Pushing Back Against Government

Governments big and small tend to nibble away at the First Amendment that prohibits them from abridging our freedom of speech.

We’ve seen that here at economic conferences, when protesters were severely curtailed on where they could gather, stand, yell or wave signs. Or when anti-religionist Mitch Kahle was dragged out of the state Senate for protesting prayer. Or this year’s failed bill to make it a crime of “disorderly or contemptuous behavior” to disrespect a legislator or the Legislature.

But nothing I’ve seen here quite matches the case I’ve been researching of Kevin Michael Walsh versus the city of Chestertown, Md.

Walsh tells me he admits he’s a curmudgeon who disagrees with some things Mayor Margo Bailey and her small-town council do – like banning plastic bags only at businesses with more than 12 employees.

That means small businesses and the farmers market can use them but the supermarkets cannot. Walsh gathered a petition against that as discriminatory and senseless.

He says that when he tried to present it at Town Council, he was cuffed and arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. A district court judge tossed that one out.

But Walsh kept pressing the Town Council. He joined a successful campaign against having a Walmart, which the city wanted. He generally pestered and shouted at lawmakers on the sidewalk.

So on March 17, 2011, then police chief Robert Edler Jr. had a letter hand-delivered to Walsh. It said: “This is to officially notify you that due to recent events you are no longer permitted to enter the property at 118 S. Cross St.; the Chestertown Town Hall.”

Then came the biggie. Last November, the 52-year-old insurance appraiser marched in the city Christmas parade, costumed as Frosty the Snowman. A policeman with a police dog shadowed him as he shook hands with kids. Walsh admits he kicked toward the dog, saying the animal was a danger to kids. He says “my foot never touched the dog.” Several policemen wrestled “Frosty” to the ground and arrested him, and the video went out on the Internet.

Judge John Nunn III has “stetted” the case, meaning it goes on judicial hold but can be reset anytime the government’s attorney wants that in the next two years.

Then, just before I arrived in Chestertown last month and pursued this story, Walsh gave “the finger” to a policeman passing a McDonald’s window. He was arrested and charged with acting “in a disorderly manner to the disturbance of the public peace and against the Peace, Government and Dignity of the State.”

Yes, with those capital letters! Conviction could bring a 60-day jail term and/or a $500 fine.

A top Chestertown official told me he thinks Walsh is building up a federal civil rights case that could cost the city big bucks in damages.

Walsh said he’s undecided on suing but probably will run for mayor next election.

Current police Chief Adrian Baker tells me the ban on Walsh entering Town Hall remains in effect. Mayor Bailey did not respond to my request for comment.

Why am I writing on an out-of-state case?

I’m hoping to energize our citizens to push back against our police, city, state and federal agencies that restrict nonviolent protest, claiming they are just keeping order.

Protesters may be a pain in the okole to the forces of government, but let’s not forget that this country was founded on protest.

Note to Mayor Peter Carlisle: Those “homeless” people in their 20s and 30s have taken over the sidewalk fronting the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki, along with timeshare and water sports peddlers, all with their signs, tables, chairs and merchandise.

You do nothing. Why is that?