Protest is fine, but law is the law

Today, I am “open” to suggestions.

At noon on Friday, a motorcade of cars are scheduled to circle City Hall, horns blaring, occupants safely-distanced inside, to protest Philadelphia’s endless lockdown. They want Mayor Jim Kenney to unlock the city.

A previous Open Philly protest. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Kenney said he is fine with peaceful protests, which is what is being called for on social media, but it will not change his mind.

For the record, I support the continuing lockdown as Philadelphia is still a hot spot for infection. 

I also support the protest because it is a Constitutional guarantee, right there in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Not surprisingly, in some corners of the Internet, the protest was categorized as “far right.” Meaning the First Amendment is “far right”? To some, maybe it is — thinking here of the Second Amendment, the right to own firearms. Or maybe because the participation of the knucklehead Proud Boys was rumored.

Here’s why the protestors will not get Kenney’s attention: They are not “returning (from jail) citizens,” they are not illegals. They are average, tax-paying Philadelphians, wanting to open their businesses or return to work. They are not claiming minority status or victimization, which is what it seems you need to get attention in Philadelphia. 

The desire to work was illustrated in Dallas a few days ago when a hair salon owner opened in defiance of the city’s order to remain closed and tore up a cease and desist order.  She was cited and hauled into court, where the judge called her “selfish” and demanded an apology.

She refused, saying she would not apologize for earning money to feed her children. The judge sentenced her to seven days, fined her $7,000 and said, “The rule of law governs us. People cannot take it upon themselves to determine what they will and will not do.”

Unless they are in a Sanctuary City. On Thursday, the state supreme court ordered her release.

I don’t believe she was “selfish,” but she did break the law. Civil disobedience is a tactic that has been used by, say, the civil rights movement in the past, and it requires you pay the price, meaning you will go to jail to highlight the unfairness of the law. Remember Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? He was jailed for protesting what he saw as injustice.

While we are talking about the law, Mayor Kenney used executive orders to close businesses, demand face masks in public, and social distances between people in public. Violators face fines, as I noted the other day.

But a former high city official, whom I spoke to on condition of anonymity, told me he doubts the mayor has the authority to enforce such orders.

I emailed the mayor’s office with this question: 

“Can you provide the legal justification by which an executive order, complete with penalties for noncompliance, has the effect of law, when it has not been approved by the legislative branch.” No answer by deadline.

If the orders are either illegal or not enforceable, I asked the former official, where is the ACLU?

They have their own motives, he replied.

So I emailed the ACLU to ask about the mayor’s authority. No answer by deadline.

Several of President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders have been overturned by the courts, but I could find no evidence of challenges to executive orders by governors and mayors.

So here’s my dilemma: I am a by-the-book, obey-the-law kind of guy in the skin of a quasi-libertarian who believes in maximum freedom for the individual, because that is the foundation of Americanism.

So it’s a spilt decision — protest peacefully, let your voices be heard, but wait until your elected representatives say it is safe. Or accept the consequences.

I am still for erring on the side of caution.

21 thoughts on “Protest is fine, but law is the law”

  1. In a previous reply to one of your columns, Stu, I referenced how those who control/write/own the law can use that power to destroy a nation. The thought process that says “Well, they (the amorphous ‘they’) passed a law, so we gotta obey” is a process that will lead us down the road to loss of freedoms and liberty. I LOVE civil disobedience — it shows Americans still care enough to dare to say “NO!” That woman in Texas who told the idiot judge who jailed her, “I have to feed my children!” was as defiant as Rosa Parks, and I applaud her.

      1. I wonder where our nation might be had Plessy v. Ferguson not been overturned. I wonder where our nation might be had not Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Some laws DEMAND disobedience.

  2. Supporting your position is the historical figure Henry David Thoreau, who did not approve of the the war on Mexico in 1846 (neither did Abraham Lincoln, a state legislator at the time) , refused to pay his (local) taxes and was subsequently jailed for one night. He articulated in his now famous essay “Civil Disobedience” ,one of the cardinal rules of civil protest: ” If one engages in such action, one must be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions regardless of what they might be”

    Much to be said, concerning the law and being “law abiding”. The Mayor and Governor passed laws – hopefully – in their mind, that would protect the residents of the commonwealth. Although I try to be the optimist, I still question everything. ( I would not have done well as a regular grunt ! ) I question the legality of these laws. I question the advisors to these two power hungry puppets. Are they advised by some corner store hack just out of law school ? Seems like it. I can understand quickly passing safeguards, then relaxing those same laws when they are reviewed by legal scholars. Constitutional Law comes to mind.
    I believe that the mayors and governors take the approach of ,”just do it. worry about it later”. They know that the sheep will go along with what appears to be law. They also know that if the laws passed are legally questioned, it takes time and money. A shop owner ( beauty salon ) can’t afford a lawyer at a grand a hour. You’ll spend more at the supreme court level.
    So what happens. People protest. Hopefully legally. Nobody hears the protest, cause they’re gone for the weekend. This Saturday. A beauty salon shop is going to reopen their doors in Media. They were already put on notice that there would be prosecutions, licensees lost, fines imposed. Sounds like the shop in Dallas, Texas. Same deal. Every possible safeguard that can be done, will be done. Still illegal !
    We will see,

    1. Tony…. Oh, to be the fly on those administrative walls, eh? LoL

      1. Stu, the ACLU is asleep at the switch. I looked at their website after I read today’s post and all of their haranguing is terribly skewed — in the wrong direction(s).

