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  • 1st Amendment rights of FF's & PD violated

    By LARRY NEUMEISTER
    Associated Press Writer
    NEW YORK (AP) - The city violated the First Amendment rights of
    two firefighters and a police officer when it fired them for riding
    on a parade float in blackface in 1998, a judge ruled Tuesday.
    U.S. District Judge John E. Sprizzo said the government "may
    not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because a segment of
    society finds it offensive."
    He rejected statements by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that the
    firings stemmed from concerns over civil unrest, saying he
    concluded that the "true motivation" was Giuliani's belief that
    the float was a "disgusting display of racism."
    At the time, Giuliani publicly declared, "They will be fired."
    On Tuesday, Giuliani predicted the ruling eventually will be
    reversed and said in an interview that it "flies in the face of
    any rational decision a city could make in a case like this."
    He said the city was well within its discretion to say that it
    cannot have the confidence of its citizens "if it has a police
    officer and firefighters who engage in racial mockery."
    Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city law office,
    said, "We will definitely be appealing this."
    The ruling determined liability. A second stage of court
    hearings will decide the remedy. Lawyers for the defendants said
    they expect to win their jobs back.
    Those on the Labor Day float in Broad Channel, Queens, threw
    watermelon and fried chicken to paradegoers and made it appear as
    if one of the men in blackface was being dragged, the city
    contended. The controversy erupted the same summer that James Byrd
    Jr., a black man in Jasper, Texas, was dragged to his death from a
    pickup truck.
    Sprizzo ruled after hearing evidence earlier this year,
    including testimony from Giuliani, who said he urged the firing of
    the three city employees because he feared the controversy might
    lead to race riots.
    The judge said the city terminated the workers "in response to
    the content of their speech and for reasons of public perception
    and the political impact expected to flow therefrom."
    The white employees - firefighters Jonathan Walters and Robert
    Steiner and police officer Joseph Locurto - sued the city to get
    their jobs back.
    They testified that they had no racist intent and that their
    actions were protected by the First Amendment because the float was
    a parody.
    The firefighters said they meant to poke fun at their
    predominantly white community's racist views with the "Black to
    the Future 2098" float. They said they used stereotypes, such as
    the blackface and Afro wigs, because that's the way community
    residents perceived blacks.
    In earlier years, floats in the parade similarly mocked Hasidic
    Jews, gays and Asians.
    Chris Dunn, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties
    Union, said the ruling "sends a message that city employees can't
    be scapegoated to serve a mayor's political agenda and that's
    exactly what happened here."
    Dunn, who represents Locurto, said he had argued from the start
    that Giuliani ordered the firing of Locurto "not out of a concern
    for any disruption but to atone for the mayor's own racial
    insensitivity."
    Giuliani was listed as a defendant in the case in his role as
    mayor.
    Michael N. Block, a lawyer for Walters, said he and his client
    were "very pleased."
    Robert Didio, a lawyer for Steiner, said he was "absolutely
    thrilled."
    "It shows that the little guy can fight back," he said. "This
    was unfortunately a situation where Mr. Steiner did something
    foolish, and he recognizes that. But the penalty imposed by the
    mayor and the fire commissioner was not consistent with the actions
    on the float."
    Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday called the behavior of those
    on the float a "disgrace and totally inappropriate for city
    employees."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  • #2
    Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday called the behavior of those on the float a "disgrace and totally inappropriate for city
    employees."
    For once, I totally agree with Bloomberg. These guys were idiots. So much for a "higher standard".
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

    Comment


    • #3
      They testified that they had no racist intent and that their
      actions were protected by the First Amendment because the float was
      a parody.
      The firefighters said they meant to poke fun at their
      predominantly white community's racist views with the "Black to
      the Future 2098" float. They said they used stereotypes, such as
      the blackface and Afro wigs, because that's the way community
      residents perceived blacks.
      Yeah, right. Now these guys are fighting fir racial equality. This statement is an insult.

      I don't think that they should have been fired for off-duty activity that wasn't illegal, but this flies in the face of logic.
      PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

      Comment


      • #4
        I dont know guys if you cant use better judgement than black shoe polish, throwing fried chicken and watermelon, and simulating the dragging death of a black man I sure as hell dont want you on my dept...And I will be damned if you are gonna come to my house(as a citizen in need of help).

        Comment


        • #5
          The first amendment doesn't protect "speech" that may lead to a breach in the peace or can incite violence...but it is all subject to interpretation...
          ...if you put the handline in the right spot, you won't have to jump out the window...
          -Andy "Nozzles", SQ18, 9-11-01

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by MrFreeze
            The first amendment doesn't protect "speech" that may lead to a breach in the peace or can incite violence...but it is all subject to interpretation...
            Oh no?

            What about Louis Farakhan? What about Al Sharpton? I'll start there, but you get my drift.

