When Free Speech Turns UglyPosted: September 29, 2011 Filed under: New Orleans | Tags: hate speech, Obama sign in Uptown 38 Comments
I was rather shocked this morning to read about a series of signs portraying the president as a crying baby with text balloons reading “Change me. I stink”, as a puppet of George Soros, and a Dunce in uptown New Orleans. I am always amazed when political disagreement turns ugly. I’m not going to print the offensive signs here because they’re a real test of our right to free speech. I wish people were as equally respectful of civility as some of us are of free speech rights.
Like the man or not, Barrack Obama is our president. We all have a compelling interest in disagreeing with his policies and the manner in which he carries out his elected office. However, the man is the President of our country and the office deserves respect. As much as I didn’t like George Bush and could poke fun of him and complain about him with the best of them, I would still curl my lip at things like watching him being hung or burnt in effigy. The Presidency is an important symbol of our country. We have an elected leader not a despot. I felt the same way when then Governor Quitteralla was hung in effigy in a front of a California home as a “Halloween” prank. You don’t have to like an elected leader, but there’s a way to disagree with them without resorting to displays of hate. There’s a place where free speech turns into hate speech and while it’s legal under our constitution, it’s should be called out for what it is.
“It disrespects the nation — and President Barack Obama represents our nation,” said Skip Alexander, as he looked at one of the signs. “He represents everybody, not some people.”
Dozens of protesters came by the house in the 1500 block of Calhoun throughout the day, demanding the sign come down.
“He wouldn’t do that to [President] Bush, I’m sure. It’s just insulting. It’s insulting,” said C.C. Campbell-Rock. “He’s going to have to take them down.”
“This is nothing put pure racism,” said Raymond Rock. “This is a disgrace.”
The home is owned by Timothy Reily, who declined to be interviewed about the signs. Former Mayor Ray Nagin showed up at the house and went inside to speak with Reily. He emerged later and would not comment on what they discussed.
Some neighbors tell Eyewitness News that Reily has been putting the signs up for months. Some of the protesters learned about the signs through a local radio station on Wednesday morning.
“He can put up a sign if he wants to. It doesn’t bother me,” said Harold Gagnet, a neighbor.
“I think it’s fine. It’s on his property,” said Katherine deMontluzin. “He can say whatever he wants.”
The signs have created such a firestorm of controversy, though, that police came to the scene– called in by City Council Member Susan Guidry. She represents the district where the home is located. Guidry said she was concerned about public safety and was trying to figure out if the sign was even legal. She also said she spoke to Reily, but didn’t get far.
You can watch the news reports and see the signs at the link above. The sign contains pretty much all the usual right wing hack memes like Obama is a Socialist. Did I mention that this is the wealthy side of town and there’s all kinds of diatribes up there on taxing millionaires too? My guess is that this guy is Teabot. I remember them waving signs about portraying Obama as a witch doctor when Dolecare got enacted. The city is trying to search through its zoning laws to figure out a way to take the bill boards down after trying to speak to the homeowner failed. The man definitely does have a right to his opinion, he has a right to express it, but aren’t there less hateful ways to do it? I frankly would be frightened to have a person like this living next to me. If he’s got that much anger towards a politician, you just never know what he’d do if an easy target showed up.
Great post, Dak. I feel the same way. As much as I dislike Obama and even enjoy poking fun at him, he is the President of the U.S. I think it’s important that there be respect for the Office, and to put up signs like that is just offensive. I can’t imagine anyone getting away with putting up a billboard of George W. Bush in Diapers–and in a residential neighborhood too! If one of my neighbors put up billboards of any kind, I’d be complaining to the Town officers.
I’m shocked by this.
Also, this is a historic neighborhood so there are tourists that drive around to look at the houses. What kind of image of our city does this leave with people? That we can’t be civil in our disagreements?
That guy probably wouldn’t even put up such a sign with Diaper Dave on it!
I’m stunned that he hasn’t had to take them down. I don’t think my neighborhood is zoned for billboards. We do have candidate signs around voting day, but not huge ones. You’d think it would be the same in NOLA.
I can remember when Bush was President, hearing people who were hassled by police for having Kerry signs on their cars.
I thought all the historic neighborhoods had zoning about huge signs. I know huge candidate signs don’t even jive with ours so I don’t know how he’s getting away with this uptown. The B&B’s in the neighborhood have huge numbers of sign size restrictions.
This would never fly in my neighborhood. People get upset if you have a construction sign up too long. I’m genuinely surprised in an historic district that this would be permitted. It’s crass and trashy. And I agree–it goes too far and God knows, I’m not an Obama fan. It must have the tacit approval of the neighbors; otherwise I would think the local rep or council person would have the phones ringing off the hook.
