It’s been a year now since Washington, D.C., officials ordered the arrest of two young people for doing what the city itself was encouraging people of all ages to do — paint political slogans in the street.
Last summer saw a crescendo in the nationwide riots, looting, arson, and other social upheavals that began with the death of George Floyd and the ensuing surge of Black Lives Matter protests. Many Washington officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, were happy to throw verbal gasoline on the fires — allowing, encouraging, and endorsing BLM commotions and turbulence throughout the city, including the designation of a “Black Lives Matter Plaza” in front of the White House, the commissioning of a mural celebrating “Black Lives Matter,” and permitting “Defund the Police” messages and graffiti on major streets.
The officials’ enthusiasm for such public expressions and free speech ended abruptly, though, with a request from pro-life advocacy groups the Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America to hold a street painting and sidewalk-chalking event in front of the D.C. offices of Planned Parenthood. Chalk messages had been drawn at the same location many times before, but this time, officials never formally responded to the request.
A Metropolitan police officer, however, gave the two groups verbal permission to print a street message with tempera paint. That being the case — and the communication precedents set by BLM now established — the organizations moved ahead with their plan.
But when the young people arrived early on the morning of August 1, 2020, they found other law-enforcement officers waiting for them. The officers said they would arrest anyone painting or even chalking a message on a public street or sidewalk.
Two of the young people, well acquainted with the First Amendment, proceeded with their chalking. They only managed the first two or three letters of their intended message, “Black Preborn Lives Matter,” before being arrested.
The resulting legal case is making its glacial way through the system. FDF and SFLA have filed suit against the city, saying their free speech has been circumscribed and curtailed by officials’ double standard. The city, in turn, has asked that the case be dismissed. A judge is weighing that possibility.
Down the road in Baltimore, city leaders allowed similar demonstrations without controversy. Last spring, though, a D.C. judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed FDF and SFLA to do another temporary street painting and sidewalk-chalking event. (They were allowed to gather publicly and carry a small number of signs.)
D.C. police, some District officials contend, are afraid to enforce laws being openly violated (as encouraged by elected officials). The pro-life graffiti artists, they suggest, would have been better off never asking permission in the first place . . . it’s the spontaneous and the violent who get away with their protests.
Given that city officials themselves condoned the painting of protest signs on public streets, the case certainly feeds the growing realization that too many government officers consider themselves to be above the laws they themselves are charged with enforcing.
The case also affirms how selectively laws are being enforced in the current culture. Your ability to exercise even your most basic constitutional freedoms — like your chances of running afoul of the law — increasingly depend on how much those in authority share your moral and political point of view.
In the nation’s capital, meanwhile — as in city after city all over the country — hypocrisy is being codified. Those in power, and those who enjoy their favor and support, are free to speak their minds and raise their voices. Those who challenge any aspect of leftist doctrine, including abortion, are sidelined and silenced. Their views and concerns, like the pavement itself, are something many in authority consider beneath them.
At least, that’s the word on the street.