As a former Selah councilman, attorney and veteran, I am discouraged to see the council sit silently while one man’s political opinions dictate how the city responds to peaceful protests.
I encourage the council to separate the issues presented in the numerous articles regarding chalk and the BLM movement. Failure to wash away someone’s message does not mean the city or its citizens condone it. Whatever your political views, we should all agree the government should not silence acts of peaceful political speech simply because politicians currently in power do not like the message.
As Americans we hold our rights dearly. First in those rights is our First Amendment right to speak against the government. It is a simple concept: In this country it is illegal for the government to threaten to jail a person simply because that person does not agree with the political views of the powerful. The Supreme Court has struck down laws that prohibited protesters from burning the American flag. The court made it clear that they did not support or like what the protesters were doing. Nevertheless, they honored the right to peacefully protest the government in the most extreme way. If the court is willing to protect the extreme act of burning our flag, how will it treat a city that threatens jail over chalk? The threat of jail chills any reasonable person’s desire to speak as much as jail itself.
Despite these continued threats, the city insists that it is not targeting political speech. This is nothing more than an after-the-fact attempt to shield itself from legal liability. At first the city cited its local ordinance, an ordinance that the city has likely never used to jail someone over children’s chalk. Stuck in its ill-crafted trench, the city now cites the Malicious Mischief statute. I ask every resident: How many times has a city employee come to wash your child’s chalk off a sidewalk? How many times has chalk been applied for a parade or celebration and been immediately washed off by a street sweeper? How many times has the city attorney sent you a letter threatening to put you in jail for your child’s sidewalk art? If the city has not been even-handed in its war against chalk, then a court may find that the city of Selah is using selective enforcement to unlawfully infringe upon the First Amendment rights of its residents.
The City Council has the power to prevent this type of targeted political silencing. If they do not support this, then they must condemn it and remove it. The continued political persecution of those with different views will cost the city fiscally and morally. If the council fails to act, it will inevitably spend thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting lawsuits brought by those the city has attempted to silence. Even more harmful, it will prove to the entire country that Selah is a city that strong-arms its residents into political silence.
Again, this is not about whether the BLM movement is right or wrong. This is about a city silencing political speech that it does not agree with. Our Founding Fathers named the right to speak against the government as first in our Bill of Rights. Persecution of political speech is traditionally reserved for places like communist China and North Korea, where military leaders and politicians force their own beliefs upon those they govern.
Selah is better than this. You do not have to agree with someone to believe in the Bill of Rights. How will history judge this action and the silence of those who watched?