The second annual Muzzle Awards
Ten who underminded free speech
by Dan Kennedy
Censorship is as American as apple pie and violence. Every day, someone
tramples on someone else's First Amendment rights to freedom of expression, of
religion, and of assembly. That's why the Phoenix, in establishing its
annual Muzzle Awards last year, chose Independence Day to dishonor 10 local
enemies of free speech.
Yes, it's true that the Constitution, of which the First Amendment is a part,
took effect on March 4, 1789. But who ever set off fireworks on the Fourth of
March? The birth of the American idea took place on July 4, 1776, with the
adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The Muzzle Awards are for those
who want to be seen tapping their feet to the music of freedom, but who don't
really care much for the lyrics.
This year's "winners" -- as with most would-be censors -- acted, for the most
part, with the best of intentions. Surely Boston mayor Tom Menino thought he
was doing the right thing when he refused to grant a permit to the folks at
MassCann, organizers of the annual Hemp Day pot rally, unless they agreed not
to goad attendees into illegally lighting up. Moved by the plight of employees
and clients trying to fight their way past anti-abortion crazies, Senator Susan
Fargo and Representative Paul Demakis proposed, in good conscience, a 25-foot
buffer zone. Even the Unity (New Hampshire) School Board was serving aggrieved
constituents when it voted to remove Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged
Bird Sings from its seventh-grade curriculum.
But Menino, Fargo, Demakis, and the Unity School Board all violated the spirit
of the First Amendment. MassCann has a right to advocate civil disobedience --
even if those attending the rally don't have a right to engage in such
disobedience. (Remember, Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. went to
jail.) Anti-choice extremists have a right, as the First Amendment puts it,
"peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of
grievances." Seventh-graders don't have a right to be taught I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings. But by giving in to a vocal minority, the school board
taught students a terrible lesson: that controversial speech can be suppressed
at the drop of a petition.
The "winners" were chosen by scanning news databases and by consulting with
enemies of censorship, including Harvey Silverglate, a noted civil-liberties
lawyer and Phoenix contributor; Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney for the
American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; and Nina Crowley, head of the
Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition. The criteria: the person or persons
being singled out must have committed their misdeeds in New England, and said
misdeeds must have taken place (or, in the case of Governor Paul Cellucci, come
to fruition) since July 4 of last year.
Pass the envelopes, please.
FORCING OUT A DEAN FOR LAWFUL, PRIVATE ACTIVITIES
Big Brother is alive and snooping at Harvard University.
Last fall, Ronald Thiemann, the respected dean of Harvard Divinity School,
announced his sudden, unexpected resignation, telling faculty members he was
suffering from depression. This past May another, considerably more
titillating, reason for his departure emerged. The Boston Globe reported
that Harvard computer technicians had discovered thousands of pornographic
images on Thiemann's university-owned computer. Word got back to Harvard
president Neil Rudenstine, who asked for -- and received -- Thiemann's head on
Now, it's true that no one has the right to view pornography in the workplace.
That's why few have come to the defense of Erik Butler, who resigned as
president of the Pine Street Inn last week after he was discovered looking at
dirty pictures in his office. And it's unquestionably true that Thiemann -- an
ordained Lutheran minister who headed one of the country's most prestigious
divinity schools -- had put Harvard in a more embarrassing position than if he
had been the dean of, say, the business school.
But Thiemann was the victim of a gross violation of privacy stemming from
Harvard's unusually paternalistic relationship with some of its faculty
members. You see, his Harvard-owned computer was actually his home
computer, which he used in an office in his home -- which, as it turns out, was
also owned by Harvard. According to news reports on his resignation, the
cyberporn he liked to view was perfectly legal -- that is, it didn't involve
minors, and did not meet the definition of obscenity. It didn't matter. It
seems that Rudenstine figured that, since Harvard already owned Thiemann's
computer and home, it must have a proprietary claim on his brain as well.
