Should protesters be arrested for 'expressive dancing'?

May 30, 2011|By Luke Broadwater

A recent federal court decision that declared illegal "expressive dancing" inside the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in D.C. caused quite a stir this weekend. 

Five people were arrested -- and one apparently choked and slammed -- by U.S. Park Police Saturday as they silently danced at the memorial. 

The incident has sparked a debate over whether (and where) dance is protected free speech and whether Park Police went overboard in their treatment of the dancers. 

Federal regulations require anyone holding a demonstration at the memorial to get a permit. A demonstration is defined by the regulation as an act of expression "which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers."

A key distinction in the issue is whether the demonstration takes place inside or outside of the memorial. 

"Aside from the official birthday ceremony, no demonstrations of any size are allowed inside the Memorial," Judge Thomas Griffith of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. wrote in his ruling, which sparked the controversy. "... Outside the Jefferson Memorial, of course, [protesters] have always been free to dance to their hearts’ content."

Protesting the judge's ruling, the dancers, who were organized by Internet show host Adam Kokesh, set out to prove a point in front of a statue of Jefferson, a champion of free speech.
 
The dancers were warned that they would be arrested if they danced inside the memorial, but they chose to do so anyway.

"If you come out here and demonstrate by dancing, you will be placed under arrest," an officer told them, according to a YouTube video of the arrests. The officer also told them they would have to spend the weekend in jail. 

The first two protesters police arrested were slow-dancing and not causing much of a scene. Once the arrests started, the rhetoric and physical confrontations escalated. 

Protesters were heard telling the police "You hate America" and "You hate the Constitution." Police got physical, and shoved around several of the protesters. An officer is seen slamming Kokesh to the ground and putting a hand around his throat. 

"This is a police state!" one of the dancers shouted as he was being escorted out in handcuffs. "You cannot shut me up. That is not the way this works. You cannot shut anyone up. You cannot stop them from dancing. You cannot stop them from kissing. ... We did absolutely nothing wrong."

Here's a news report on the arrests: 

 

Here's a video entry about the purpose of the protest: 

And here's a longer video of the incident: 

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