Historic City News has found occasion to criticize “legal advice” given by the city attorney, Isabelle Lopez, that is often blindly followed by members of the St Augustine City Commission without question or obtaining a second, independent opinion. Although Lopez was quick to lead the city to a “constitutional attorney” to re-write our local panhandling ordinance, she dictates that the city police, city manager, and commissioners remain “hands off” because of her interpretation of constitutional law when it comes to violations at the hands of Ronald Rawls.
For city staff and elected officials, including Mayor Nancy Shaver, the incessant droning from Lopez that Rawls recent picketing, chanting, beating of drums and blowing of shrill whistles is merely exercising his First Amendment right of free speech, instead of facing her responsibility to prosecute Rawls, her words are being repeated without any long overdue second opinion.
Complicity or fear of repercussion, fueled by Lopez’ advice, leaves our local government following the lines of least resistance. Presumably, in Lopez view, if the city and its law enforcement officers do nothing, the assault on residents, local businesses, and vacationing tourists will go away on its own.
Do those officials listening to her bullshit not realize that by living in Gainesville, where his wife is seeking election to a six-year term as an Alachua county court judge, Rawls couldn’t care less? Rawls imports many of his uber-liberal henchmen to fight his battle against the peaceful enjoyment of our town from other cities — Jacksonville, Gainesville, Daytona Beach and others from as far away as Tampa and Tallahassee.
Among the usual suspects participating in his now advertised monthly disruptions are known leaders in the New Black Panther Party and the violent anti-fascist mob known as ANTIFA. Publicly available video of confrontations provoked by Rawls and his unwelcome guests are available on facebook, Instagram, and other local websites. Historic City News has published one such inflammatory video; with a Black Panther leader evoking the name of Malik Zulu Shabazz and chanting “black power” then calling for the illegal removal of the Ladies Memorial Society cenotaph remembering local veterans killed during the American Civil War.Historic City News research
So, what of this First Amendment that cloaks the illegal activities of Ronald Rawls but apparently offers no equal protection to the lawful activities of our local citizens? What do experts say about that? According to our sources, the pendulum swings only to the left in Isabelle Lopez world.
- The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without government interference or regulation. However, the Supreme Court has recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. Lopez says breach of peace can’t be enforced. Pfft.
- The right to assemble allows people to gather for peaceful and lawful purposes. However, the government may prohibit people from knowingly associating in groups like the New Black Panther Party, that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a hate group, to the extent that they engage in and promote illegal activities.
The Supreme Court has adopted the Brandenburg Standard which goes so far as to protect speech advocating the use of force or commission of a crime. However, if (1) the speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) the speech is also “likely to incite or produce such action” it is afforded no First Amendment protection.
Specifically, Rawls is chronic in his use of fighting words; a category of speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment. Fighting words by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace; such as calling a black man “nigger” or calling a white man “racist”.
- Words that are a direct personal insult or an invitation to exchange fisticuffs are “fighting words” whereas symbolic speech, like burning a United States flag, is not. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)
- The Supreme Court has held that “fighting words” are no essential part of any exposition of ideas. They are of such slight social value as a step to truth, that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
- An incitement to riot which creates a clear and present danger is not protected by the First Amendment. Feiner v. People of State of New York, 30 U.S. 315 (1951)
Generally, the government may not compel individuals to express themselves, hold certain beliefs, or belong to particular associations or groups. However, as counsel to our local government, Lopez’ misdirected advice does just that. By excusing Rawls’ bullying, disruptive occupation of public streets, sidewalks and plaza, without benefit of reimbursement for the excessive security provided by police officers, the government is compelling most residents to listen to Rawls’ manifesto and unwilling associate themselves with his brainwashing techniques.
The writer is not an attorney. The scholarly material relied on comes from the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY. You should consult your own attorney before taking any action on these findings.