The porn was unearthed when Thiemann asked computer technicians for a bigger
hard drive. They came to his house, discovered the files, and couldn't keep
their mouths shut -- in itself a shocking breach of Thiemann's privacy. As a
former Harvard Divinity School tech-support employee, writing pseudonymously in
Salon, put it, "there is a way to look without looking, to help someone
with a Word document without actually reading it, to troubleshoot a system for
every conceivable problem and not notice the things on a hard
drive. . . . Discretion is a virtue." That view is apparently
not universal. Law-school professor Alan Dershowitz is absolutely right when he
questions why it was Thiemann who was disciplined rather than the loose-lipped
technicians who ratted him out.
Following a year-long sabbatical, Thiemann is expected to return to Harvard
this fall as a divinity-school professor. As a nationally regarded theologian
and founder of the school's Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, he
should be welcomed back. Unfortunately, the revelation of why he stepped down
as dean will make for an awkward homecoming.
As for Rudenstine, he needs to do some soul-searching about how much privacy
he allows faculty members to have. No one should lose his job for viewing
constitutionally protected speech on his own computer in his own home. The
notion that a person is entitled to less freedom because that computer and that
home are part of his compensation package is abhorrent.
GOVERNOR TO PRISONERS: YOU'RE NOT PEOPLE
Prisoners, obviously, are behind bars in order to be punished. All but
the most violent and dangerous, though, will someday return to society. It
should be obvious that education, work experience, and some sort of
participation in civic life are crucial to helping inmates make the transition
from cellblock to neighborhood block. Governor Paul Cellucci, though, is more
interested in scoring cheap political points than in fostering genuine
rehabilitation -- even when it involves trampling on prisoners' free-speech
Cellucci is one of two second-time honorees in the Muzzle Awards (if he wins
one more, we may have to consider establishing a Hall of Shame). Last year, he
was singled out for demagoguery involving an unenforceable bill he signed that
outlawed the mere possession of child pornography, which is already illegal
under federal law; the new law does nothing to punish those who manufacture and
traffic in such vile, exploitative materials. This year, he gets the nod for
his politically motivated campaign to remove prisoners from the political
The governor began his crusade in August 1997, when he signed an executive
order banning a nascent political-action committee being organized by
prisoners. At the same time, he announced that he would push for a
constitutional amendment to prohibit inmates from voting. But it wasn't until
last year that Cellucci's ugly rhetoric began to be translated into action.
First, in July 1998, the legislature overwhelmingly approved an amendment to
the Massachusetts Constitution that would take away the right of prisoners to
cast absentee ballots. If the legislature passes the amendment again during the
current session, and if the state's voters approve it as a ballot question,
only three remaining states -- Maine, Vermont, and Utah -- will allow prisoners
a voice in the political process.
Then, in October, Suffolk Superior Court judge John Cratsley upheld Cellucci's
ban of the prisoners' PAC, arguing that the governor was merely "preserving
order and authority." To date, though, the only PAC-related breakdown in order
was the result not of the inmates' organizing activities, but, rather, of
Cellucci's actions. Shortly after he announced his ban, prison guards searched
cells for contraband political literature, notwithstanding the fact that, at
that particular moment, the PAC was still officially registered with the
state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
"When you sentence someone to prison, they lose their liberties for a reason,"
Cellucci once ungrammatically observed in explaining why he found it
"repugnant" that inmates had the right to vote. Actually, there are several
reasons for sending a person to prison: punishment, the chance for redemption,
and preparation for the inmate, upon his or her release, to become a productive
member of society.
In a 15-second sound-bite culture, Cellucci's denunciations of prisoners may
sound appealing. But prisoners have already been forced to give up most of
their constitutional rights -- including, most profoundly, their right to
freedom. Taking the First Amendment away from them is excessive and
counterproductive. Cruel and unusual punishment, you might say.
The New England God squad
FOUR REPUBLICANS, TEN COMMANDMENTS
In a moment of memorably low political camp last month, the US House of
Representatives -- unable to approve a meaningful gun-control bill in response
to the massacre in Littleton, Colorado -- turned to the Good Book instead. On a
vote of 248 to 180, the Republican-controlled House gave states the right to
post the Ten Commandments in public schools and other government buildings. No
doubt Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris would never have embarked on their
murderous rampage if the principal had been allowed to post THOU SHALT NOT KILL
next to the football schedule.
