President Bush is alleged to have angrily described the Constitution as “just a goddamned piece of paper!” Evidentally, someone in the Federal Building in downtown Fort Collins needs to reaquaint himself with the importance of the First Amendment protections of free speech and peaceable assembly.
Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security was called to respond to a small group of protesters in front of the federal building who were calling attention to U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s votes to cut veterans’ healthcare benefits and her rubber stamp support of the Bush Administration’s Iraq War policies.
According to the “Caught Red-Handed” protest action organizer Jan Peterson:
We stood on the sidewalks and held our protest signs for passing pedestrians and motorists to see. We also handed out leaflets with facts to support our positions.
Although many drove by as if they had blinders on, we received warm, supportive comments from most passers-by and friendly waves from passing motorists, including a policeman.
Peterson recalled that at 1 pm – when the hour-long protest was ending as planned – a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) vehicle arrived on the scene with emergency lights flashing.
Officer Moreno explained that someone in the building complained that the protestors “stepped on the grass” thus intruding on federal property and called DHS to disperse them. For those not familiar, the building also houses a post office and the local IRS and FBI departments which results in a fair amount of public traffic on the sidewalks and within the building and adjacent parking lot.
Fellow protestor Dale Karlin noted that the officer asked if the group was working for “the other candidate”. She replied that they were with MoveOn and had posterboard signs, red foam hands, and fliers on Musgrave’s military bill voting record – nothing that referred to or represented CD-4 Democratic challenger Angie Paccione.
Due to the experience of the folks that delivered the petition to Marilyn Musgrave’s office earlier this year we three were absolutely scrupulous about staying on the public sidewalk with our feet and all papers and property we brought, Karlin said.
Both Peterson and Karlin were ordered to produce their driver’s licenses as identification which Officer Moreno copied. As the officer left the scene he replied that the protest was orderly and did not require any action.
Shortly afterward, another DHS officer arrived. Karlin recounted:
Some ten minutes later, as we were leaving yet another Homeland Security Federal Protection Service car turned into the parking lot. This Officer knew nothing about Officer Moreno’s call to the scene but stated the procedure was that the complaint call from inside the building had to be made to the main Homeland Security dispatch office in Denver and then routed to Fort Collins resulting in the sending out of Officer Moreno’s vehicle. I spoke to this second officer to ask if the parking lot was in his jurisdiction and he said that the Federal Building along with its parking lot were under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security while the public sidewalks were under the jurisdiction of the Fort Collins Police Department. Further, he said that Officer Moreno had to take name(s) to properly fill out his report on the incident.
He stated that the jurisdiction issue was a possible “gray area” where names would be noted and information taken to cover officer responsibilities.
I couldn’t contain myself so I asked the second officer how much money it cost in taxpayer funds to dispatch an officer to this scene to harass law-abiding citizens who were doing only that which is covered in our Bill of Rights. He got the point and said that most officers do their jobs but think first about the rights of us citizens. Both officers were former military and both were supportive of our message. They regretted the pettiness of this situation but had to do their jobs.
Following this experience, Peterson and Karlin asserted that they would continue organizing weekly law-abiding “Caught Red-Handed” protests on the sidewalk leading to the Fort Collins Federal Building.