#FreeAssange Activist Ordered To Court
by Taylor Hudak
We are learning that in certain regions of NE Ohio, activists are not welcome to exercise their first amendment right to free speech—especially in Oberlin, Ohio.
Throughout the afternoon on Saturday June 29, my friend Andrew and I were posting signs reading “Free Julian Assange,” “Chelsea Manning is a POW” and “No Extradition” among others with similar messages.
Andrew and I have a pretty good system when we poster. I carry the signs and hand them over as he staples them to the utility poles with a staple gun.
This is, of course, a legal form of free speech expression. However, the Oberlin Police Department does not agree.
On the afternoon of June 29, as Andrew and I reach a utility pole in front of a convenient store, a police cruiser approaches and the vehicle begins to slow down as the officer yells to us that we cannot post the signs “there.”
Andrew, with staple gun in hand about to make the final staple on that sign– turns around, looks the officer the eye, and staples the last staple. Immediately sirens are going off, and soon enough three additional police cars arrive.
Experience With the Officers
The officer pulls into the convenient store parking lot and addresses us. Andrew calmly informs her that stapling signs to utility poles is, in fact, legal. She, the officer, is persistent and soon becomes very angry with Andrew as he informs her of our rights.
Clearly agitated, the officer orders Andrew to empty his pockets and to place his hands on the hood of the vehicle. He complies.
Now, I would be dishonest if I did not disclose to you that it was very apparent the officer was hoping to find something illegal in his possession. And when she didn’t, she ordered him to get into the back of the police car.
As Andrew enters the back of the police car, he is ordered to hand me his phone and I hold onto it feeling very dumfounded at what just took place.
The officer than tells me I am free to go, and I decline. And, I’m still very unsure of what the real issue is at this time, but I can hear the officer tell Andrew that it was not the content of the sign that was an issue but the actual posting of it on the utility pole.
At this point, I can hear conversation between the officer and Andrew. As the officer attempts to school Andrew on the laws in Oberlin, he explains to her why we were posting signs to begin with.
As he explains to her the issues of censorship and Julian Assange she replies to him, “I don’t get what you mean?”
Meanwhile, the male officer sitting in one of the other surrounding police cars, gets out and begins conversing with me. I explain to him that we are fighting to prevent the US extradition of Julian Assange. He, too, was unsure of what I was really referencing.
Once I mentioned “WikiLeaks” I could see the male officer was more clear on what our message was. Yet, he acknowledged he was not completely aware of the details of the case.
I can only hope that after I encouraged him to google independent media sources for information on the case that he actually will follow through.
Interestingly, this officer said to me that he has to enforce laws that he may not agree with. I could easily sense he somewhat agreed we had a right to free speech.
The male officer I was speaking with then pulls out a camera and holds it up in the direction of our sign on the utility pole. At that moment Andrew and I make eye contact, and smile. The officer then snaps a photograph.
As Andrew then exits the police vehicle and the female officer who charged him reads him his citation, we then encouraged her to please take our sign into evidence.
She vaguely said it may or may not be put into evidence and at that point I offer her my stack of signs and she ignores the offer.
As she then continues to read Andrew information concerning his citation, he listens and then asks her if he can submit the signs as evidence. She was vague in her response.
Soon enough we were free to go and Andrew and I walked to his car laughing. Of course, being quite shocked, we laughed and talked about the events that just took place.
On our walk back to our car, police cars were visible at every block and Andrew says to me that they are watching us now to make sure we don’t hang anymore signs.
I laughed and entertained the possibility of their listening to us speak at that moment. We both laughed and then realized—it’s not long before they will try.
*On a side note, it was the officer who had to retrace our path and take down all of our signs