Free Speech: How Far is Too Far?

—— I spent the past few weeks in Los Angeles, where I was offered a unique look into local news while interning at the City Council. ——

 

What is the “Los Angeles City Council”?

The City Council is a governing body of 15 members in Los Angeles which is responsible for city maintenance and governance-- from adopting traffic regulations and approving the city’s budget, to distributing liquor licenses and organizing tree trimmings.  The Council meets three times a week to discuss and vote on items on their agenda, and these meetings are open to the public.  

Tell me more about these meetings…

For those of you who watch Parks & Recreation, they are similar to the town hall meetings in more ways than you’d expect.  In Council meetings, they go through the agenda and anyone from the public can submit a speaker card for any item, and is given two minutes to give their opinion on that item.  

Sounds cool!

It is… in theory.  Most people use their speaking time to share their opinions, personal stories, and beliefs.  However, they are often overshadowed by loud disrespectful citizens who come in just to make a scene.  People will dress up in offensive costumes or wear KKK hoods, but because freedom of speech and expression is so heavily protected in America, nobody can stop them.

This could cause trouble…

Exactly.  Recently, a lawyer who calls himself “Wayne from Encino” was arrested after submitting a threatening speaker card to the Council President, Herb Wesson.  The card shows drawings of a figure wearing what seems to be a KKK hood holding a sign that reads “Herb = n***er”.  In the background are a burning cross and a man hanging from a tree.  

What’s wrong with that?

To most, this card goes beyond free speech and moves into the category of “threats”, which aren’t all protected by the First Amendment.  However, Wayne from Encino, along with a few others, argue that he was merely expressing his opinion and was completely within his rights as stated in the First Amendment.

So what now?

Wesson currently has a restraining order against the man and is waiting for the District Attorney to decide how to proceed with the case.  Meanwhile, some angry citizens are calling for Wayne Spindler’s law license to be revoked.  Others still say that this is a case of free speech.  What do you think?


 

For further reading:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-city-hall-critic-racist-apology-20160520-snap-story.html

https://lasentinel.net/council-president-wesson-victim-of-terrorist-threats-and-hate-speech.html