’t speculate, your honor.
But I have this email in front of me from the Sheriff to the District Attorney, saying he won’t try to do anything at the Courthouse any more, because the District Attorney has given the protesters immunity. Is the incident with the sign what the Sheriff is referring to?
I believe so, your honor, you’d have to ask the Sheriff.
I think I’ll do that. Let’s move on. So far, I’d suggest the sensible responses would be allowing a portapotty and telling the Sheriff to do his job. Wouldn’t that be simpler than declaring that existing laws won’t deal with the situation? Never mind, that’s a rhetorical question.
What about the part about affixing things to County property? How does that resolve the health and safety issue?
Your honor, none of these things are direct health and safety hazards. The purpose of the ordinance is to address the larger health and safety issue, which is that we have had a group of bums loitering outside our Courthouse twenty four hours a day for nearly six months.
What laws are they breaking?
Your honor, we’ve made that clear. They are urinating and defecating in public, shouting at people entering and leaving the Courthouse, generally making a mess…
Then why are you not enforcing the existing laws? Isn’t it illegal to defecate in public? Isn’t littering illegal? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Sheriff just refusing to protect an area. Would you like me to order the Sheriff to take action?
No sir, we believe this ordinance will resolve the problem.
By making up a set of rules that will break up the protest you don’t like? Isn’t that throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
Sir, you’d need to see for yourself. It’s just been awful at the Courthouse.
Gentlemen, you have come before me with a law you claimed was so vital, so urgent, that it had to be implemented without the normal thirty day period in which a legal challenge could take place. You’ve told me that you’ve refused to allow a straightforward way to address the issue of public defecation and urination. You’ve told me that your Sheriff won’t intervene when a mentally ill person frightens people outside their offices. You’ve told me that you want to restrict signs because you’re hoping a bunch of American citizens will end their protest if you make it impossible for them to tape signs anywhere.
This is America, and the American constitution rules. It’s extremely inconvenient sometimes, that’s why we have crazy little bands of neo-Nazis marching in public sometimes, when they’d be thrown in jail in most countries.
If you hadn’t had the audacity and arrogance to pass this as an urgency ordinance, demonstrating your lack of good faith with the court system, I’d try to work with you to resolve your problem legally. But, as things stand, I’m going to need to take some time to figure out an appropriate response.
For the moment, the law is stayed, as of now. You are not to enforce any bit of it. Do you understand?
Yes, your honor.
And tell that Sheriff to do his job. And your mental health department, too.