New England has less to feel foolish about than the rest of the country: the
region's House members voted against the measure, 19 to 4. Among the nays were
the 10 members of Massachusetts's all-Democratic delegation. However, four New
Englanders -- all Republicans -- strayed from the path of common sense and
constitutionality: New Hampshire's Charles Bass and John "The Younger" Sununu,
and Connecticut's Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays. What's particularly
distressing is that there wasn't a single Republican vote from New England
against the Ten Commandments. New England Republicans have a reputation
for moderation and, on occasion, sentient thought. That may have to be
reconsidered in light of their allegiance to House majority whip Tom DeLay, who
pushed for the measure under the slogan "God, not guns." (DeLay's actual
position might be more accurately summarized as "God and guns.")
A crucial part of freedom of religion is freedom from religion. The
Supreme Court has recognized that for decades, going back to the 1960s, when it
wisely declared that school prayer was unconstitutional. More specifically, the
Court ruled 18 years ago that a measure almost identical to DeLay's folly did
not pass constitutional muster.
The House vote was a great moment for Charlton Heston, who, as president of
the National Rifle Association, fought against gun restrictions -- and who, as
Moses on the big screen, received the Ten Commandments directly from the Big
Guy. It was not, however, a great moment for the House, or for the
Perhaps Bass, Sununu, Johnson, and Shays believed they needed to curry favor
with the vindictive DeLay, and contented themselves with the knowledge that the
Ten Commandments bill will never make it out of a House-Senate conference
committee. Or that, even if it does, Bill Clinton will veto it. (Don't count on
that; Clinton would never let the Constitution stand in the way of his
pathological need to pander.) Or that, in the end, the Supreme Court will
strike it down.
What's on the record, though, is that they had a chance to strike a blow in
the name of freedom of religion. And they walked away.
Unity (NH) School Board
STUDENTS CAN'T LEARN WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS
Since its first publication, in 1970, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings has been part of the canon of American literature. As one
of the few works by an African-American woman in that canon, Angelou's
autobiography is an invaluable exception to the "dead white males" to whom
schoolchildren are usually introduced.
This past April, though, the Unity (New Hampshire) School Board dropped the
book from its seventh-grade curriculum. The reason: 86 people -- out of about
1400 residents -- signed a petition demanding its removal, on the basis of
Angelou's graphic description of being raped by her mother's boyfriend when she
was eight years old.
"My daughter is still a child. I feel this book will rob her of her
childhood," Shiela Purington told the Associated Press. "She is only 13 years
old. I think this book is too sexually explicit for her and the other children
in her class. My daughter has no idea what is going on, and she is very
uncomfortable reading it out loud in a mixed class." Another parent, Mary Gere,
actually said, "If this book were a movie, it would be considered child
pornography, and the parties responsible would be in prison." And surely they
would be if Gere were in charge.
Of course, in the world of local school-board politics, the right of 86 people
to keep their children enveloped in a haze of unreality (a haze that in all
likelihood exists only in the parents' minds) supersedes the right of the
majority to have their children introduced, in school, to important, difficult
Unfortunately, there's nothing exceptional about what happened in Unity.
According to the American Library Association, 5246 "challenges" were reported
between 1990 and '98, a "challenge" being an attempt to remove a book from a
library or a curriculum. Of these, 1299 challenges were to "sexually explicit"
material; 1134 to material that used "offensive language"; 1062 to material
thought to be unsuited to a particular age group; 744 to material with an
"occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism"; and 474 to material with a
gay or lesbian theme, or "promoting homosexuality."
Nor are challenges to Caged Bird unusual. In fact, the library
association reports that it was the fourth-most-challenged book of 1998,
behind Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (1974), Nobel Prize winner
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937), and R.L. Stine's
Goosebumps and Fear Street series.
