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Peoria and Suppressing Speech

April 24, 2014

 

The recent case involving Jon Daniel’s arrest for a fake twitter account designed to parody Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis has become the fodder for no small number of internet jokes, mostly poking fun at the mayor.  

However, this is no laughing matter.  Three individuals were detained over constitutionally protected parody speech and may be charged for unrelated crimes involving drug possession. It should be noted, tangentially, that those charges rest upon very uncertain legal grounds, coming as they do as a result of a clearly unlawful raid and arrest.

 But more importantly, this was a clear attempt to suppress speech critical of a government official, utilizing the police power of the state.

 Jon Daniel could be dead right now because of that abuse.  Had he been sleeping and reached for a weapon—or something the police assumed was a weapon—right now we could be reading about yet another police raid gone tragically wrong.

 The protection of political speech directed at our elected officials, even harsh or parody speech is as close to absolute as it can be. Within very constrained limits, mostly involving speech that directly advocates criminal acts, we are free to criticize our government officials, even when the criticism is heated and hyperbolic.

 When an elected official attempts to suppress such speech, especially by the use of police power, he is not simply attacking a single individual; he is attacking the very bedrock upon which our right to free speech rests.

 In addition, there is the chilling effect of such speech.  Mr. Daniel’s roommates, according to the Vice reporter Justin Glawe, suffered great inconvenience.  Future satirists may find their friends reluctant to associate with them, for fear that they may also be visited by the police.  This is, in fact an effect that is well known by both the opponents and the advocates of free speech.

 Parenthetically, we should note that his “crime” (officially listed as impersonating a public official) hardly seemed to justify the invasion of his domicile and the seizure of a variety of electronic devices, including video games.  Again, we should remember that any police raid has a chance to end in tragedy—a fact that is exacerbated by the increased use of such raids for non-violent misdemeanor charges that annoy a mayor’s feudal sensibilities.

 Ultimately, Mr. Daniel’s rights were unforgivably violated by this action.  In this case, dropping the charges is not sufficient. Mayor Ardis and the entire Peoria police department should be investigated by both state and federal agencies and the people of Peoria, should remember this violation of rights and waste of the tax payers money when Mayor Ardis comes up for reelection.

 

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