Incident at Wilkens Library - On the 224th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights

Thursday, 03 October 2013 12:45 GFP Columnist - G. Tod Slone
Freedom of Speech Is, by Nature, Confrontational

People like you—with your censorious little minds and your narrow horizons—do more than anyone to inspire those of us who believe that free speech is the very cornerstone of our civilization: to guard it jealously; to defend it; and to insist upon it absolutely unfettered, undiluted, in full, without any form of compromise, no matter who claims to be offended and never, ever, to concede an inch. - Pat Condell
It was time to give myself a boot in the ass and stand up… for the Bill of Rights.  Earlier that morning, I’d decided to skip it, for why bother when I already knew what the end result would likely be:  massive student apathy. 

Judicial Watch, a watchdog over government, legal, and judicial systems, had brought attention to the anniversary of the Bill of Rights and asked for volunteers to give local presentations throughout the country. 

So, I wrote my local library, Sturgis Library, one of the oldest in the nation:

To the Director, Trustees, and Staff, Sturgis Library:
It has been over a year now since your decree to punish my exercise of Freedom of Speech by permanently banning me from visiting your library (i.e., my neighborhood library).  I am requesting a two-hour reprieve so that I may host a Freedom of Speech Day event on September 25th at Sturgis Library.  Surely, you must have some notion, deep within, of the intellectual importance of Freedom of Speech for Western Civilization and America in particular. 
For your information, September 25, 2013, marks 224 years after the passage of the Bill of Rights.  Patriots across America will host events, on that day, and educate the public about how Freedom of Speech is under attack—and what we all can do to protect it.   
You will note that since your decree (and prior to it!), not one of your patrons or staff has been threatened by me.  Recall that “public safety” was the reason given regarding the permanent trespass decision. 
Finally, for the sake of basic human honesty, why not adopt a new written policy stipulating that patrons who criticize the library will be permanently trespassed without due process.  At the same time, you should strike out certain policy statements, especially “Libraries should challenge censorship […]” and “should provide materials and information presenting all points of view,” since evidently Sturgis does not. 
Thank you for your attention and your hopeful approval of my request! 
G. Tod Slone

Surprisingly, I received a response.  Unsurprisingly, it was negative.
Dear Mr. Slone,
Thank you for your interest in utilizing the Sturgis Library for an event on September 25th, 2013.  Unfortunately, due to the No Trespass order that is in place, the Library is unable to accommodate your request. 
I wish you best for your event. 
Ted Lowry
President Board of Trustees

Conservatives warned about creeping Sharia (Islamic law) into Western civilization.  In fact, a number of states have adopted “American Laws for American Courts” legislation in an effort to counter the creeping.  Note also the movement to stop the US Department of State’s efforts to implement the UN’s Resolution 16/18 of the Istanbul Process, which would reduce the First Amendment, eliminating the right to criticize religions.    But it was really a question of a more general creeping fascism—not just Sharia law—that was slowly subverting the principles of Western democracies.  Directors, deans, presidents, and others with such titles, stemming from the so-called “leadership” milieu, tended to be its principle enablers. 
So, I decided, lacking a locale, to stand with several signs and hand out the flyers given to me by Judicial Watch, as well as my own on the library banning.  I created a new sign for the event:  “Celebrate the Anniversary of the Bill of Rights, Not Banned Books Week.”  I’d also bring an old one:  “Banned in Barnstable by Sturgis Library.” 
At about 1:30 I drove off to the local public college, Cape Cod Community College, parked in the lot, walked over to the Wilkens Library, and stood in front of it in the glorious sunshine with a pile of flyers and the two signs.  “Today’s the day, Bill of Rights!” I said to a guy glancing at the two signs.  “That’s great,” he said.  “Good luck!”  Not many students were around.   Those who appeared seemed, for the most part, well occupied—hooked to cellphones and jabbering solo.  Eventually, I’d test the waters of democracy inside the library and see if they’d end up hammering me.  Two hugely obese tie and jacketed-looking professors slowly moved across campus like dinosaurs.  Hmm.  Nothing like job security, I thought. 
Inside the library, I quietly and slowly walked around holding up only the Bill of Rights sign.  I stopped in front of seated students, remained silent, then walked and stopped in front of other seated students, most of whom were involved with their computers.  Almost all of them chose to ignore me and the sign.  One guy quietly expressed interest.  So, I quietly and briefly explained the placard and handed him a couple of flyers.  Then in front of the circulation desk, I stood for a moment silently holding the sign for the two employees to read.  By my side, I noticed a suit inspecting me.  Then I moved on and stood in front of the open office of Jeanmarie Fraser, Associate Dean, Academic Support Services and Learning Resources.  The suit and tie followed me, then posed a question. 
—What are you doing?
—I’m holding a sign.  Why do you want to know?
But he didn’t respond and slipped away, then was soon back again.  The secretary read the placard.  I explained it to her briefly.  Then the suit and tie approached me again, expressed brief curiosity about the sign, so I began explaining it, but his interest quickly waned.   Did he even know what the First Amendment was and why it was so important?  Probably not.  Then the Associate Dean came out of her little cave, read the sign, and asked a question.
—Why are you protesting Banned Books Week?
—Because it seems hypocritical for librarians to be staging it when perhaps many of them are banning books.  The 25 library directors in the Clams Library System of Cape Cod, your library system, have banned this, for example! 

