Stamford, CT — Last week, free speech and liberty activist, Michael Picard had harmed no one, had not committed a crime, and was merely expressing his right to free speech by holding up a sign to protest the government's threats to use eminent domain against a Stamford family. Picard is upset that the city is threatening to steal a family's home to widen a road, so last week, he practiced his First Amendment protected right to protest it. However, because more and more police continue to forget their oaths to the constitution, Picard was arrested for practicing his freedom of speech.
Picard and his friend and fellow activist Michael Friend, were at the Stamford Government Center on 888 Washington Blvd last Thursday to protest the city’s proposed use of negotiations or eminent domain to acquire a Pulaski Street private residence.
"I was protesting Stamford’s threatened use of eminent domain to force a family off their property in order to widen roads in that area," Picard tells the Free Thought Project. But his right to protest would barely last five minutes once the Stamford police arrived.
When police arrived, they demanded to know why Picard was there.
“I’m here to protest about the city’s threatened use of eminent domain,” Picard told police. “I’m here because I think eminent domain is wrong. Even if you give someone some sort of compensation (for their property), it’s wrong.”
His sign made his point perfectly clear, saying, "'F**k your property' - Stamford."
“What are we here for? Property rights,” said Friend, who is also a resident of Stamford.
Despite the complete lack of probable cause that a crime had been committed or was about to be committed, police then detained the two men.
"This is private property," one of the cops says — clearly displaying his ignorance.
"No it isn't," Picard responded. "It's a government building."
"Oh, yeah, you're right," the cop admits.
As the pair is escorted outside, more cops show up — for a sign that said "f**k."
In total, it appears that over the course of the arrest, seven cops were dispatched to violate the constitutional rights of these two men.
"They charged me with breach of peace and interfering," Picard tells the Free Thought Project. "They initially set bail $250, but then decided to release me on my own recognizance an hour and a half after they put me in a cell."
Picard said that although Friend was not arrested, he was detained and held against his will for an hour and a half.
Connecticut's breach of peace statute reads as follows:
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"A person is guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person: (1) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior in a public place; or (2) assaults or strikes another; or (3) threatens to commit any crime against another person or such other person’s property; or (4) publicly exhibits, distributes, posts up or advertises any offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning any person; or (5) in a public place, uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture; or (6) creates a public and hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which such person is not licensed or privileged to do. For purposes of this section, “public place” means any area that is used or held out for use by the public whether owned or operated by public or private interests."
None of these indicators were present in Picard's protest as he was using his free speech to make a point, not to annoy or otherwise alarm or inconvenience anyone. When police can use such laws to arrest people for protesting, this is highly problematic.
"Word taboo and word fetish appear to have, once again, led to the arrest of a peaceful and law abiding citizen. Hopefully, cooler heads than those of the police who made the foolish decision to arrest Mr. Picard will prevail in the courthouse, and the charges will be dismissed or else defeated in short order. Its been 77 years since New Hampshire v. Chaplinsky and fifty years since Cohen v. California and still the same hysterical drama plays out over and over again in our state courts because of police, prosecutors and judges who cannot seem to fight the urge to allow their fetish of the word "fuck" to blind them to reason. There is no right in America against being offended and anyway, who in this day and age can really say they are truly shocked at the word "fuck?". If anyone present for Mr. Picard's protest was truly offended, which I seriously doubt, then the solution should have been for them to simply turn their heads away. Instead, what we will see will be lawmen, prosecutors, and judge's turning their heads away from decades of clear precedent. The State of Connecticut's case against Mr. Picard has been lost probably hundreds or thousands of times in identical cases tried throughout the land before Mr. Picard was arrested,"Picard's attorney, Joseph R. Sastre told the Free Thought Project via email.
When asked why they would arrest a man for practicing his free speech, Capt. Diedrich Hohn of the Stamford PD justified the unlawful arrest by claiming it was okay because people were "offended."
“We understand there is a fine line where someone may think this is a violation of their free speech rights. However, from the public safety point of view, there has got to be a line in the sand,” Hohn said. “Is it a violation of free speech when multiple people are offended by such signs, or words or whatever? That fits the breach of peace charge and we feel in this situation it was applicable to make an arrest due to the number of public people offended.”
By this logic, if enough people claim someone offends them, that person can be kidnapped and caged and possibly even killed if they resist. Groups of people could go around claiming random people "offend" them and then sic police on them like a pack of wild dogs. This is the reason the constitution exists — to prevent such tyranny from being enforced under the color of law. Sadly, however, these cops seemingly couldn't care less about the oaths they swore to uphold it.
“If this was a sign that said ‘I f---king love Stamford,’ they wouldn’t have had a problem with it,” Picard said. And he's right.
Aside from this being clearly asinine, it's well established by the Supreme Court, as Sastre pointed out above, that arresting someone for using or displaying the word "f**k" is illegal.
In Cohen v. California, the U.S. Supreme court upheld a citizen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket to court that read "F**k the Draft," the court held:
"WHILE THE PARTICULAR FOUR-LETTER WORD BEING LITIGATED HERE IS PERHAPS MORE DISTASTEFUL THAN MOST OTHERS OF ITS GENRE, IT IS NEVERTHELESS OFTEN TRUE THAT ONE MAN'S VULGARITY IS ANOTHER'S LYRIC. INDEED, WE THINK IT IS LARGELY BECAUSE GOVERNMENTAL OFFICIALS CANNOT MAKE PRINCIPLED DISTINCTIONS IN THIS AREA THAT THE CONSTITUTION LEAVES MATTERS OF TASTE AND STYLE SO LARGELY TO THE INDIVIDUAL."
Picard tells the Free Thought Project that he absolutely plans of fighting these charges and, if history is any indicator, he will hopefully win. As TFTP reported last year, Picard held up a similar sign, was arrested, and subsequently beat the charges.
In April of 2018, Picard held a sign that said, "F*ck Free Speech —Stamford PD," merely attempting to point out the gross violations of the First Amendment committed by the department after they arrested Friend for holding up a different sign warning drivers of a distracted driving checkpoint ahead.
Friend was appearing before in April after being charged with allegedly interfering in police duties by warning drivers of a checkpoint ahead. Because Friend was arrested for merely expressing his free speech by holding up a sign that said "Cops Ahead" to warn drivers, Picard went to the courthouse to voice his concern.
Predictably, police showed up and proved Picard's sign to be accurate by arresting the man for his speech.
Both men subsequently beat the charges. Hopefully, that is the case once again.