Six Activists Are Suing Dallas In Federal Court, Claiming They're Being Illegally Barred From Protesting George W. Bush Center Dedication

Categories: Politics

people's response protest photo from Crawford.jpg
Image via The People's Response Facebook page.
Six long-time progressive activists have filed suit against the city of Dallas, claiming they're being illegally barred from protesting the April 25 dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The group says they were threatened with arrest if they show up at the dedication; the suit was first filed in Dallas County District Court but has just been moved to federal court at the city's request. It was first reported by Courthouse News.

The six activists are Paul Heller, Leslie Harris, Deborah Beltran, Gary Stuard, Diane Baker and Mavis Belisle; Heller is also a committee chair with the Dallas County Democratic Party. In court filings, the six describe themselves as "part of a coalition of groups and individuals who seek peace, social and economic justice, civil and human rights, and a sustainable environment."

As such, they add, they're given to the occasional protest -- always peacefully, through "nonviolent direct action." Like the protest they've planned to take part in later this month, the four-day long People's Response to the George W. Bush Library & Policy Institute.

The reasons for the protest are pretty simple, the six write. They plan to voice their opposition to "U.S. policies and conduct concerning war, torture, human rights violations and the infringement of civil liberties." Moreover, they add, former President George W. Bush and President Obama are planning to attend, along with a bank of TV cameras. For that reason, they say:

This once-in-a-lifetime event affords Plaintiffs and other concerned citizens a unique opportunity to to publicize their views about the conduct of the U.S. Government generally and the Bush Administration in particular. Plaintiffs plan to carry signs expressing their views on these political issues during their protest activities.

They six say they plan to carry those signs on a piece of SMU property. They'll have to walk on public sidewalks abutting Central Expressway to get there. The city, they allege, isn't so hot on that plan. They say they conferred with both SMU and the Dallas Police Department about the protest. In response, DPD informed them that not only did they have to stay off SMU property, but they had to stay off the public sidewalks nearby as well.

How, exactly, can DPD tell a group of no doubt very threatening older hippie peace-activist-types to stay off a sidewalk? The plaintiffs allege that they were told that because the sidewalks near SMU "are within 75 feet of Central Expressway... therefore the protest would violate the Dallas City Code." The code says carrying signs "on, over or near" freeways is not allowed.

The plaintiffs were sternly warned by DPD that any attempt to protest would lead to "criminal sanctions," the suit says. And apparently they were serious. On January 21, the suit says, a group of activists staged a rally at the corner of Mockingbird and Central Expressway, "carrying signs with messages such as 'I love the Bill of Rights' and 'I love the First Amendment.'" They say they were 75 feet from the access road near Central Expressway, and that their signs were likely only visible to those drivers, not the general freeway audience.

DPD arrived to write everybody a citation and inform them they'd be arrested if they didn't lower their signs or leave the area. They say they complied. Due to a "subsequent clerical error," the suit says, they later learned that only two of them had actually been charged with a violation of the sign-carrying ordinance. The other four were cited for panhandling, although they, you know, hadn't been.

The plaintiffs say the city has told them that error will be corrected and they'll all be cited instead for renegade sign-carrying. "These varying citations underscore the vague nature of the ordinance and buttress Plaintiffs' claims that their rights to free speech are being unconstitutionally infringed by the City of Dallas," the six write. They claim, too, that they're in danger of being cited not just for sign-carrying, but for "unknown -- and perhaps unknowable -- other alleged crimes for exercising their constitutionally protected rights to engage in peaceful political speech in a traditional public forum, a city sidewalk."

The plaintiffs say that the existing criminal charges have inhibited their ability to engage in "other expressive conduct," like, say, a planned four-day-long protest of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which would also, according to DPD, violate the sign-carrying-near-a-freeway provision. And that, the six argue, is a violation of their rights to free speech under both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

The city filed a general denial against these charges yesterday, before successfully moving to have the case transferred to federal court. Here's a full copy of the suit for your perusal. A list of the other people and entities planning to protest George W. and his Center can be found here.

