Censorship

Do Not Insult, Accost, Molest, or Otherwise Annoy the Politicians

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The city of Brighton, Michigan, has adopted an ordinance (PDF) that makes it illegal "to insult, accost, molest or otherwise annoy, either by word of mouth, sign, or motion, any person in any public place." It also forbids people "to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and that serve no legitimate purpose." Either offense is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100.

After a flurry of press reports suggesting that such a vague, broadly worded ordinance might impinge on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the city posted this boldface notice on its website:

Contrary to recent Published News Media Reports & Headlines, the City of Brighton City Council did Not adopt an  "annoyance"  ordinance. Instead, the City of Brighton City Council on 12/18/08 adopted a Series of City Ordinance Amendments for Prevention of Harassment of Citizens and new related protections for citizens from harassment ; and for the prevention/discouragement of harassing type of activity which interferes with the conduct of public meetings and or interferes with the ability of public officials to carry out public/taxpayer-funded public services. 

Got that? It's an ordinance that prohibits annoying people, but it's not an "annoyance" ordinance. According to A.P., "A city attorney says there could be situations where the measure would violate freedom of speech, but that those cases will be reviewed by the city." The Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports further reassurances:

City Manager Dana Foster said enforcement would be a subjective call made by police officers, with Wightman adding he believed the ordinance would pertain more so to verbal interactions and actions rather than, for example, a person wearing a T-shirt that upsets people.

Foster said the rules, which take effect Jan. 2, are aimed at those who interfere in public areas, as opposed to residents who are simply annoying for the sake of annoyance.

So being annoying for its own sake will be allowed, but annoyance with a political aim will be prohibited? Apparently the city plans to review cases where the measure might violate freedom of speech to make sure that it does.

[Thanks to Soda for the tip.]

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  1. I certainly hope this gets tested. A good cut-and-dried case that should turn out well. Unlike the “bong hits 4 jesus” case.

  2. And people say Rand was ham-handed. She appears to have been more of a prophet than even her acolytes knew.

  3. Stop annoying me, peasants!

  4. “Accost”?! As in, “Hey, you!”?

  5. City Manager Dana Foster said enforcement would be a subjective call made by police officers,

    Oh well that’ll work out just fine then. It’s always good to just let cops arrest whomever they feel like it. Especially small town cops who are like Sheriff Andy Taylor, always looking out for everyone’s best interest and not letting a bunch of rules and regulations interfere with whats right. One thing you can depend on, law enforcement almost never abuses their authority. Only rarely in isolated instances.

  6. “Accost”?! As in, “Hey, you!”?

    No. “Ascots”, as in, “Ssay you!”

  7. Cock this fuckstickitude.

  8. Whew. I’m glad they’ll review any potential abuses of this ordinance. It’ll be after the perp spends 3 days in the clink, of course, but whatever doesn’t kill you, right?

    And aren’t there already laws on the books that could accomplish the same thing? Public nuisance laws and all that? This one seems to flaunt the 1st. Maybe they’re seeing how far they can go in limiting free speech? Testing their boundaries?

  9. Well, luckily, its only a 100 dollar fine, not an actualy arrestable offense. Luckily in the sense that no one will be going to jail over this. Thats about where the luck runs out.

    After reading about people getting tickets on cars they dont even own anymore, and the city not dropping the ticket, I cant imagine that hey will be very lenient in dropping these fines either. Plus, if you protest, hey, thats annoying, and another fine.

  10. the ordinance would pertain more so to verbal interactions and actions rather than, for example, a person wearing a T-shirt that upsets people.

    Unless, you know, it’s really upsetting, in which case you will be arrested.

  11. You know Warren, I’m not sure I like your tone.

    Why don’t you come over to Brighton and say that.

  12. It is illegal to annoy “by word of mouth”.

    Any clue what that means?

  13. Let me be the first to yell that City Manager Dana Foster is a cork soaker.

  14. Hey! What did I do? Get your paws off me, Sheriff!

  15. Good man, that Dana Foster. Annoying people should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Like those damn kids in that stupid van with that fuckin’ Great Dane, up on my porch lookin’ for ghosts or some such. Next time, they’re goin’ down.

  16. You know, the original version of the First Amendment ended with “…unless the people start to get annoying.”

    Look it up!

  17. So, no throwing shoes?

  18. I get ticketed every time I go into work now.

    Can I ticket the cops for annoying me?

  19. I suggest that if any of the fine people who read this blog happen to be possessed of an extra chromosome that tends to affect certain social pathologies, please stop picking on prostitutes and random women you see walking in parks. There are other members of the American public more worthy of your talents.

  20. Ok, Here is the plan: Since annoyance for annoyance sake is ok, this looks like a job for civil disobedience. Freedom lovers should attend all Brighton city council meetings and sing “I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves”, example here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7wF4IWK5pc

    The song should be sung at every council meeting, for the duration of the meeting, until the ordinance is repealed.

  21. I’ve always said that the instant the citizens are required to “respect” the politicians is the instant this country dies. Respect is earned, not legislated.

  22. Well, luckily, its only a 100 dollar fine, not an actualy arrestable offense.

    Unless, of course, you don’t pay the fine.

  23. Unless, of course, you don’t pay the fine.

    Exactly the point I’m sure. It’s all about revenue generation these days, ain’t it?

  24. “””Stop annoying me, peasants!””””

    Beat me to it.

    “”””Well, luckily, its only a 100 dollar fine, not an actualy arrestable offense. “”””

    All offenses are arrestable, regardless of how minor. Even if the city or state tell the officers not to arrest, the cop has a 4th amendment right to do so anyway, so says Justice Scalia.

  25. Get Rich Quick Scheme #278: Sell T-shirts in Brighton, Michigan, with the phrase “Fuck the Brighton City Council” printed on them in large, annoying letters.

  26. What about strict scrutiny? What’s the “compelling” governmental interest here? And how is prohibiting all insults and annoyances — of any kind, in any manner — narrowly tailored?

    Actually, a literal application of 544 would prohibit debates at town hall meetings. That’s nonsense.

    Heck, why not just pass an ordinance that says everyone must be nice to everyone else all the time? Then the world (in Brighton, at least) would be perfect!

  27. Too bad the ordinance doesn’t go into effect immediately, because I find those guys ringing those damn bells outside Walmart to be annoying and harassing!!

  28. First the idea pissed me off, but then I thought of Fred Phelps and I kind of like it.

  29. A old saying of Harry Truman was “If its too
    hot in the kitchen for you, then get out”.

    Would the ‘annoying cop’ give Harry a ticket?

    Both democratic and republican officials have
    been known to say, “There is not a plug nickle
    difference between a republican and a democrat.

    Would the ‘annoying cop’ give these folks a
    ticket?

    We are facing real problems at the fed, state
    and local levels. Lets give the ‘annoying cop’
    a break and get rid of this annoying law.

    Thanks and Good Luck

  30. Looks a lot like section 5 here in the UK. Most arrests under section 5, that I have heard about, have been for arguing with the police.

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