It may be scarce comfort to the literate-but-silent majority of Unity, but it
could have been worse. The Unity School Board also received a petition to
remove I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from the Unity Elementary School
library. The board rejected that petition -- not out of any particular regard
for the First Amendment but because, as schools superintendent Robert Patterson
explained, removing it from the curriculum was one thing, but banning it from
the library would invite a court challenge the board would almost surely
Susan Fargo and Paul Demakis
BUFFER ZONES WOULD CHILL PEACEFUL PROTEST
Violence by anti-choice extremists is a terrible dilemma, one that
almost invites overreaction. But banning reasonable protest -- doing the wrong
thing for the right motive, in other words -- is not an acceptable response.
Even though physicians who perform abortions, such as David Gunn and Barnett
Slepian, have been assassinated. Even though John Salvi was able to walk into
two women's health clinics in 1994 and kill two young women, Shannon Lowney and
Lee Ann Nichols, who were working there.
A federal law passed five years ago that prevents anti-choice protesters from
blocking women who are trying to enter abortion clinics strikes a sensible
balance between free speech and free access. A state bill sponsored by Senator
Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln) and Representative Paul Demakis (D-Back Bay) does not.
Their proposal would require protesters to stand at least 25 feet from the
entrance of an abortion clinic. As unnerving as it surely is for a woman to
have to walk through a gauntlet of Bible-thumping demonstrators waving posters
depicting bloody fetuses, it is unquestionably the constitutional right of
those demonstrators to be there. Demakis and Fargo would take that right
The buffer zone would not have prevented Salvi from bursting into two
Brookline clinics. It would not have stopped the murder of Gunn, shot outside a
clinic from some distance away, or of Slepian, shot through a window at his
home. Indeed, over the past two decades, anti-choice extremists have been
responsible for seven murders, some 16 attempted murders, more than 200
bombings and acts of arson, and hundreds of death threats, bomb threats, and
acts of vandalism. A buffer zone would not have prevented any of these
incidents of domestic terrorism from taking place.
Those facts have not stopped Demakis and Fargo from engaging in disingenuous
rhetoric. "Existing law is insufficient to prevent harassment and intimidation,
and I believe this approach best balances the rights of patients and employees
to go about their business unimpeded with the First Amendment rights of people
protesting the abortion issue," Demakis told the Boston Herald. "The
level of violence has increased," Fargo told the Boston Globe. "This is
not an abortion bill. This is a public-safety bill."
No, it isn't. This is a bill to make those who go to women's health clinics,
whether to work or obtain services, feel more comfortable; to keep the
chanting, hollering crazies at a polite distance. It's understandable, but it's
wrong. Free speech is only as strong as our willingness to defend its most
obnoxious outbursts. That's because the definition of obnoxious depends on
whose side you're on. Protesters against the Vietnam War, after all, wouldn't
have been able to piss on the Pentagon if they'd been kept 25 feet away.
Fargo and Demakis may be acting with the best of intentions, but that's true
of almost all would-be censors. The legislature should vote this down.
SUPERINTENDENT TO PARENTS: SO SUE ME
Other than Governor Paul Cellucci, our only second-time winner is
Suzanne Schrader, schools superintendent in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Portsmouth should be proud of Schrader's achievement. A governor's life, after
all, is filled with opportunities to suppress speech if he's so inclined. A
school official in a medium-size city, by contrast, must make do with less
promising material. Last year, Schrader earned a Muzzle Award for her
heavy-handed censorship of the high-school newspaper. This year, she has been
singled out for her one-size-fits-all fashion sense.
Schrader, of course, wasn't the only school official whose first instinct
following the shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was to do precisely the wrong
thing. But her outspoken contempt for students' free-expression rights deserves
special mention. The day after the shootings, a confusing time when sensible
people were still trying to separate fact from media myth, Schrader announced
that kids would be banned from wearing clothing that evoked Marilyn Manson
and/or the goth movement. No black trench coats, either. "When kids come back
from vacation, they better not even think about wearing Marilyn Manson,"
Schrader told the Portsmouth Herald. "Parents are welcome to challenge
me in court."
