|News Media Update||TEXAS||Prior Restraints|
Anti-war protestors convicted for demonstrating near Bush’s ranch
- Five protestors were arrested, convicted and fined in Crawford, Texas, under a local ordinance that is now being challenged as unconstitutional.
Feb. 18, 2004 — Five peace activists were found guilty Monday of illegally protesting in Crawford, Texas, under a local ordinance that almost completely curtails political demonstrations in President Bush’s adopted hometown.
The ordinance — which was passed after Bush was elected president in 2000 — makes it a misdemeanor to hold a “procession, parade or demonstration” on any public space in Crawford without giving 15 days’ notice, paying a $25 fee and obtaining the permission of the sheriff. After the demonstrators’ arrest in May, the rule was changed to allow seven days’ notice.
The law also says that demonstrators must confine their activities to the local high school football field. It does not define how many people constitute a “procession, parade or demonstration.”
Bush and his wife, Laura, bought a ranch in Crawford in 1999.
The five activists admitted that they never obtained a permit, but claimed they were not engaged in a demonstration when they were stopped by a police blockade and arrested. They were fined between $200 and $500 apiece after a two-day jury trial.
Critics of the ordinance say it was designed simply to thwart demonstrators critical of the president.
“I think [the jury verdict] sends a clear message by the people of Crawford, Texas — Bush’s backyard — that they don’t like outsiders,” said Jim Harrington, the attorney for the demonstrators. “They won’t tolerate dissent or free-speech activities in their town.”
Although permit requirements for large demonstrations are not always unconstitutional, Harrington said the Crawford restrictions are “overbroad and arbitrarily enforced.”
He noted that the Crawford police chief, Donnie Tidmore, testified that a person could theoretically be arrested for simply wearing a “Peace” button or for distributing leaflets.
Seeking to nullify the sweeping law, the demonstrators filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in September. The complaint asserts that the ordinance violates the First Amendment and the Texas Constitution. The case is pending in federal district court in Waco.
The five protestors plan to appeal their convictions to the McLennan County Court, Harrington said.
(City of Crawford v. Major, et al.; Defense Counsel: James C. Harrington, Texas Civil Rights Project, Austin, Texas) — JM
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press