Econintersect: Antonio Rahman was arrested in the early evening of 15 October 2012, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, on the park-like grounds of the North Carolina state Capitol building, adjacent to a streetside sidewalk. It was not for public intoxication, indecent behavior, loud and lascivious conduct or even vagrancy; the charges were second-degree trespass. Rahman was sitting in a circle on the ground with 18 others who were also arrested. That’s right, they were charged with trespass on public property. The case is apparently not going to go away quietly. Rahman’s attorney, Scott Holmes of Durham, NC, will argue for dismissal of charges on constitutional grounds. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to peaceably assemble; that is the plea for dismissal that Holmes will present on behalf of Rahman.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Rahman and the Raleigh 18 were sitting on the state house lawn several hours after a permitted assembly of about 400 Occupy Raleigh protesters had taken place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Here is what a report by Anne Blythe stated in the Raleigh News & Observer:
When a crowd lingered hours later, Capitol police sought the assistance of Raleigh’s city police force.
By 7:15 p.m., 30 Occupiers were still on Capitol grounds, according to police reports and court documents.
A Raleigh officer advised the group to move to the sidewalk or risk being arrested for second-degree trespassing.
The protesters stayed and arrests were made.
The News & Observer presents statements from Holmes and Rashad A. Hauter, Assistant Wake County District Attorney. First from Holmes:
The Capitol steps are the quintessential place for people to petition their government,” Holmes said. “A small group of people ought to be able to roll over there and say what they want.”
And from Hauter:
… on certain state properties, particularly those where high-profile, politically-charged business happens, the right to protest is limited, in part, by the size of the Capitol police force, which saw its budget slashed in half last year.
The state had cut the budget for the Capitol police to $2 million (formerly $4 million) in 2011.
The state appears to be saying that because we cut our budget the U.S. Constitution cannot be upheld.
The case, which was scheduled for this week, has been continued for another month because “the calendar was full with other appeals cases.”
Occupy Raleigh arrests 15 October 2011
Editor’s note: Many things seem more important than the U.S. Constitution these days, and here we have another example. It doesn’t seem likely that this case would ever get to the U.S. Supreme Court. But if it did, I wonder if fully equipped Second Amendment supporters would show up to demonstrate support for their First Amendment brethren. Or do the supporters of the various amendments even talk to each other these days. Unless, of course, their name is Citizens United and then they can talk to anyone they please no matter how much is needed to be spent from unnamed sources to do so.
- Occupy protest unleashes unusual legal argument (Anne Blythe, Raleigh News & Observer, 14 July 2012)