published Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's abuse of power

Gov. Bill Haslam may not agree with or like the Occupy Wall Street movement which has taken root across the country and around the western world. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that the governor and other public officials respect the fundamental federal and state constitutional rights of citizens to assemble at Tennessee's seat of legislative power and express their grievances. Regrettably, Haslam failed to uphold these critical constitutional rights of assembly and free speech last weekend.

He signed off on an illegal rule to squash the protest movement, and gave state troopers the go-ahead to manhandle, arrest and handcuff 55 protesters at the Capitol's legislative plaza and detain them for hours. And he's still defending that abuse of state police power despite a subsequent Federal Court injunction barring such illegal action against the protesters' First Amendment rights.

Associated Press photographs showed the arrested protesters, who had been quietly sitting together when 75 troopers appeared, spread out face down on the plaza in the cold early morning, their hands strapped behind their backs with plastic zip ties as if they were dangerous criminals who otherwise could not be constrained.

What a travesty. In fact, the protesters had been and were peaceful. Among their ranks were teachers and students, a laid-off librarian, adults of various professions, a Vanderbilt seminarian, a newspaper reporter and a young student photographer who was standing on a public sidewalk. Her camera was damaged and her hands were numb for days from the needless and tight zip ties.

The governor's First Amendment affront is shameful. It was executed on the basis of an illegal, post-facto rule, which was concocted in secrecy on Oct. 27 -- weeks after the protest had begun -- without public notice, legislative review or approval by the state attorney general. Though the legislative plaza has traditionally been open to free and public use without constraint or prior approval, the illegal new rule requires prior approval, user fees, and a million-dollar liability insurance policy. It also limits protests to the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This whole episode smacks of an abuse of state police power akin to those of a petty Balkan dictator. There was no probable cause to arrest peaceful protesters. And there was no precedent for interrupting protesters' traditional and constitutional rights to use the Capitol plaza to make known their grievances about government tax policies.

In Haslam's case, the irony of his illegal action in the middle of the night to squash the Occupy Wall Street protest is especially notable. The movement, as the ACLU petition for the federal injunction noted, is an effort to call attention to the imbalance in the nation's financial system and to prompt lawmakers' concerns about the consequences of such policies to ordinary working families. Haslam's personal wealth, as a member of a family that owns a national chain of Pilot Oil truck stops worth billions of dollars, surely puts him among the nation's wealthiest families, the beneficiaries of such government-endorsed largesse.

First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and protest government policies merit constant protection and respect. Gov. Haslam owes the protesters an apology, and a commitment to observe their First Amendments. Nothing less than that is acceptable.

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EaTn said...

On national news the governor paraded his right-wing forced control upon citizens expressing their constitutional rights. I wasn't surprised but I'm sure all those prospective Nashville tourists were impressed.

November 3, 2011 at 6:50 a.m.
Fire_Obama said...

Whether it was the tax protests or the tea party there has never been a conservative protest take over an area and deprive anyone else of the use of the area or refuse to get permits for their activities. It is interesting. The OWS crowd is all the things the lame stream media falsely claimed were true of the Tea Party. They claimed we were racists, but anyone showing up with a racist sign or tee shirt were surrounded and asked to leave. They claimed we were haters, but the only way you could claim that is if anything that disagreed with their point of view was "hate speech". When ever we left an area it was always cleaner than when we arrived, but the longer these people stay the more untenable the area becomes. Businesses regarded us well and appreciated our presence and the gentle kindness and courteousness of our group. To compare the OWS crowd with Tea Party participants favorably is to disrespect the Tea Party. Name one Tea Party event where participants failed to get the required permits. Name one arrest at any Tea party Event. Name one report of a rape, theft or recorded evidence of a harsh response from a Tea Party member. You can't find it anywhere. Not only that but on several occasions where someone had lost their wallet it was returned to them with all their money in it. The left wants so badly to have a tea party like, true grass roots, movement of their own. Problem is you don't get moral, respectful, self controlled people out of groups that think they are owed everything and don't need to work for anything.

November 3, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.
conservative said...

Fire Obamination--- only your username prompted me to read your comment as I seldom read lengthy ones. I'm glad I read yours though, well stated, GOOD JOB!!

November 3, 2011 at 9:31 a.m.

Where is your call for the arrest of the protesters in Oakland California who are destroying private property and assaulting police? Shouldn't you be decrying the atrocities commited there? Will you bother to do it when they do the same thing here?

November 3, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.
tipper said...

Haslam broke federal and state civil rights laws. It's that simple. The state's judiciary confirmed it by refusing to arrest people expressing civil disobedience--something this country was founded on. If the right can't understand that, they need a civics lesson. Take Haslam to court, and while you're at it, boycott his Pilot service stations. Perhaps hitting him in the wallet will wake him up.

November 3, 2011 at 3:43 p.m.
AnOpinion said...

This issue is not about the partisan views of the OWS crowd versus those of the Tea Party. This is about the right of any person or group in this great country to "...peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances." Nashville is not Oakland. I have yet to read reports of widespread destruction of private property, rape, attacks on police or "atrocities" in Nashville. I would have thought the right to free speech would be one of the rate points of unanimity between OWS and Tea Partiers.

November 3, 2011 at 4:39 p.m.
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