[from August 1999 issue]


The Nazi's were a no-show. That's the good news. But DC taxpayers got stuck shelling out around half-a-million smacks to cover police overtime costs and other overhead. That's the bad news.

Chief Ramsey and the mayor wanted to sue the Nazis to recover the costs because they were no-shows. The corporation counsel wisely counseled against tilting at legal windmills (free speech and such).

But why was the cost to DC taxpayers any worse because the goons were no-shows and didn't have the courtesy to call the night before and cancel their reservations than if they had shown up after all (which probably would have ended up costing us even more big bucks)?

Why in the world are we always called upon to pay costs for the myriad demonstrations that swirl around our downtown simply because our city happens to double as the nation's capital? Demonstrators don't come here to talk with you and me, they come to talk to guys who pretend to run the country who just happen to work here (and, who except for the President and Vice President, mostly live in the suburbs).

We think it's outrageous that Congress doesn't reimburse for the costs the locals have to bear to support national demonstrations. We even recall how sometimes the Office of Management and Budget has tried to weasel out of picking up the tab for us to provide police services during Inaugurations. (Wasn't it George Bush who most recently tried to get away with that? He might have succeeded except we seem to recall our then police chief hinted that Bush might have to hire the U.S. Army instead.)

But there's another thing about this business of who pays for the cost of demonstrating that irks us. Groups like the Nazis, as well as their liberal enemies (our friends), are seemingly never told that they will have to pay any of these costs; because, to impose such would be government unconstitutionally interfering with free speech and the right to petition for the redress of grievances. And that is a correct result, without doubt. However, local groups that want to put on street festivals to celebrate their ethnic heritage or neighborhood's history are told they can't do it unless they fork over enormous sums for police costs. Adams Morgan Day and Georgia Avenue Day come to mind. In fact, if memory serves us correctly, last year's Georgia Avenue Day was canceled because the organizers and the neighborhood groups could not afford to pay.

Apparently, the corporation counsel believes these events are somehow "social" as opposed to "speech" and therefore not absolved from paying out large sums. (Does this mean that the demonstrators who show up at the Capitol or in front of the White House don't also socialize?) But, is not having a street festival to celebrate ethnic heritage or neighborhood betterment also speech? Surely it is an expression of ideas and culture. The only difference between these kinds of expression and those of political demonstrators is that the former are usually happy and have an upbeat message to convey while the latter are usually unhappy (or even very angry) and usually don't have a very friendly message to convey.

So, it would appear to boil down to this: DC government officials have created a new Constitutional doctrine by which the right of free speech is divided into two categories, one--he usually negative--is fully protected from any action by government that would infringe on that right; the other--usually positive and happy--is accorded a less protected status and is subject to government action which might infringe on its free exercise.

Can such distinction really pass Constitutional muster? We think not and we think it is high time for our city council and mayor to review this counterproductive policy; and if not, then some Constitutional watchdog group ought to sue the District forthwith to put a stop to this cock-a-mamie policy that only hurts the residents who are trying to make this a better city in which to live.