Implicit in Schrader's statement is the fact that she knew what she was
doing was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, a constitutional right isn't much of
a right if ordinary citizens have to pay a lawyer to enforce it. Fortunately,
Schrader -- perhaps prodded by her employer, the Portsmouth School Board --
quickly had a change of heart. Before students had even returned from April
vacation, Schrader announced that the ban had been lifted, and asked kids not
to do anything crazy -- like, you know, wear something black -- until the board
had had a chance to review and update its dress-code policy. "If every student
at Portsmouth High School voluntarily agrees to refrain from such clothing
until the new policy is in place, it will be a powerful act of respect for our
slain peers," Schrader shamelessly wrote in a letter to parents.
Last year, Schrader killed an editorial in the Paper Clip, the
high-school newspaper, that charged that a drama teacher who had been suspended
for failing to report a relationship between one of his colleagues and an
18-year-old student was being punished unfairly, because a number of other
faculty members were also aware of the affair and did nothing. The
Portsmouth Herald later published the editorial on its front page.
Faculty adviser Lynda Bettcher barely avoided an official reprimand after she
embarrassed Schrader by calling the student editors "courageous" at graduation
Thus it was fitting that one of the more outspoken reactions to
Schrader's almost-ban on Manson/goth/black clothing was an editorial in the
Paper Clip by co-editor Gabrielle Johnson, who expressed frustration
over the lack of communication between Schrader and students. "I never felt
threatened by anyone wearing a T-shirt," Johnson told the Herald. "That
stuff is on the outside. What is important is what is on the inside."
Sound advice. Schrader should pay attention.
A HAIR-RAISING ATTACK ON COLORFUL EXPRESSION
Like any good legislator, Tom Kennedy believes strongly in constituent
service -- so strongly, in fact, that when one of the folks he represents
complained about her daughter's hair color, Kennedy quickly responded. He filed
a hair-dye-control bill that would mandate swift and terrible punishment for
any business establishment caught aiding and abetting youngsters in their quest
for hair colors not known to nature.
The legislation filed by Kennedy, a Democratic state representative from
Brockton, would ban the sale of "exotic hair coloring" to kids under 18.
Businesses caught breaking the law would face fines of $100 to $300.
"I'm not trying to preclude some teenager from following the practice of some
rock band," Kennedy told the MetroWest Daily News. "I just want to
protect these young children." He added that the impetus for the bill came from
a constituent whose 10-year-old daughter dyed her hair a fluorescent
purplish-orange. "The mother saw it and went ballistic," Kennedy said. "It was
just an inhuman color." Kennedy reported that the mother could neither wash out
the dye nor color over it, and that the daughter had to endure the taunts of
her classmates until her hair grew out. You've got to hand it to Kennedy: he
really does his research.
At a time when politicians more than ever love to invoke The Family in pious
and reverential tones, Kennedy apparently believes that families can't truly
thrive without the heavy hand of the government to back them up. When the
purplish-orange-haired girl's mother dialed her state rep, sensible responses
might have ranged from a respectful "So what?" to, at most, a suggestion that
Mom might just ground her daughter rather than make a legislative case out of
it. By actually drafting a bill, Kennedy is sending a subliminal message that
parents are powerless, and the government must intervene if children are to be
Then, too, Kennedy assumes that the government is actually capable of stopping
kids from coloring their hair any way they choose. Despite an absolute
prohibition on tattooing in Massachusetts, there is not a noticeable lack of
permanently inked skin on the teenage population of this state. Nor does any
underage kid who wants various body parts pierced seem to encounter much
difficulty finding someone to do it. Yet Kennedy believes -- or, at least,
wants an upset voter to believe -- that the state can put a stop to a practice
that is harmless and requires only inexpensive supplies that can be picked up
in one quick trip to the local CVS.
