Friday, July 18, 2014

Also Spracht Chris Lasch

This is Chris Lasch's words, spoken to the court. I am still floored:

Steve Bass--April 23, 2014

  1. This was, and remains, a political case.

By this I mean that while Mr. Bass did violate the anti-camping ordinance, he did so not as a criminal act but as a political one.  

In October 2011, Mr. Bass engaged in a peaceful act of civil disobedience.  He did it because of deeply held personal beliefs, rooted in his own personal circumstances and life experience.   Mr. Bass has been homeless “off and on” since he was twelve years old, and has a passion for helping the homeless. Transcript, 6/7/2012, at 38, 43-44).  For the last seventeen years, he has volunteered at the Colorado College soup kitchen in Colorado Springs, helping the homeless, indigent, and people with mental health issues.  Id. at 42-43.  As a result of his commitments, Mr. Bass has been engaged in ongoing peaceful and respectful dialogue with the Colorado Springs police about issues relating to homelessness. Id. at 6-7, 44-45.  Mr. Bass has made known to the police on many occasions his view that the anti-camping ordinance adopted by Colorado Springs in 2010 is “a bad ordinance.” Id. at 6.

In October 2011, Mr. Bass pitched a tent in Acacia Park.  He voluntarily returned to a state of homelessness.  This was not an act that was easy for him, and it was not one that caused him any great personal enjoyment.  It was an act of protest, and Mr. Bass let anyone he could know what he was protesting: economic oppression, or as he explained it to this court previously, “whether or not poverty represents a criteria for being pushed around by those with money.”

On October 18, 2011, at 1:50 a.m., the police approached Mr. Bass.  Mr. Bass was inside his tent in Acacia Park, camping.  He was inside a sleeping bag in the tent. The tent was right beneath a sign on a light pole that said NO CAMPING.  Officer Michael Thomson asked Mr. Bass to step out of the tent.  Mr. Bass said, “Hi, give me a second.”  Mr. Bass put his shoes on and came out. Officer Thomson took Mr. Bass in his custody to the police station and issued a summons charging Mr. Bass with violating the anti-camping ordinance.

Although others were camped in tents near Mr. Bass’s tent — including people who had been issued written warnings for camping in Acacia Park — no other person was arrested or charged with violating the anti-camping ordinance.  In fact, Mr. Bass was the only person up to that time ever to have been charged with violating the ordinance.  

Mr. Bass protested.  He did it peacefully. No one suffered in any way, shape, or form by his actions.  

  1. Tradition of dissent.

Thoreau, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks.
The Boston Tea Party – which certainly caused a lot of damage – that didn’t happen here.  What happened here is that Mr. Bass raised, without one shred of harm to others, an issue for consideration by this Court and the appellate courts of Colorado.

  1. Now the Court must do its part, given that this is a political case.

This case, then, is not the ordinary criminal case.  It is instead, a political case.

Ordinarily the Court, as a criminal court, would consider what punishment is appropriate for Mr. Bass, for his crime of violating of the anti-camping ordinance.  But the question has no meaning here – Mr. Bass did not commit a crime in the ordinary sense so much as he expressed himself politically.  Mr. Bass has already been punished, in that his political beliefs have been cast aside by the State.  The questions the Court must answer today are not the usual questions the Court faces at sentencing:  What punishment will best serve the State’s interest in deterrence? In rehabilitation? In incapacitation?  Those questions have no bearing on today’s matter.  

Instead, the question the Court faces is, How much ought the Court be interested in stifling political speech?

I must also be clear, that the Court should not consider Mr. Bass in any way to be contemptuous of the Court’s authority.  His act of rejecting the Court’s order of community service is not an act of disrespect for the Court, it is just a continuation of his political statement.   Mr. Bass has at all times exhibited the utmost respect for the institutions of government, and indeed has invoked their mechanisms.  He knew, or at least suspected, that the police would cite him for violating the anti-camping ban, and was peaceful and compliant when those mechanisms were triggered.  He submitted gladly to the jurisdiction of this Court and the trial, though he was not permitted under this Court’s rules to present the defense he believed he was entitled to.  He invoked the district court’s appellate jurisdiction and the Supreme Court’s certiorari jurisdiction.

Indeed Mr. Bass is here today, once again submitting himself to the Court and its procedures.  Mr. Bass knows that the Court may lock him up.  He is not defiant of the Court in any way.  He simply is expressing his political beliefs, by saying that he will not allow community service (which he does routinely and without compulsion) to masquerade as a punishment.  Mr. Bass is here precisely because he has an interest in the answer to this question: How much ought the Court be interested in stifling his political speech?

Henry David Thoreau compared government to a machine. When the machine was producing injustice, he said it was the duty of conscientious citizens to be "a counter friction … to stop the machine."   

Thoreau was jailed briefly for failing to pay taxes, that he thought would support a government that had failed to abolish slavery and was pursuing the Mexican-American war, that he believed was unjust.

The question for this Court is really: How much should dissent be stifled?  In other words, is dissent really a friction on the machinery of government?  Or is it, in fact, an oil for that machinery?  Did not Mr. Bass succeed in raising, and resolving, an important political question here?  Did he not invoke the very machinery of government to do that?  Was not his political act an important, indeed an integral part of what we believe our government to be?  The Court should, as the traditions of our country do, embrace dissent.

A punishment for expressing oneself politically, as Mr. Bass did here, can only be aimed at suppressing political expression.  A punishment would impose a price on using civil disobedience to raise important questions for orderly decision in the courts, as Mr. Bass did here.

There should be no consequence other than what has already happened.

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