Heller v. City of Dallas


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39 comments
EarleCabell
EarleCabell

This is strange, because two years ago -- on a cool, dry April 2011 morning -- about a hundred or so people clad in black met at Mockingbird Station, before starting a trudge west on Mockingbird toward the SMU football stadium. As a drum slowly beat, the Dallas Police stopped northbound US 75 feeder road traffic for the group. I was very impressed with their friendliness and professionalism. As the convoy of white-masked March of Death participants continued west, it then encountered University Park Police, who were also accommodating for the group.


Why the change now, away from blocking traffic for us to now blocking us from getting close?

Americano
Americano

Wow.  Just looking at that picture makes me want to become a socialist.

madest
madest

Beyond the constitutionality of barring someone from a tax payer funded event enshrining a tax payer funded library, why are my taxes being wasted on this waste of a building that should in all reality never exist? GWB will go down in history as the worst president ever. A LIBRARY? Really? THIS is the wasteful spending real republicans should be screaming about.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Remember that asinine lawsuit that American Airlines lost over the sign it had on Airport Expressway showing gates? The moron that stopped in the left lane to check his gate sued AA when someone rammed him. Seems the TX courts have a very low threshold on what distracts your obviously typically stupid TX driver. Consequently people waving signs in the high traffic area at that intersection could logically be a distraction in TX courts. Just go over to Hillcrest and wave your signs there.

tom_bl
tom_bl

They didn't try to stop 'activists' who were carrying signs to protest the President - - in front of the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963

peaceseeker
peaceseeker

Actually it limits another first amendment right - the right to peacefully assemble.


MattL11
MattL11

How long has this ordinance been on the books? I'm surprised it hasn't been struck down already. 

casiepierce
casiepierce

Oh, Dallas, where EVERYTHING is perfect, EVERYONE is agreeable and THERE WAS ONLY THE LONE GUNMAN!

russell.allison1
russell.allison1

I'm not sure these folks paid the cable bill-have they not heard that Mr Bush has been gone from that office for a while now?  If they missed the election it would be understandable that they wouldn't have noticed a difference since Mr Obama has done very well in keeping us at war, infringing our civil rights and human rights (done more damage on this front than george ever did) and has failed to deliver economic and social justice.  Lets chip in to pay their cable bill and I'm sure that after they read the last few years of news, they'll be just fine on the protest thing.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Seems like a fairly vague and ambiguous ordinance.  Prohibition of 'carrying signs on, over or near' the freeway would seem to ban all long haul trucks, landscape, construction and many other vehicles; including Police, Fire and Ambulance and all city, county and state vehicles.  It would ban me from driving my own vehicle, which is completely wrapped in company logo.

Do they really think signs over or near the freeway are a danger?  At least drivers would have to be aware of what is outside the vehicle to notice the signs, a much bigger danger would be the various cell phones, tablets, dvd players and other entertainment devices one would think.

anon
anon

Violating city code isn't typically something that calls for criminal sanctions, or else all the scumbag absentee landlords all over the city would be locked up for their mountains of code violations. 

JTindle
JTindle

@madest lol yea THAT is the wasteful governemnt spending and not  • Moroccan pottery classes (part of a $27 million grant from U.S. Agency for International Development)

• Efforts to promote caviar consumption and production ($300,000)

• Robotic squirrel named “RoboSquirrel” (part of a $325,000 grant from the National Science Foundation)

• Promotion of specialty shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs ($505,000)

• Corporate welfare for the world’s largest snack food producer, PepsiCo Inc. ($1.3 million)

• Government-funded study on how golfers might benefit from using their imagination, envisioning the hole is bigger than it actually is ($350,000)

• “Prom Week,” a video game that allows taxpayers to relive prom night ($516,000)

• Oklahoma’s layover boondoggle, a scarcely used airport in Oklahoma receiving nearly half-a-million in taxpayer dollars only to transfer funds elsewhere in the state ($450,000)

• The 2012 Alabama Watermelon Queen tour paid for in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “to promote the consumption of Alabama’s watermelon through appearances of the Alabama Watermelon Queen at various events and locations” ($25,000). 

