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Jewish World Review June 25, 1999 /11 Tamuz, 5759

Michelle Malkin

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Speechless in Seattle -- HERE IS A tale of two protests.

The first occurred in December, when University of Washington students took to the streets to denounce the resounding passage of Initiative 200 (which abolished government race and gender preferences). The students' post-election demonstration paralyzed traffic for more than an hour on the Highway 520 bridge. It also caused backups on I-5, as far north as Lake City Way.

This massive disruption made headlines and garnered extensive local TV news coverage. It involved 150 marchers - none of whom was arrested.

The other protest occurred in November, a day before the fall elections. It involved two men who were hauled to jail for exercising their First Amendment rights at a Seattle campaign rally with Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. No one paid attention when the two protesters were cuffed and shoved into a police wagon. No one objected when a specious criminal charge of "pedestrian interference" was filed by the Seattle city attorney's office against one of the men.

And no TV cameras or headlines informed the public when the soft-spoken protester, Dennis McKay of Edmonds, was acquitted last week by a jury that sensibly rejected the city's bogus case. What did McKay, who has never even had a parking ticket, do that warranted seven months of costly legal wrangling?

He offended Seattle's ideological thought police by peacefully protesting abortion.

McKay is a nurse and a passionate pro-lifer. He advocates nonviolent demonstration. On the day of his fateful protest at Westlake Mall in downtown Seattle, he had donned a white lab coat and blue surgical scrubs splattered with red watercolor paint - "to symbolize the slaughter of the innocent unborn," he explains. He also carried a poster-sized photograph of a fetus aborted in the 28th week of gestation.

Unpleasant? Graphic? Gruesome? Yes. But the First Amendment wasn't meant to shield only the safe, bland and trivial. It zealously protects zealous political expression about the things that matter most. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson noted more than 50 years ago: "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."

On the day of McKay's arrest at the Gore-Murray rally last fall, outspoken advocates of all stripes turned out: environmentalists, Lyndon LaRouche followers and pro-lifers. The police herded demonstrators "voluntarily" into a fenced-off area. McKay refused to get into the makeshift cage.

"A man smelling of alcohol came up and threatened to `beat the s--t' out of me," McKay recalls. Another woman brandished a cane at McKay. "Several police officers stood nearby observing and did not intervene or offer any protection." When three cops ordered him inside the pen, McKay resisted: "I had a right to be there guaranteed by Article I of the Bill of Rights. I read them Article I and asked if they had taken an oath to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and Washington state. No response . . . I asked if I was breaking the law. No response."

At the West Precinct, where McKay was booked, there was initial confusion. Nobody knew what law to charge him with breaking. Ultimately, police requested criminal charges of pedestrian interference and cited Seattle Municipal Code 12A.12.015. Civil-liberties watchdogs know this infamous law as the anti-begging ordinance.

Why in the world would the city prosecute McKay under this provision? Not only did McKay's activity have nothing to do with begging, but the law also states plainly: "Acts authorized as an exercise of one's constitutional right to picket or to legally protest . . . shall not constitute obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic."

The arresting officer, Dorothy Kim, couldn't identify McKay at a pre-trial hearing. The supervising officer, Lt. Richard Schweitzer, testified that the incident report describing how and where McKay allegedly blocked pedestrian traffic was false.

When I asked Assistant City Attorney Angela Russo, who handled the case, why the city pursued McKay on such phony grounds, she replied nervously: "I don't want to make a comment about the case. I don't want to comment. I just don't want to comment." Can't blame her.

"This was clearly viewpoint discrimination. It was outrageous," says McKay's lawyer, Richard Pope. He praised the jurors, most of whom identified themselves as pro-choice in voir dire, for realizing that the case "wasn't about abortion. It was about free speech."

Pope wonders how many other dissenting voices - from the left or right - have been gagged under the guise of selectively protecting traffic. He is considering a constitutional challenge to the city's absurd application of the anti-begging law.

Ironically, Vice President Gore returned to the Emerald City last week for a campaign rally and quipped after being heckled: "Every time I come out here, I appreciate the importance of the First Amendment even more." Tell it to Dennis McKay and other politically unpopular minorities who are speechless in Seattle.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin is a columnist based at the The Seattle Times. She can be reached by clicking here.


06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

©1999, Michelle Malkin