Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Update on Trespasser Rich Collins

Apparently Coy Barefoot, author of The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson on Leadership has joined the on-air staff of WINA radio.

At least it was Barefoot's voice reporting that the ACLU has taken on the case of 57th District House of Delegates candidate Rich Collins, who was arrested for trespassing (a Class 1 misdemeanor) after he refused to leave the privately-owned Shoppers' World shopping center after being asked to do so by the property owners.

The WINA web site summarizes the report:

There's a new development in the saga that involves a local candidate for the General Assembly. WINA News has learned the Virginia ACLU will champion the cause of House of Delegates candidate Rich Collins. Democrat Collins has been out campaigning for the 57th District House seat, and he found out the company that manages Shoppers' World frowns on that activity. The retiring UVA professor was charged May 7th with a misdemeanor offense of trespassing on private property. Collins will appear in Albemarle General District Court on July 5th.
We reported on Collins disrespect for private property and the rights of property owners on May 15. The Hook had an extensive report on the case in its May 19 edition, noting that the ACLU was attentive to Collins' plight:
"We're obviously interested in the case," says Kent Willis, head of ACLU of Virginia. A research committee will make an initial decision, and the case would have to be approved by the ACLU board when it meets May 21.

In Robins v. Pruneyard [sic], the Supreme Court decided that political speech protected by the first amendment applies only to public property, explains Willis-- but states are free to write their own laws to extend that protection to shopping malls, which California had done.

"We'd ask the Virginia Supreme Court to interpret free speech rights on private property," says Willis. "If town centers have disappeared and are replaced with shopping centers and malls, we're looking to extend those rights to shopping centers and malls."

If "town centers have disappeared," they certainly have not done so in Charlottesville.

In fact, Charlottesville -- all of which is in the 57th District -- provides one of the best examples of reviving the agora, the public square, in the form of its downtown mall. Not only does the bustling pedestrian mall extend for more than 10 blocks smack in the center of town, it is going to be the site of a gargantuan chalkboard that will be a living monument to the First Amendment, a place where anyone can write anything they want to comment on politics, culture, the arts, or neighborhood gossip. The chalkboard will also have a podium, representing the old-fashioned soapbox on the street corner that even today symbolizes freedom of speech. Billionaire John Kluge recently gave a substantial contribution to underwrite the First Amendment monument, and Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek emceed a fundraiser at the Paramount Theatre that raised $17,000 for it. The monument is a project of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

In addition to the downtown mall, Charlottesville also boasts an extensive network of city parks: McIntire Park, where the Fourth of July fireworks take place each year; Azalea Park, Lee Park (named after Robert E. Lee), and Washington Park (named after Booker T., not George, Washington), to name just a few of the 23 parks within Charlottesville's 11 square miles.

Perhaps there is some other community in the country, even in Virginia, where all (legally and technically and practically) public spaces have been absorbed or erased by private property owners. We are blessed with plenty of public spaces in which to assemble and exercise our rights to free speech.


Tim said...

The large number of public places in Charlottesville could be a good thing or a bad one.

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