            What they did was stupid, insensitive and racist. I certainly don't condone that. But these guys were fired from the FT jobs for something they did off-duty.

            What about the bigger picture? It was my understanding that this float was sponsored by the men's volunteer FD (If I am wrong, I apologize). Did the city governing body take any action against the admin. of the vol. department for this? Do you suppose it would have been a different story if it was a police sponsored float? Or a mayor's office sponsored float?

            I love Rudy. He will possibly be Pres. someday and I will support him. But he shot from the hip here and had no way to back down. Justice is served by a suspension.
            PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

            Comment


            • #7
              Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, No. 255, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, 315 U.S. 568.

              You'll find that to be the case wherein the First Amendment was interpreted, as I said before, not to protect speech that can lead to a breach in the peace or incite violence...
              ...if you put the handline in the right spot, you won't have to jump out the window...
              -Andy "Nozzles", SQ18, 9-11-01

              Comment


              • #8
                First off, these guy's where off duty.
                Second they did not wear any FDNY uniforms so they where not representing FDNY.
                Third they where not arrested...so why fire them?

                Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday called the behavior of those on the float a "disgrace and totally inappropriate for city
                employees." Mike your right. But they where not on City time..
                What they did was stupid, that's all. To take a man's job away? Now that's stupid.
                Last edited by E40FDNYL35; 06-29-2003, 10:34 PM.
                ALL GAVE SOME BUT SOME GAVE ALL
                NEVER FORGET 9-11-01
                343
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                Charleston 9
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                Comment


                • #9
                  It's OK to throw around case law and cite it as PROOF of something. But the case should really be understood first.

                  The complaint charged that appellant, "with force and arms, in a certain public place in said city of Rochester, to wit, on the public sidewalk on the easterly side of Wakefield Street, near unto the entrance of the City Hall, did unlawfully repeat, the words following, addressed to the complainant, that is to say, 'You are a God damned racketeer' and 'a damned Fascist and the whole government of Rochester are Fascists or agents of Fascists,' the same being offensive, derisive and annoying words and names."

                  There is no substantial dispute over the facts. Chaplinsky was distributing the literature of his sect on the streets [*570] of Rochester on a busy Saturday afternoon. Members of the local citizenry complained to the City Marshal, Bowering, that Chaplinsky was denouncing all religion as a "racket." Bowering told them that Chaplinsky was lawfully engaged, and then warned Chaplinsky that the crowd was getting restless. Some time later, a disturbance occurred and the traffic officer on duty at the busy intersection started with Chaplinsky for the police station, but did not inform him that he was under arrest or that he was going to be arrested. On the way, they encountered Marshal Bowering, who had been advised that a riot was under way and was therefore hurrying to the scene. Bowering repeated his earlier warning to Chaplinsky, who then addressed to Bowering the words set forth in the complaint.
                  OK, so here we have the facts. They are totally different than the case of the fire fighters. These words were directed at a particular person. This man's speech was not a public display.

                  Here is what the court held.
                  Allowing the broadest scope to the language and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. n2 There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. n3 These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words -- those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. n4 It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and 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. n5 "Resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument." Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 309-310.

                  On the authority of its earlier decisions, the state court declared that the statute's purpose was to preserve the public peace, no words being "forbidden except such as have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the persons to whom, individually, the remark is addressed." n7 It was further said: "The word 'offensive' is not to be defined in terms of what a particular addressee thinks. . . . The test is what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight. . . . The English language has a number of words and expressions which by general consent are 'fighting words' when said without a disarming smile. . . . Such words, as ordinary men know, are likely to cause a fight. So are threatening, profane or obscene revilings. Derisive and annoying words can be taken as coming within the purview of the statute as heretofore interpreted only when they have this characteristic of plainly tending to excite the addressee to a breach of the peace. . . . The statute, as construed, does no more than prohibit the face-to-face words plainly likely to cause a breach of the peace by the addressee, words whose speaking constitutes a breach of the peace by the speaker -- including 'classical fighting words', words in [***10] current use less 'classical' but equally likely to cause violence, and other disorderly words, including profanity, obscenity and threats."

                  We are unable to say that the limited scope of the statute as thus construed contravenes the Constitutional right of free expression. It is a statute narrowly drawn and limited to define and punish specific conduct lying within the domain of state power, the use in a public place of words likely to cause a breach of the peace. Cf. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 311; Thornhill v. Alabama, [*574] 310 U.S. 88, 105. This conclusion necessarily disposes of appellant's contention that the statute is so vague and indefinite as to render a conviction thereunder a violation of due process. A statute punishing verbal acts, carefully drawn so as not unduly to impair liberty of expression, is not too vague for a criminal law. Cf. Fox v. Washington, [***11] 236 U.S. 273, 277. n8

                  Nor can we say that the application of the statute to the facts disclosed by the record substantially or unreasonably impinges upon the privilege of free speech. Argument is unnecessary to demonstrate that the appellations "damned racketeer" and "damned Fascist" are epithets likely to provoke the average person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace. [***12] The refusal of the state court to admit evidence of provocation and evidence bearing on the truth or falsity of the utterances, is open to no Constitutional objection. Whether the facts sought to be proved by such evidence constitute a defense to the charge, or may be shown in mitigation, are questions for the state court to determine. Our function is fulfilled by a determination that the challenged statute, on its face and as applied, does not contravene the Fourteenth Amendment.

