Protests, Even Buttons, Verboten in Crawford
If you're ever thinking about going down to Crawford, Texas, to protest against Bush, beware.
The police do not take kindly to demonstrators there--or legal observers, for that matter.
And even if you're just wearing an anti-Bush button, you could get arrested.
That's the message a local jury sent last month.
On February 16, it convicted five peace activists of violating the parade and procession ordinance of Crawford, Texas. That ordinance required 15 days' notice and a $25 registration fee.
The Crawford Five were part of a larger group that was trying to go down to Bush's ranch outside of town to protest the Iraq War last May 3.
One irony is that they weren't intending to protest in Crawford itself, the protesters say. Nor did they do so, they insist.
As they tried to move through Crawford, the police set up a barricade and blocked them from proceeding.
"Our intention was not to be in the city limits of Crawford," says Amanda Jack, who lives in Austin and was acting as a legal observer on May 3. "We wanted to get as close as possible to the ranch," which is further down the road.
Jack was in the last car of the caravan, and she saw the other cars pulled over. Some of the occupants had gotten out with their signs to see what was going on, she says. But they were not demonstrating there.
Police Chief Donnie Tidmore ordered everyone to get back in their cars within three minutes or face arrest, Jack says. "I went back up to ask Chief Tidmore if people could have more time, and as I was doing this, deputies came up and started to arrest one of our members. Another legal observer was trying to find out the name of the person arrested when she, too, got arrested. I asked, where are you taking these people? And they arrested me."
Jack, the assistant director of Casa Marianella, a shelter for recently arrived immigrants and refugees, was held overnight in the Waco jail with the four others.
Their names are Ken Zarifis, Amara Maliszewski, Trish Major, and Michael Machicek.
Zarifis is an eighth-grade English teacher in Austin. He, too, was a legal observer on May 3. "My intention was just to keep an eye on what was going on, and if civil liberties were being violated, I would jot them down," he says.
But like Amanda Jack's, his watchfulness was not appreciated.
Zarifis saw the police arresting two people, including another legal observer, so he went up to the policeman.
"I asked the officer what his name and badge number was, and he told me, 'Step off the road, I'm going to arrest you.' I wasn't really in the road, but I stepped back four or five feet off the grass, and I said, 'I still need to ask why you're arresting them,' and he then arrested me and took me to the van."
Trish Major is the communications director at the Dallas Peace Center. She had come to Crawford with her fourteen-year-old daughter and her daughter's friend "to see the Peace House" there, she says. (A Dallas donor had recently bought the gathering place for activists, she explains.) She had gotten wind that the Austin caravan was coming, so she went looking for it. She saw the cars come and pull over and the people pile out with their signs. She heard Police Chief Donnie Tidmore tell people to get back in their cars, and she says he heard him warn, "If you leave your protest signs, you'll be cited for littering."
Major did not have a car nearby, so she picked up a sign and went off to the side of the road, she says.
"A television reporter came up to me and started asking me questions," she says. "I started answering her questions. In the middle of that, I saw five or six law enforcement officers coming toward me. And they said, 'Put down your sign,' and I was kind of wondering whether I should do this and would I be cited for littering. They put my hands behind my back and handcuffed me." It was the first time she had ever been arrested, she says.
When she finally reached her daughter by phone, says Major, her daughter asked: "Are your civil rights being abridged?"
Michael Machicek had a similar experience. He came on a bus with members of the Dallas Peace Center, and he had supper at the Crawford Peace House. Afterward, he saw the caravan come through, and he was curious.
"I wanted to see what was going on," he says, "so I took off walking toward the highway. I was standing by the side of the road when I was hailed by a policeman, who turned out to be Police Chief Tidmore. He said, 'You, get over there with the rest of them, get in your car, and get out of here.' I wasn't with the rest of them, and I didn't have a car. I wasn't able to do what he ordered, and I needed to explain to him what my situation was. I told him I walked from the Crawford Peace House, and I asked him if he could give me a ride back. He said, 'We'll give you a ride. We'll give you a ride to the jail.' "
Machicek says a deputy then came over, "threw me on the hood of the car, handcuffed me, and marched me to the van."
At trial, the police testified that the protesters in Crawford were yelling "anti-Bush, anti-war slogans," though the defendants deny this and a tape of the arrests backs them up, they say.
Their lawyer, Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, cross-examined Police Chief Tidmore and extracted an alarming--and telling--concession from him.
Harrington asked him "whether one of the defendants would have violated the ordinance by sporting political buttons, such as those that read 'No Nukes' and 'Peace,' without the permit," according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
"It could be a sign of demonstration," Chief Tidmore responded, according to the paper.
Still, it took a Crawford jury only ninety minutes to convict all five defendants, who were fined between $200 and $500 each.
The Crawford Five are appealing.
Chief Tidmore says he cannot comment either on the activists' claims that they were not protesting or on his own testimony that wearing a political button could be verboten in Crawford.
"They've appealed," he says. "We're just having to wait until we're through the final phase of it" before talking to the press.
A separate legal action against Crawford is also under way. Other protesters from that day are pressing a civil suit in federal court against the town for violating their rights.
The ordinance, which has since been changed to mandate a seven-day notice, is "unconstitutional, overly broad, and gives too much discretion to the police chief," says Harrington, who is the lawyer in that case, as well. In a press release, he called the ordinance a "blatant political attempt to prevent any adverse political protest near President Bush's ranch. The Crawford ordinance illegally chills fully protected expression of political views. . . . In effect, it means that there can never be political protest near the Bush ranch or in Crawford, when he is in town. This is un-American."
"The Bill of Rights doesn't hold up in the President's hometown," says Ken Zarifis.
Adds Amanda Jake: "I think it's pretty ridiculous this President has a no protest zone around him the whole time."
Trish Major says we should all be alarmed by this. "The erosion of your civil rights is like a cancer that starts in these little places," says Major. "You've got to pay attention to them."