  4. Senior deputy city solicitor, Daniel Cantu-Hertzler, Law Department and recipient of the city’s Integrity Award in 2015 sent this statement in an email, dated May 10, 2018:
    “…………The City’s correspondence with you is over, as are any and all City investigations at your behest………”

    Stu, when you were still at the Inquirer, I shared this correspondence with you, other reporters and senior management at the newspaper, and no one took up this critical and serious matter to investigate and report on in reference to such unprofessional and outrageous conduct by a senior city official. As a matter of fact, there has similarly been no such response from all of the senior city officials responsible for ethics and integrity in city government to this anti-constitutional edict.

    Yes, protest is extremely important but here in the city where our nation and its principles were founded, we expect and demand that city officers, representatives and officials uphold probably one of the most critical elements of our Constitution …….. petitioning our government for redress (of legitimate and fact-based grievances and allegations).

    Michael Skiendzielewski, Captain (Retired), Philadelphia Police Department

      1. Certainly, I will do so over the weekend. What i can add is that during the course of this advocacy, I told many city officials that I would be sharing the facts, evidence, correspondence, of this case In neighborhoods around the city. In three of these exchanges, senior city officials (attorneys) responded to my statement that such an activity and conduct, i.e., distributing documents to neighborhood citizens, was seen and understood as “threatening” to them.

        (1) Daniel Cantu Hertzler, Senior Deputy City Solicitor, Law Department
        (2) Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, Chief Integrity Officer, City of Philadelphia
        (3) Paula Weiss, Executive Director, Tax Review Board

        One would think that such constitutionally protected activity as peaceful protest via dissemination of evidence and records would be covered in one’s first year of law school, whether at Temple (Kaplan) or Harvard (Hertzler).

        1. Thank you. I look forward to reading about it. I hope you have a great weekend. Stay safe.

      1. Stu:
        Primary issue arose from PWD and HELP loans, where one consumer receives a 55% discount on the loan and his neighbor, with the same long lateral failures installed in a relatively new development in the Northeast, received no discount at all. Then requests for review and investigation, as well as ethics and integrity concerns regarding participants in this irresponsible financial arrangement, were never acted on by ethics and integrity personnel, within PWD and the Chief Integrity Office and Inspector General.

        Comes down to this, Stu:

        Years ago, in a case where a citizen was appealing a tax issue in Kansas City, US Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch stated:

        “When public officials feel free to wield the powers of their office as weapons against those who question their decisions, they do damage not merely to the citizen in their sights, but also to the First Amendment liberties,” Judge Gorsuch wrote

        1. Speaking for myself, there are some stories/accusations I am unqualified to take. When the chance of me making a mistake is high, I stay away.

          1. In a genuine way, Stu, I do not understand what you mean in your reply. Regardless of the origin, elements, facts and evidence re the original issue with PWD and subsequent ethics/ integrity concerns, the civil rights implication of such a statement by Dan Cantu-Hertzler stands alone and apart in terms of its unprofessional and deleterious consequences for ALL citizens. How are you “unqualified” to take this story and accusation?

    speaking of law – obey or disobey, here’s one for all of you.
    We have already established that the government, at all levels, has taken charge of us, because we can’t be trusted ( common sense ) to do the right thing. True for some, not for most, and that’s why the gov came down so hard so early. Unfortunately, the gov has not applied commonsense and logic to their collective rulings. Texas being one. If the owner of the salon was so wrong last week, then why is Texas permitting salons to open next week ?
    So here I am at another fight. Cemeteries ( not very clear ) are not to have large gatherings. The government failed to realize that this month is MAY . NMAM. NATIONAL MILITARY APPRECIATION MONTH. Conveniently, Memorial Day is in May. The problem. The government ( county V.A. office ) supplies that Flags and Flag Holders for the interred Veterans. The gov is closed. Most service organizations ( VFW, American Legion ) are also closed. This means that this Memorial Day will not be honored. Those that served will not be recognized for the first time since inception. Except for one cemetery in Delaware County that will have “Flags In” by Memorial Day, if I have to do it by myself.
    Do you folks have deceased Veterans in local cemeteries. Please show them the Honor and Respect that they deserve, for without them, we would be looking an awful lot like some not to distant socialist country.

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