Saturday, August 2, 2003

Thumbs down: Disrupters

Enforce order

It's time for Cincinnati City Council to crack down on the small group of foul-mouthed exhibitionists who continue to disrupt the public meetings at City Hall.

These profane clowns are just swearing for the television cameras, not engaging in any legitimate protest. A few had to be escorted out of the July 25 special session on the Convergys deal, after they shouted obscenities at Mayor Charlie Luken. The same small group of disrupters direct some of their nastiest ranting and personal insults at African-American council members.

Council tried to cut off their media "oxygen" by ending city cable broadcasts of the 2-minute public-comment sessions before full council meetings, but serial disrupters still plague both forums. If anything, says Cincinnati Police Sgt. Emmett Gladden at City Hall, "it's been getting worse."

Luken has been quicker lately to throw the disrupters out, and sometimes they are cited for disorderly conduct, but like the movie Groundhog Day, they are back the next week with the same offensive routine. The mayor has spent days in court on prosecutions of serial disrupters, which now seems to be a goal of some of the offenders. One disrupter, William Kirkland, instead of paying a fine, asked to go to court.

Council chambers should always be open to public comment and legitimate protest, but an obnoxious few routinely disrupt for the sake of disruption. They can be physically arrested for criminal trespassing if they refuse to leave, but usually they hurl a few more choice words and are escorted out. Disorderly conduct or disturbing a lawful meeting is only a minor misdemeanor. The courts have ruled that "fighting words" meant to provoke a violent response from cops or others are not constitutionally protected "speech."

The mayor has asked the the city solicitor to present additional options in September when council returns from its summer recess. The goal is to find an enforcement tool that costs more in time and aggravation for the offenders than it does for the public officials.

If we lose control, even briefly, at council meetings, how can we assure order out on the streets? Enforce the law against chronic disruption of council meetings.

Thumbs down: Disrupters
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