If you’ve got a gripe, real or imagined, go ahead, shut down the city. The takeover of any public space will be tolerated, according to a directive to city departments sent by the mayor’s chief of staff, Jane Slusser, and leaked to me.
More than tolerate, it encourages them. The directive is almost as much a surrender as the one by Japan aboard the USS Missouri in 1945. The difference? This time it’s democracy surrendering. (The mayor’s press office didn’t respond to questions I had about the directive.)
The alibi given by the city for (non)action is “freedom of speech.”
Over the years, I’ve written in favor of speech freedom for everyone from Mummers to Nazis to Black Israelites. For me, it’s always, let it be. The First Amendment guarantees not only free speech, but also press freedom, religious freedom, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to gripe about the government.
But no right is absolute. You can’t use your freedom to deny others theirs. That’s what we’ve been seeing in Philadelphia, most recently by the foul-mouthed Asa Khalif, who vows he will “shut down” any city activity he pleases.
The black activist has been busy lately. He’s disrupted public appearances by Councilman Bobby Henon, carried out a racist tirade — against black and white cops — inside the Free Library, and blown up a City Hall news conference early this month.
The cowardly Kenney administration pretends that’s protected free speech.
It is not, in the opinion of Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor who’s also the Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at our National Constitution Center.
“There’s something called the heckler’s veto,” he told me. “You are not allowed to silence other people through your protest. You can’t drown somebody out.”
Put another way: “If the mayor calls a press conference, the mayor gets to have a press conference,” said Gerhardt.
If only our jellyfish mayor believed that, but apparently he doesn’t. I say that after reading the directive.
It says “most of our events and offices are open to the public” but if you are invaded, “please try to not have anyone forcibly removed.”
That would be rude.
“If demonstrators pose a safety issue or are disrupting the normal course of business… you should coordinate with Civil Affairs or security to ask them to leave.”
“Ask them to leave,” as if obeying the law were discretionary. Civil Affairs is very civil, allowing protesters to blow off steam for a while. But there comes a point at which protesters must be taken into custody, gently but firmly, so business can continue.
At the City Hall news conference, it was the mayor, the City Council president, and other dignitaries who left, driven out of their own space by two protesters.
The directive cautions staffers to be respectful, “even if you are being disrespected.”
They are calling you an M-Fer to your face — Khalif is especially proficient in the M-Fer, F- and N-words — but you are to be respectful.
Khalif did not originate the disruption tactic. In June, a bunch of pro-soda-tax hooligans hollered a state Senate committee meeting in City Hall into submission. Mayor Nutter’s budget address was shouted down by unionists in 2013. No consequences for thwarting legitimate city business.
City leadership is too gutless to stand up for its own rights, waving a white flag and pretending it is red, white and blue.
You know who else is gutless? That would be the bellowing showboat Khalif, who spews venom into the faces of stone-faced police officers in public, knowing they are prohibited from even twitching.