I held up a copy of The American Dissident.  The suit and tie then slipped away again, reminding me of a KGB agent, slinking around, stalking here and there.  Then suddenly a young cop appeared.  My blood pressure jumped as it usually did in such situations… and, yes, there have been a few such situations, including the one at Sturgis Library. 
—I’d like to talk to you outside.
—Can’t I stay inside?
—Well, I just want to talk to you outside.
—Am I being forced to leave?
—I just want to talk to you outside.
So, we both walked past the turnstile, out the front doors and stood. 
—So, what are you doing?
—Well, if you look at my sign, I’m here because it’s the anniversary of the Bill of Rights.  I’m not making any noise or approaching anyone in particular.
What I should have probably said, as I later reflected, was that if I weren’t doing anything illegal, why had he confronted me and why was he asking me what I was doing?  Was free speech really free in such circumstances and didn’t intimidating police encourage citizens not to speak freely, which included holding signs?
 —Why are you doing that here?
—Well, I thought doing it at the public college in my neighborhood would be the best place to do it.
—Everyone is watching you.
—Well, that’s a disturbance.
—So, if people watch me, then I become a disturbance in a public institution? 
—I didn’t say that.
—Yet that’s the implication. 
Then suddenly a second cop, meaner and older, appeared.  I thought of the incident at Sturgis Library when not two, but three cops had suddenly appeared, even though I was silently working on my laptop alone in a room. 
—How many of you guys are needed?  I’m not doing anything wrong, or am I? 
—I’m the supervisor.  You’re not supposed to have signs on campus. 
—Is there a reason why?
He looked down at the little recorder in my hand. 
—Shut that off!
—You have no right to record me!*
—But don’t I have a right to speak into my own recorder?  I’m not recording you.  I’m recording me.
—On this campus, you’re not allowed to record people! 
—Okay, I’ll turn it off, then you speak, then I’ll walk over there and record what you said with my voice.
That seemed okay from his perspective.  As a writer, I used a little recorder to help me remember pertinent details and the exact words people spoke.  The supervisor looked at my sign. 
—You are disrupting the flow of the education system here. 
—Yeah, well, I was just about ready to leave anyhow.  But I’d like to go back inside to get the name of the guy who called you guys.  Can I have your name? 
—No!  And you are not allowed to solicit here.
—I’m not soliciting.  I’m just exercising my First Amendment rights by holding a sign and handing out flyers to anyone who might want one. 
The two cops let me reenter the library.  The mean one entered first, then the younger one politely held the door for me, then I politely held the second one for him.  They stood in the center of the large room by the circulation desk.  The Associate Dean and tie and jacket were also present and standing with them.  I looked at the Associate Dean and spoke.
—I just wanted to get his name.  Am I allowed to ask for it?
—Yes, it’s Tim ….
—Uh, what’s the last name again?
—You can find it on our website.
—Okay.  Fine.  [Later I’d hunt for it:  Tim Gerolami, Coordinator of Library Services]  Why were the police called? 
—You were being confrontational.
—But all I was doing was explaining my sign to you and your secretary.  Tim wasn’t interested.  [I looked over at the tie and jacket.]  Did you call the police? 
—We thought you were getting confrontational.
The Associate Dean backed his statement. 
—Yes, you’re being confrontational. 
—So, being confrontational is now illegal at a public college? 
—No, but it can be a disturbance.   
—Well, anything can be a disturbance. Free speech is a disturbance, yet it’s supposed to be permitted in public institutions.  
The suit and tie added a few words to help out his boss. 
—Holding a sign was disturbing students.  They were all looking at you. 
It was odd to be in the center of the room with those two cops staring at me like guard dogs.  And now all those students, who weren’t interested in my sign, were suddenly interested, their heads pointing my way.  Maybe they thought I had a gun or a bomb or had stolen books.  After all, why else would two cops be present?  I asked the Associate Dean where the Banned Books display was.  She pointed to a wall. 
—It’s over there. 
—Would you put this copy of The American Dissident in the display if I give it to you? 
—No, but I’ll put it on the free pile over there. 