Even the conservative Boston Herald editorial page lambasted Kennedy's
bill: "What's next -- requiring hair stylists to get notes from home before
they give kids exotic cuts? Or what about regulating the sale of those
outrageous nail-polish colors teens are so fond of?"
Kennedy's bill was assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee. If there is any
sense whatsoever on Beacon Hill, it will never again see the light of day.
FIRST AMENDMENT, 3; MAYOR, 0
Boston mayor Tom Menino has built a reputation as a man who likes
things to run his way. When he doesn't get what he wants, his first inclination
is to lash out. And if someone's free-speech rights form an obstacle in his
path, well, too bad.
Last summer Menino went up against the First Amendment three times. Each time,
the First Amendment was the winner.
First, US District Court judge George O'Toole ruled that Menino and his
administration erred in 1994 when they refused to give a parade permit to the
Nationalist Movement, a white-supremacist group that wanted to march through
South Boston. Richard Barrett, the leader of this tiny band of hatemongers, won
damages of more than $80,000. What made it worse was that Barrett and about 30
supporters held their 1994 march anyway, without a permit, protected from
Southie's outraged citizenry by a phalanx of Boston Police officers.
Then, Suffolk Superior Court judge Carol Ball issued a temporary restraining
order against Menino's licensing officials, ruling that they had exceeded their
authority when they stripped Seth Greenberg of the entertainment license he
needed to operate the Paradise nightclub. The city had cited chronic
overcrowding. But Greenberg's lawyers argued that the city, by shutting the
club rather than simply cracking down on code problems, had violated the First
Amendment rights of the performers. Ball agreed that Greenberg should be
allowed to continue operating the Paradise while challenging the city in
Finally, and most significantly, Menino tried to wipe out the annual Freedom
Rally, a peaceful pro-marijuana demonstration held on Boston Common every
October. Judge Ball ruled that Menino had violated the free-speech rights of
the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition by rejecting its request for a
Despite the city's contention that past rallies had been marked by rampant
illegal pot-smoking, vendors without permits, and even a dangerously large
propane tank, Ball found that the city's true, and unconstitutional, motivation
was to stop MassCann from speaking out. Indeed, the city had written to
MassCann that in order to obtain a permit, organizers must "refrain from
inciting or encouraging attendees to smoke marijuana." MassCann lawyer John
Swomley told the Boston Herald, "I'm truly amazed that they've put this
in writing, because it all but assures that an injunction will be issued." He
was right. Advocating civil disobedience, Ball noted, is protected by the First
Amendment. "Civil disobedience is a bedrock of our society: the Boston Tea
Party, the Vietnam War protests," she said, making a point that should have
been obvious, but that had apparently eluded Menino.
The ninth annual Hemp Day, held on October 3, drew about 40,000 people,
62 of whom were arrested, mainly for marijuana possession -- thus illuminating
two facts: pot remains illegal (ludicrous though that may be), but telling
someone to smoke pot is constitutionally protected speech.
YOU DON'T NEED CHILDREN TO MAKE CHILD PORN
The relationship between child pornography and the First Amendment is
an uneasy one. The US Supreme Court has held that this most disturbing of all
expression is not protected speech. Like obscenity, it may be banned, and even
its mere possession may be prosecuted.
This is understandable but wrong, since the real horror of child pornography
is that children are exploited in order to produce it. Though anyone who
manufactures or distributes child porn should be arrested and charged with
child abuse, sending someone to prison for what he looks at is dangerously
close to outlawing a person's thoughts. As the Supreme Court put it in a 1969
obscenity case, before its unfortunate, decades-long retreat: "If the First
Amendment means anything, it means that the State has no business telling a
man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he
Then there is First Circuit Court of Appeals judge Hugh Bownes. In a shocking
decision last January, Bownes upheld a bizarre 1996 federal law that prohibits
the possession of child pornography even if it turns out that the materials in
question aren't really child pornography. Bownes has turned
anti-child-pornography law on its head. No exploitation of children has to take
place to produce illegal materials. In fact, there don't even have to be any
The law in question, the Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996, prohibits a
variety of images, including "a photograph of a real child, an innocent picture
of a child [that] may be manipulated by computer to create a sexually oriented
photo or a fake child [that] can be generated wholly by computer graphics." In
other words, a computer artist, without exploiting any children whatsoever, can
create a picture whose very possession puts the holder at risk of a prison
term. US District Court judge Gene Carter, sensibly, had ruled that the law was
unconstitutionally vague. But Bownes reversed Carter, writing, "A jury must
decide, based on the totality of circumstances, whether a reasonable
unsuspecting viewer would consider the depiction to be of an actual individual
less than 18 engaged in sexual activity."