I’ve often thought that simply hating on Obama is not enough and in the end takes the discussion no where, except the lowest common denominator. This sort of thing breeds hate and contempt. And those emotions won’t get us anywhere either, except eating our own.
I’d hate to have anything like this in my neighborhood and I don’t care who the recipient of the criticism is …
and frankly it’s anti-Semitic too with that cartoon of Soros
The usual suspects are defending it and showing signs held in protests as examples. There were some disgusting protest signs on Bush too
Note to Malkin …. did any one do any of those things in your neighborhood and leave them up for days on end? I don’t think so ….
Note to dak … these were omnipresent during Bush’s term. It’s sheer hypocrisy to decry them now when I know it wasn’t done then.
Of course stuff was used during Bush’s time. Don’t you think there’s a slight difference between marching in protests on the DC mall and hanging stuff all over your house in a residential neighborhood in perpetuity?
There’s synagogues in that neighborhood and look at the Soros stereotype! Isn’t that a great thing for all those children going to Hebrew school to walk by every day? Seeing the stereotype of the “Evil European Jewish Money Lender conspiring to take over everything” in your neighbor is comparable? See the Anti-Christ meme there? Why don’t we all just put swastikas up in are yard and burn crosses there every night? It’s not enough to keep this stuff to protests around government buildings?
Because they did it to George Bush on the Washington Mall that makes it okay to behave offensively in people’s neighborhoods? You don’t think that’s provocative to the point of being more like yelling fire in a theater?
forget putting up signs.just VOTE!!! 😆
Or that guy should run for office himself.
O/T Anyone here been reading The Onion on FB today? It seems that the Congress has taken 12 kids hostage – it was a bipartisan action – and are now demanding $12 trillion in ransom. Wickedly funny.
What a loser. I’m sure he thinks wasting his time and money on crap like this makes him a political activist. If only he’d spend that time and money helping his candidates get elected…wait, it’s better he waste his time and money on this. I’d rather that than to have him help a candidate he would choose.
Hopefully they’ll get them pulled down soon. Please keep us posted.
There’s a level of mean-spiritedness on the part of so many right-leaning people that I have to wonder if it’s the product of Fox News brain-washing. Even when you confront people with it they don’t back down. An example is the town hall meetings where they cheer death by poverty and boo gay service members. I think this rise in the level of discord between parties is a product of years of Fox News and right-wing media conditioning.
And I agree – it’s no less palatable when it comes from the left. I just don’t see that as much.
I do think right wing shock jocks encourage this kind of nastiness. What I can’t figure out is why this guy can’t just attend tea party rallies and Bobby Jindal speeches and leave it at that. Why drag your neighbors through your muck?
Wow…have you forgotten how trashed and villified the Hillary supporters were just a couple of years ago??? This isn’t the intellectual property of the “right wing” or Fox news. There was zero civil discourse and discussion back in the campaign days. It was all very much in my face, calling me a racist expletive, expletive, expletive. Yes, it is shocking when the “opposition” gets a little down and dirty, but that in no way indicates that the other side isn’t just as willing and able and actively doing so every day.
No I haven’t. I just subscribe to the idea that two evils never make a good. Hate speech is never useful and I don’t apply double standards to when it is okay based on who I like. A head for an eye isn’t part of my Buddhist training any more than an eye for an eye. My kids used to play in that neighborhood. I would not want to teach them that this is okay behavior because we have free speech and they started it so it is justified no matter how ugly it gets.
I have to respectfully disagree. I would never put anything like that up myself (not my style), but it’s different from images like the various effigies. The former is political commentary (however crassly expressed) while the former implies some sort of violence.
And while it is more visual/pictorial, is it really any different than the zillions of pins and bumper stickers against Bush (or any politician) you see while driving around town? From the pictures at the link, the sign guy isn’t saying anything that’s not been printed about Obama in various media or blogs. The only real difference is that the signs are pretty big and ugly. There’s certainly nothing in the pics of the signs (from what I can make out) that’s related to race. Criticism and hate are not the same things, nor are criticism and racism, not even when the target of criticism is AA.
I’m actually a big fan of real civility in political discoure (not the fake kind where civility masquerades as STFU!, just spoken in a reasonable tone of voice). But at the end of the day, freedom of speech — esp freedom of political speech, which is the most protected type of speech — trumps even real civility. The Soros puppet master imagery is pretty much what you might expect to see in editorial cartoons, and not really any different from similar expressions that Cheney was Bush’s puppet master.
I am pretty surprised that the signs don’t run afoul of the zoning laws (if they actually don’t). But I’m also not such a big fan of the kind of restrictive, uptight and often snooty type of zoning laws that many affluent communities have, either.