There are numerous programs that need to be dealt with, just because YOU think he was a bad president doesn't anything, fact is plenty of us think he was a good president. Worry about getting rid of useless stuff like the programs mentioned above, instead of trying to preech your political agenda, bashing Bush.


deep-sigh
deep-sigh

@madest i don't why anyone would go see a library full of doodles....

JackJett
JackJett

In most cities they would never get away with it.  However Dallas while History will show Bush as being a War Criminal along with his War Mongering for Profit sisters...Rice/Rummy/Cheney/Feith/Powell, many Dallasites still see W as the Mission Accomplished Cod Wearing Stud.   

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@madest I'm sure they said the same about James Polk and how his whole Manifest Destiny campaign was terrible, and how the poor Indians should get their land back.  But now no one remembers President Polk and all the Indians got was to be called Native Americans and allowed to run casinos. 

NewsDog
NewsDog

@madest How is the library 'tax payer funded'? It's a building on private property (SMU) with most of its funding coming from private monies.

And how is the City of Dallas and DPD involved? The library is on the SMU  campus which the last time I drove by is in The City of University Park.  

cantkeepthetruthdown
cantkeepthetruthdown

@madest You need to have a job or some kind of legal income to actually pay taxes. Don't worry, your Lonestar card will still be refilled regardless of this library.

JTindle
JTindle

@casiepierce There was only ONE gunman.......... I know your tin foil hat probably just exploded, but i am sure you can make another.


peaceseeker
peaceseeker

@russell.allison1   LOL! Oh Russ, don't quit your day job, what would Ronald do without you!  The point of the suit is freedom of speech, or in this case , lack of it! You don't need cable TV to know Bushy Boy has left office and spends his time painting in the bath and laughing at over a million dead folks; publicly stating he is fine with his presidential record! Nor do you need cable TV to know about the war crimes of our current president... which brings us back to the reason for The People's Response!  We have to have accountability for the actions of all world leaders that violate international law, not just those other guys! Our leaders too must be held accountable, and maybe even be held to a higher standard because we are always preaching our high ideals to others. Without accountability, we just set the stage for our future leaders to build on the crimes of the last administration. On the subject of GWB that is some platform to build on!  Accountability for the past to preserve democracy for the future! 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@RTGolden1 Most likely it's unConstitutional to prohibit political speech.  Particularly is a person is carrying some human sized sign.  I could see that structures and signs could be prohibited as well.  But, then again, the police don't really need to care.  The protesters might get released without charge, but they won't beat the ride. 

PersistentID2345
PersistentID2345

@RTGolden1"Do they really think signs over or near the freeway are a danger?"

Any inordinate event such as protests at a high profile gathering  could serve as a bigger distraction to motorists than the commonplace sign or banner. If someone gets hurt in an accident during the protest because someone else is instagramming the protesters while driving then you will surely see the subsequent lawsuit against the city for allowing the protest to take place so close to the freeway.



James080
James080

@peaceseeker@russell.allison1 

"The People's Response!"  Sure, six malcontents, or Democrat operatives, looking for free political media coverage. Maybe the group name should be "Six Peoples' Response!"

Were you six actually dedicated to your cause and protest, you would forgo the pending lawsuit, hold your demonstration as planned and accept the consequences of your civil disobedience.

quinnopolis
quinnopolis

@cantkeepthetruthdown @peaceseeker @russell.allison1 
We've actually been protesting that a lot. We protest Obama's drone use, we protest Obama's keeping Guantanamo open, we protest the legislation that Obama passed about detaining citizens without due process, and more. I'm sure that if you leave a method of contact, we CAN contact you next time we have one of these protests. We do them quite often.

It always seems odd to me that people assume that just because we protest the lack of accountability for Bush's presidency, it means we're totally cool with Obama. We're actually one of the only liberal groups that DOES still protest Obama.

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