In America the air is free and so's the speech, but not outside the O-rena.
This surprised Doug Head, who heads the Orange County Democratic Party. But Orlando officials think it shouldn't have. The arena has been a One Party state since its inception. It's for everyone's safety.
The question came up, as these sorts of questions do, last Nov. 1, a few days before five-time incumbent congressman and crack term-limit proponent Bill McCollum, a Republican, soundly trounced Disney actor and Democratic hopeful Al Krulick. Head, with a few diehard Krulick backers, took up a position on the sidewalk outside the arena on Amelia Street, holding a campaign sign.
The Magic were playing that evening, so it was safe.
Or was it? Head says an Orlando motorcycle cop told him he had to move to Colonial Drive because "the entire area `constituted` the arena plaza and was controlled by the Orlando Magic on this evening," according to a letter Head sent to Mayor Hood.
Being a liberal, troublemaker, probably Communist and bedwetter, Head gave the police officer lip. Told the cop he might be wrong. Wanted to speak to his superior. You know, resisting arrest without violence -- that sort of thing.
About 15 minutes went by, and in that time candidate Krulick arrived with his family and more signs. Then a police sergeant came and told Krulick he could not hold a sign on the sidewalk, nor could his children. The sergeant directed the group to a grassy area beyond the Amelia Street sidewalk which he called a designated "demonstration area," said Head: "This would have had the effect of placing our entire group in the dark where no citizens on the sidewalk could even see us and thereby rendering our effort useless."
Head continued to make a stink,and eventually talked to the security guards at the arena into allowing the campaign show to continue. The guard looked at some "laws" or something and discovered that, yes, Americans in America are allowed to speak and hold signs on sidewalks.
Now comes the safety part.
According to a letter signed by Hood and dated Jan. 3, the police were right: Head and Krulick should have been forced to demonstrate in the dark.
"The officers were not concerned with the content of the speech engaged in by your group, but rather that your group was carrying signs in an area where such signs are prohibited," the mayor wrote. "For safety reasons, these types of items are not allowed in the crowded area where you had chosen to assemble."
Head was suspicious of the rule. "When was that rule created?" he asked. "Was the rule made in the open?" Typical commie stuff.
A call to the arena security office confirmed the correctness of the mayor's stance. The rule was created in 1991, says Carl Hopf, the security manager. Jan 23, to be exact. "It was drawn up in conjunction with building management here, the police department and and the city legal department."
The rule allows paper flyers and talk for up to 16 people per side of the building. But, "Signs, banners, and placards will not be permitted, for safety reasons, in the Arena plaza area," the rule -- First Amendment Access, IC. -- states.
Apparently somebody somewhere once used a sign as a "weapon."
The mayor wrote to Head, "In the future we will strive to more clearly and efficiently communicate the policy to members of the public."
A sign would do nicely, don't you think?