—No thanks.  It belongs in the display case because you and your colleagues have banned it. 
—Just because we won’t subscribe, doesn’t mean we’ve banned it. 
—When not one library in your system will subscribe, that’s tantamount to banning.  Besides, I’m a local nonprofit publishing in your very town. 
—Well, there’s lots of them on the Cape.
—Lots?  I can think of only two or three, you know, the free ones distributed in the supermarkets.  I even offered a free subscription to Sturgis, which refused it.  That’s akin to banning! 
—Well, we’re not Sturgis. 
And that was that.  Librarians could be brick walls against reason, not all of them, but sadly many of them.  In fact, so could professors.  That was my experience… as a library patron and college professor. 
—Well, I’m leaving… and without handcuffs!
—Yes, isn’t that something.  Have a nice day. 
It was important for citizens to periodically buck the arbitrary rules of propriety set in place by the creeping fascists.  “Confrontational” always constituted a form of bucking their vague rules of propriety.  In fact, the only way not to buck those rules was to remain silently unquestioning and unchallenging… like most citizens.  
In any case, it was all very interesting and made my little jaunt well worthwhile.  I walked across campus to the cafeteria, where I posted a flyer.  An older student expressed curiosity.  I handed him a flyer.  He promised he’d read it.   I complimented him on his rare curiosity.  Then I walked slowly past students with my sign held high.  One of them actually walked up to me and expressed interest.  Someone should have given him a medal for unusual curiosity.  We talked a bit.  I showed him a copy of The American Dissident
—I’m not selling this here.  Don’t tell the cops I’m selling anything or they’ll arrest me.
I gave him a couple of flyers. 
—Can I have a copy?
—Sure, what the hell. I’d love to publish a student from this college!  Send me a short essay or poem, but it has to be negative.  I always publish criticism with my regard and the journal’s in each issue and never publish positive feedback.  If you write something critical about this college, I’ll definitely publish it in next issue.
—Well, I think I might be able to come up with something.
We’ll see…  I left the building and continued my walk back across campus, passing a table of what looked like three employees, each wearing the same tee-shirt, sitting around chatting.  So, I brandished the sign, stopped, talked with them, told them about my brief encounter with the police, but it was evident they were unable to focus on that First Amendment issue.  It was the deer in the headlights look I got from just about everyone at the college, including the professor-looking individuals in the cafeteria and library.  I got into the car and took off, stopped at the beach down Scudder Lane, walked, recorded my thoughts, hunted for beautiful rocks, expulsed the mental dross of the encounter with Librarians against Free Speech with Cops, and gazed out across the bay at Sandy Neck, and wow, that was one hell of a long distance I’d walked last year—eight hours round trip! 
The tide was high; the view, gorgeous.  Interestingly, I was never asked by the Associate Dean to stop doing what I was doing (i.e., holding a sign silently, walking around in the library).  Instead, the creeping fascists (i.e., the Associate Dean and tie and jacket) had decided to be confrontational by summoning the police because they’d perceived me as confrontational.  They never ordered me to leave or otherwise stay out of the library. 
Sadly, it seemed citizens easily adjusted to minor affronts to liberty like being questioned by the police even when they’d done nothing wrong. Well, I for one did not adjust. 
Next stop:  Sturgis Library… on the sidewalk of course, not inside, because I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day in a jail cell.   
*Unfortunately, I did not know my legal rights, though it is likely the supervisor would have rejected them anyhow.  Somebody needs to teach the cops at Cape Cod Community College the following:  “The 7th Circuit Court found a specific First Amendment right to record police officers. It's the second federal appeals court to strike down a conviction for recording police. In August 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that a man wrongly arrested for recording cops could sue the arresting officers for violating his First Amendment rights.” (The Huffington Post)

Cartoon Contributed by G. Tod Slone

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