Riverside, CA — The state of California has long since waged a war on anyone who dares attempt to make a dollar by performing on the street. While some of these ordinances are in place for public safety, others are outright asinine and are a clear violation of constitutional rights. The latest example of this violation comes out of the city of Palm Springs in which a woman was arrested for reciting impromptu poetry. But the victim of this oppression fought back — and won.
Amy Marschak is a published writer from Colorado who performs impromptu poetry in public. For her one-of-a-kind street performances, she dons a Victorian dress and she takes requests from her listeners. For example, a pair of lovers on their first date might ask her to compose a poem on the spot to describe their meeting and their feelings for one another.
She’s been featured on local news stations and has performed across the United States. She sets up no table, does not block any paths, and performs upon request.
On March 13, 2015, Marschak was detained and issued a citation by Palm Springs police officer, Erik Larson. Larson issued this citation because Marschak was performing poetry in a public area.
According to the lawsuit:
Larson stated that citizens were “not supposed to” perform on the streets of Palm Springs, and that street performing was “against the law…”
She was given a ticket by Defendant Larson that cited an ordinance prohibiting “sitting or lying” on a sidewalk (which she was not doing), later amended to a citation under the local ordinance that prohibits “obstructing” a public sidewalk (which she also was not doing). Around the same period of time, Plaintiff observed that other street performers were also being persecuted by Defendant Larson and other City of Palm Springs police officers on similarly spurious grounds.
After being issued a note of extortion by police for speaking words on a public sidewalk, Marschak felt violated. So, she retained an attorney and fought the ticket. She later won her case, however, Marschak then filed another lawsuit because she feared, rightfully so, that she will be arrested or cited again for reciting poetry on the sidewalk.
Palm Springs City Hall just settled that lawsuit as well and for Larson’s poor decision and lack of constitutional knowledge, the taxpayers were hit with a $30,000 bill.
According to the lawsuit, Marschak alleged her constitutional rights were violated. She was seeking to affirm and vindicate the fundamental constitutional rights of street performers to express themselves freely in the public areas of Palm Springs without fear of harassment by local police.
According to the Desert Sun, Marschak’s battle was a successful one—not just because of the settlement either.
As the Sun reports:
In return for Amy Marschak dropping her suit, City Hall agreed to “take steps to affirm” the rights of street performers, in part by sending a memo to police about those rights, according to the settlement agreement.
The city council is also revising the laws that led to the lawsuit in the first place.
“What specific changes are made is up to the city’s elected representatives,” said Tom Seabaugh, a civil rights attorney who represented Marschak. “But we did secure through this lawsuit a commitment from them that they will take steps to do better in the future.”
“I can imagine some people thinking that because nobody was injured, there were no broken bones and nobody died – why is she being paid?” Seabaugh added. “I think the answer is that constitutional rights are important, and there should be accountability and consequences for violating them. That’s one of the points we wanted to make, and we think we’ve made it.”
Marschak’s battle is a noble one as more and more street performers are finding themselves in legal trouble for doing nothing other than brightening people’s days as they walk by.
Last year the Free Thought Project reported on the story of a California man who was ticketed for juggling. Reporters with The Jones/Skelton Report, Joff and Alex, out of Santa Cruz, filmed police citing a man for juggling on the sidewalk. When Alex asked the officer if he was really citing the man for this non-offense, the officer confirmed that he was indeed citing the man for juggling — because throwing balls to yourself is banned in the Golden State.
The list of things in the United States to do that are illegal is ever increasing at an absurd rate. From walking across the street to riding a bicycle, ordinances across the nation, enforced through the barrel of a gun, continue to cause undue pain and suffering for otherwise innocent Americans on a daily basis. However, because of Marschak’s battle, at least poetry is safe—for now.