Manchester and Free Speech – Like Oil and Water

It’s like deja vu all over again. The last blog I wrote for Free Keene detailed how the MPD had chosen to ignore the constitution in favor of the enforcement of a city ordinance, specifically a park curfew. This time they’re using a zoning ordinance about signs to squelch protest.

Under the banner of the Manchester branch of the Peaceful Streets project, local activists have been taking it upon themselves to warn their neighbors about the dangers of suspicionless checkpoints. Here is some video from a few of the checkpoints we’ve previously attended over the last few years years.

What’s interesting is that we had done over a half dozen of these events with no hassle at all. The first inkling we had that there might be an issue with the projector came during the protest of a Romney rally last November. The management of Verizon Wireless Arena decided they didn’t like our message and called the police. This was the first time that the possibility of a city ordinance violation had been brought up to us. It turned out that our battery was dying and we ended up shutting down and heading home before the issue was resolved. Friday night was the first time the projector had been deployed in Manchester since the Romney event.

It’s also worth noting that recently the Verizon Wireless Arena has been using the police as advertising / marketing agents at taxpayer expense.

As the Occupy New Hampshire case heads to the NH state supreme court, we begin down the path of a case that is similar in many respects. While in that case the State posited that it had a compelling interest in keeping people out of the park after 9pm because the grass and trees would die and anarchy would reign supreme, it’s diffuclt to imagine the tripe the they’re likely to trot out in this case.

We do plan to fight this one and are still in the process of figuring out the best way to do that. The Green Beam has set up a gofundme if you’d like to help with the defense. The summons cites sections 9.03 and 9.07. I’ll continue to post updates as they become available.

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  1. We live in an age when everything is illegal, unless permitted. Still, I don’t think anyone has yet considered regulating a laser sign. So I think there’s a good chance a judge will agree with you. Also:

    Temporary signs are exempt from the regulations:

    “L. Signs that are temporary in nature and not covered in the foregoing categories, provided that such signs meet the following restrictions:

    “1. Not more than one (1) such sign may be located on any lot;.

    “2. No such sign may exceed four (4) square feet in surface area; and

    “3. Such a sign may not be displayed for longer than seven (7) consecutive days nor more than fourteen (14) days out of any one (1) year period.

  2. Pretty sure the laser projection covers more than four square feet most of the time they’re using it.

  3. Um, that’s not even a borderline case. The Supreme Court has upheld flag burning as protected speech. They’ve even ruled that advocating violence (so long as it is not imminent) qualifies as protected speech. Does anyone actually imagine that any court with even the vaguest vestiges of sanity would rule that a /sign ordinance/ is of such compelling governmental interest that it outweighs protected speech? Especially when the speech in question isn’t anywhere close to the level of negative impact as other speech that the Court has already ruled to be protected?

  4. I don’t see what the problem is. The ordinance clearly exempts you under section 9.03(I): “Signs indicating a special event.” In my book, suspicionless checkpoints are a very special event.

  5. Opinions and views of issues are at times pleasant entertainment to read on a Political site. However in my view WHAT IS USUALLY NEEDED IN THESE CASES ARE FREE SPEECH ATTORNEYS ON RETAINER OR WHO ARE WILLING TAKE THE ISSUE TO COURT PRO BONO.

    It would be worth Free-Speecher’s while to offer any lawyer not just a %age of a compensation verdict in a suit – but the entire award if the attorney will take the case on “contingency” terms.

    That way you might find more lawyers interested in such cases.

  6. Hello everyone,

    Unexpected turn of events. Today I received a letter from Capt. Robert Cunha of the MPD.

    It states :
    “On July 26th you were issued a city ordinance summons by the MPD for using a laser signage device in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance (9.07). Research into the enforceability of that ordinance revealed that it is enforceable by the Director of Planning and Community Development Dept. Therefore , the police dept. will not be pursuing this matter in the court system. The ordinance summons you received has been voided. There is no need for you to answer this ordinance violation.”

    So what’s next:

    I plan to be at the next checkpoint with “beams blasting” and hope to meet the “enforcers” of the Planning and Community Development Dept. I am sure that since the ordinance is “enforceable” that they will be anxious to preserve the “peace and dignity of the state.”

    Again , I thank everyone who is supporting this effort. I will continue to retain council for the expected future confrontation.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.



  1. Update on the Green Beam Case - Unofficial Network - [...] reported here, Manchester police issued a summons for violating a sign / zoning ordinance for using a laser [...]

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