Thus does Judge Bownes offer up the very definition of a thought crime: it
doesn't matter whether or not you're looking at child pornography; if you
think it's child pornography, then you're breaking the law, and you can be
arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned.
There is only one reason to celebrate, however tepidly, Bownes's misguided,
oppressive majority decision. The person who ran afoul of the Child Pornography
Protection Act was one David Hilton of Norway, Maine, a self-described
anti-pornography crusader who, according to news accounts, downloaded so much
child pornography as part of his so-called investigation that he aroused the
suspicions of federal officials.
Sounds like he got what was coming to him -- although we at Muzzle
Awards Central nevertheless hope he wins his planned appeal to the Supreme
Court, lest his personal dysfunction contribute to the permanent damaging of
the First Amendment.
A CRACKDOWN ON GOING TO SCHOOL WHILE BLACK
Because of controversy over so-called racial profiling, the phrase
"driving while black" has become part of the national debate over race. In some
jurisdictions, police regularly pull over drivers who fit a certain
predetermined criminal profile (i.e., young, black, and driving a car
more expensive than the cop thinks he can afford) and put them through the
law-enforcement meat grinder. Given such practices, it should surprise no one
that African-American men speak bitterly of regular police harassment, and that
the number of blacks arrested is disproportionate to the number of whites.
Now it turns out that there's a junior-varsity corollary to the crime of
driving while black. Call it "going to school while black."
Just a few weeks before the end of the school year, Cambridge schools
superintendent Bobbie D'Alessandro approved a raid targeting 28 students in
grades five through nine, mostly boys and mostly black. The searches -- ordered
by the school system's security forces -- were carried out because of
suspicions that the kids were involved in gang activity. Though not a violation
of their free-speech rights as strictly defined, the searches were a gross
violation of their right to free association -- and their right to be left
alone in the absence of evidence that they were either breaking the law or
violating school disciplinary rules.
The searches were met with righteous anger on the part of Cambridge's black
parents, who packed a meeting at the Cambridge Community Center. "No one has
the right in this town to search our kids without a parent's permission," said
Lawrence Adkins, according to an account in the Cambridge Chronicle.
When Adkins demanded D'Alessandro's resignation, the crowd reportedly erupted
in applause. Another parent, Kathy Reddick, was quoted as saying, "We have a
system that is out of control and nobody is taking responsibility. Who's
authorizing these searches?"
D'Alessandro, though, stood firmly behind her goon squad. Saying she had been
receiving reports of gang activities since February, she told the crowd that
she feared a Boston gang known as the Hillside Crips had infiltrated
Cambridge's elementary schools. "I stand firmly behind our security
department," D'Alessandro reportedly said. "I would rather err for the safety
of our children."
Err she did, especially if one judges by the weapons being carried by the 28
kids: a meat-tenderizer mallet and a sheathed knife, instruments more suited
for wrestling one of the cafeteria's Salisbury steaks into submission than for
waging gang warfare.
The worst part was that two of the schools where the raids took place, the
Agassiz and the King Open Schools, didn't even notify parents that their kids
were going to be searched, something that even D'Alessandro agreed should have
As one Agassiz parent, Lorraine Woodson, was quoted in the Chronicle as
saying, "They can call us when our kids are kicking and fighting. I think they
should call us when there's a problem. Everyone's screaming about Columbine.
Everyone's saying we have to be careful. I don't see any white children getting
Dan Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.