Here is an issue that is ripe for debate on this blog because it involves private property rights, freedom of religion and the First Amendment rights of law enforcement officers.
A group of Christians were protesting against a Rob Zombie rock concert at the Hard Rock Cafe in Albuquerque last week.
A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy ordered the group to leave because they were standing on “private property.”
“You can go or you can go to jail,” Deputy Jim Goff told the Christians, who were holding up signs and lambasting the concertgoers for listening to what they believe is devil’s music
As the Christians protested the deputy’s order, Goff turned to the concertgoers and asked the following:
“Guys, do you want them to stay or go?”
The concert goers naturally wanted them to leave.
One of the Christians then accused Goff of acting illegally by asking the opinion of the concertgoers, but my guess is that he still would have thrown them out, even if the concertgoers would have insisted they stay.
As Goff is leading the group off the property, the group continued to inform the concertgoers that they are all going to hell, which prompted Goff to spout his atheist views on the group.
“I am a non-believer, there is no god, there is no Jesus, there is no Satan,” Goff said.
And that, of course, prompted the Christians into telling him he’s going to hell.
And finally, when they are outside the gates of the venue, Goff accused the Christian who is shooting the video of being gay.
“You must have a crush on me, man are you like a gay homosexual, you keep filming me,” Goff said.
And then the Christians are arrested a few seconds later – under what charges, I haven’t a clue because the sheriff’s office has not released that info to the New Mexico media.
But the media did get Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzalez to say Goff acted inappropriately by making these personal comments.
So obviously, they are having a hard time coming up with charges against the Christians because it’s not like the press was unable to get a hold of the sheriff. I’m betting we’ll see a few disorderly conduct charges.
Or as we prefer to call it, contempt-of-cop charges.
Personally, I don’t have a real issue with Goff stating his personal views. Cops down here do that all the time and as long as they are not physically assaulting me or giving me unlawful orders, I don’t have a problem with it. They have the same rights to their views as we do.
While it may be unprofessional, the real issue is why were these Christians arrested after they had already been escorted off the property and were no longer trespassing?
Although they protested the deputy’s orders, they did not physically resist him. They simply walked off as they sent everybody to hell. Literally.
Longtime Photography is Not Crime reader M.G. Bralley, who is a retired Albuquerque police officer, New Mexico blogger and photographer emailed me the video with some comments of his own as well as a link to a law-enforcement article titled “controlling public protest: First Amendment implications.”
From the article:
Three general first amendment principles guide departmental decision making in controlling public protest. First, political speech in traditional public forums, such as streets and parks, is afforded a very high level of first amendment protection, and blanket prohibitions of such speech are generally unconstitutional. Second, reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on such speech are permissible if they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve substantial government interests, and leave ample alternative ways for the speech to occur. Third, speech or expressive conduct can be restricted because of its relationship to unlawful conduct, such as disorderly conduct or trespass.
So even though the area they were standing in was considered a public space, meaning it was open to anybody regardless if they had a ticket or not, the Hard Rock most likely had the right to have the protesters removed.
Bralley criticizes Goff for asking the concertgoers for their opinion on whether the Christians should stay or go, even suggesting that he might have been inciting a riot.
But we could also argue that the Christians were inciting a riot for criticizing the concertgoers for their musical taste.
“I think the Sheriff’s Deputy abandoned his duty by how he spoke. He ‘got out of uniform,’ by making it personal,” Bralley said.
Bralley describes himself as a Peelian, a supporter of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan London Police and creator of the theory of “community policing” – something we hear a lot about these days but rarely see in action.
Peel’s theory requires officers to specialize in mediation and conflict resolution among other things. Goff did not attempt to do either.
But as much as Goff is being criticized, he never seemed to have a problem being videotaped.
Yes, there is that one instance where he accused the videographer of being gay, but he never ordered him to shut the camera off.
But a second deputy can be seen continually ordering the videographer to “turn it off” while the videographer tells him “I have the right to videotape.”
That’s where the video ends and we can assume the deputy turned off the camera before arresting the videographer.
But nobody is making an issue over that incident.