                  Affirmed.
                  In brief, the exposition of an idea, such as this satirical, albeit it stupid, mockery of another race, gender or orientation, is protected free speech. It is not even close to the same thing as cited in Chaplinsky.

                  Here's the link to the case. It is not a very long decision.
                  http://www.hrcr.org/safrica/expressi..._new_hamp.html
                  PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    "...it is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. n2 There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. n3 These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words -- those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace."

                    You don't think putting black shoe polish all over your face and simulating the dragging death of a black man isn't enough to bring the average citizen to violence? I think most courts would agree what they did was "insulting".

                    I wondered if that might be a hang-up, the fact that Chaplinsky's rhetoric was directed at individuals, and not a group. Is it any different, really? If I call one black guy a ******, it's fighting words; if I address 10 of them as ******s, it isn't?

                    I don't think they should have been fired. I think it was insanely stupid. But not an offense for which they should be fired.
                    ...if you put the handline in the right spot, you won't have to jump out the window...
                    -Andy "Nozzles", SQ18, 9-11-01

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      You don't think putting black shoe polish all over your face and simulating the dragging death of a black man isn't enough to bring the average citizen to violence? I think most courts would agree what they did was "insulting".
                      I think it was rude, bigoted and disgusting. However, I don't want to punch them. Although they may be bigots, they have a right to be bigots. You could ask the same question about Farakahn, Sharpton and Jackson. Some of the garbage that has come out of their mouths has, in my opinion, been inciteful.

                      I wondered if that might be a hang-up, the fact that Chaplinsky's rhetoric was directed at individuals, and not a group. Is it any different, really? If I call one black guy a ******, it's fighting words; if I address 10 of them as ******s, it isn't?
                      It really doesn't matter what you or I think. I really think that it is all in the context that you use the word. In the context above, it is not inciteful. You are expressing your opinion. I would submit to you that if you chose ten African Americans to insult in that manner, it would be considered fighting words.
                      I don't think they should have been fired. I think it was insanely stupid. But not an offense for which they should be fired.
                      Then apparently we totally agree.
                      PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        You may not want to punch them. But to my knowledge, you aren't a member of the racial group they were "representing". A black man watching their antics might act differently...



                        Then apparently we totally agree.
                        Ahhh, civil discourse, just for the sake of it...

                        <--------------taking off devil's advocate costume now..............
                        ...if you put the handline in the right spot, you won't have to jump out the window...
                        -Andy "Nozzles", SQ18, 9-11-01

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          You may not want to punch them. But to my knowledge, you aren't a member of the racial group they were "representing". A black man watching their antics might act differently...
                          You missed the point. Nobody in the crowd was angered to the point of violence, either. Are you insinuating that one must be from the racial group in order to be repulsed by bigoted acts? Because this sure repulsed me.
                          PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            It was a white neighborhood, of course they weren't angered to the point of violence. And by that and previous statements I'm not insinuating that ONLY members of a certain race SHOULD be offended, but simply that the likelihood that someone OF THE RACE portrayed might be pushed to retort in a violent manner would be higher. It would repulse me. It should repulse everybody. But being repulsed and being repulsed then acting on it are two different things...

                            It seems to me that the expression is protected right up until the point that someone is offended enough to whoop your ***. Until then, you can do whatever bigoted crap you want; as long as the crowd enjoys it. Which they apparently did.
                            ...if you put the handline in the right spot, you won't have to jump out the window...
                            -Andy "Nozzles", SQ18, 9-11-01

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              It seems to me that the expression is protected right up until the point that someone is offended enough to whoop your ***.
                              OK, I hate the Mets. You are wearing a Mets jersey and are yapping at me about how the Yankees suck. I am now offended to the point where I am going to do dental work on you. You have not personally attacked me. I am not a Yankee.

                              Did you lose your protected right to freedom of expression to root for you favorite team and to hate your least favorite team because I get angry?

                              This is what happens when one tries to limit free speech. You start to pick and choose the places it is applicable. It doesn't work. Freedom of expression is a broad right that we all enjoy. If you really start to think about how a little tiny inroad into eroding it could snowball, I think reasonable minds would agree that it is best to leave it alone except in the most extreme cases.
                              PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

                              Comment

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