Wednesday night in front of the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas I witnessed bureaucratic tyranny in action. There a mild-mannered and soft-spoken representative of the Dallas police threatened talk show host Alex Jones and over 200 people with $500 fines if they held signs too close to the road and handed out leaflets. Watch her in action in the first two videos here.
Irrespective of whether anyone is fined, the threat of fines alone — especially multi-hundred dollar fines — is enough to prevent many people from speaking freely. People may also fear that arrest and jail time may come along with fines.
From around 7:30pm to 9:00pm Wednesday night, over 200 people gathered at the sidewalk by the Federal Reserve building to receive from Jones leaflets and signs related to today's 50 year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the city government's restrictions on free speech for the time period around the assassination's anniversary. While there, many of those gathered participated in a rally spanning issues from ending the Federal Reserve, to questioning the "lone nut" view of the Kennedy assassination, to criticizing free speech restrictions.
The time and location seemed well chosen to avoid causing trouble for pedestrians and drivers. I did not notice a single person walking through the area who was not there for the event. With wide sidewalks and a crowd that seemed happy to move out of the way, it seemed like any pedestrians would have had no trouble passing through.
The traffic was also minimal and slow on the ordinary city street and the highway access road next to the gathering. While the police representative commented that people are not allowed to give leaflets to individuals in passing cars, the only drivers I saw given leaflets had requested the leaflets while their cars were stopped at an intersection to turn within three feet of the sidewalk where people had assembled.
It is beyond credulity to believe the Dallas police spokeswoman's threats Wednesday night were anything other than a targeted effort to suppress speech because of the speech's content. Plenty of businesses and organizations have people hand out leaflets on sidewalks regularly.
As far as signs, some people holding signs, along with US, Gadsden, and Puerto Rico flags, seem less distracting to drivers than the common sight in many areas of a person standing for hours at the side of busy intersections holding, twirling, and throwing up in the air a huge arrow-shaped sign advertising a gold purchasing store, apartments for rent, or whatever.
If the Dallas government is really so concerned about accidents caused by distracted drivers, it would be restricting the downtown high-rise buildings that try to one-up each other with flashing, multicolored light shows next to a tangle of intersecting highways. That does not mean the city government should turn off the lights. But, neither should the city government use ludicrous assertions of pedestrian and motorist safety to justify threats to turn off free speech.