Of course it is political speech, but putting up large billboards in a residential neighborhood would no be permitted in most places. These signs are also very provocative and could lead to violence. If the signs were part of a demonstration or political rally, it would be different. This man is doing something long-term that impinges on his neighbors. Who would want to buy a house in that neighborhood? I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.
Anyway, no one is suggesting what the man is doing is illegal, just that it’s repulsive and inappropriate. As far as hanging a political candidate in effigy goes, I disagree that it indicates violent intentions. It is symbolic and sends a message about politics. It’s political speech–of a very offensive kind.
I just keep wondering what people would think if one of their neighbors hung up a big old swastika or some other huge “symbolic” in their neighborhood or burned crosses in the yard every night.
I agree that it’s repulsive. And I hope it (putting up the signs) backfires. Protesting the content of the signs is free speech too. And the discussion generated by the signs may be useful.
I don’t see a link between these signs and violence. Rude and crude in some aspects, yes.
I can see Dak’s point about anti-semitism in the Soros “antichrist” reference.
This guy lives right off of St Charles and Audubon Park across from Loyola/Tulane University in a million dollar + house. My kids played around there every summer. I’d be horrified to have to explain these horrible signs to my children.
You have a point. I may be too naive about the effects of these signs. On the internet it’s easier to to get away from. And I do appreciate the moderation of this blog.
We have been pretty fortunate to not have to moderate much. We occasionally get the nasty conservative troll but the ones that used to drive me really crazy at TC didn’t follow us here. Guess we will have to see what happens as the election antics heat up. Also we tackle issues and try not to be deliberately provocative about people.
I would draw a distinction between what I said “implies some sort of violence” and “violent intentions.” Effigy images are images of harm to specific people. That’s nothing like calling Obama a communist. At the very least, hanging people in effigy is not less likely to lead to violence than these signs — none of which contains any violent imagery at all.
I just don’t put much weight on the whole “there goes the neighborhood!” line of reasoning. That makes the discussion little different than a neighbor painting their house some gaudy color that offends the delicate sensibilities of the surrounding houses’ occupants. If neighbors are bothered by gawkers, they can certainly notify the police who can clear the area for disturbances of the peace. (btw, my guess on the zoning laws thing is — if it’s not prohibited already — it’s because the zoning laws probably ban commercial billboards and that sort of thing, and don’t specifically ban political signage, which would edge toward violating the 1st amend.)
The comments in the article Dak links to, and some of the others I’ve seen, are bringing up bad memories of the great fauxrages by the OFB in 2008. With a dollop of “oh those tacky Tea Partiers” thrown in. I think the signs are being made a big deal of much more than they are actually a big deal. I mean, really, of course the racism card was played — even though none of the signs are the least bit racist — because that’s the standard OFB response to any criticism of Obama (not that anyone here is making that point, just the linked article).
In law, there’s a thing called “moving to the nuisance.” That’s when you intentionally move next to, say, some giant polluting factory, then sue them for lots of money because they are polluting your property and hurting your property values. That’s what this seems like to me (although without the physcally going to the nuisance part, just digitally).
And I really don’t think comparisons to swastikas and burned crosses are on point. A swastika symbolizes a holocaust and burning crosses symbolizes systemic, organized violence against an entire race of people. This guy is just criticizing Obama. His critcisms are mostly wrong or sort of stupid, but that’s miles different from invoking the Nazis attempts to exterminate all the Jewish people on the planet.
Not exactly on point, but here is one of my favorite quotes ever:
“But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.” West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
I find the signs racist and I am not an obama supporter. I also find them antisemitic. Hanging leaders in effigy is symbolic. Yes we have free speech. My free speech rights include calling this man out for hate speech and bringing hatred into a neighborhood filled with Jews and black people. And if you saw the houses in that neighborhood you wouldn’t feel very sorry for his issues with paying taxes either. My hope is his priest will deal with him.
Gawkers? Wouldn’t it be more likely that neighbors would be “bothered” by political protesters? Why would it be right for the police to remove them then? Wouldn’t they be exercising their first amendment rights of assembly?
If political billboards are allowed in a neighborhood, how can communities regulate election signs? Should such signs be permitted in any neighborhood without limit or recourse? What about the notion of “shouting ‘FIRE!” in a crowded theater? What if these signs lead to someone’s house being burned down?
Furthermore, no one has suggested that police or any other authorities be called to remove the billboards (they are not “sign,” but billboards). The only judgement of the billboards that has been made is that they are ugly and in terrible taste. If the first amendment means anything, Dakinikat and anyone else should be free to make that judgment in writing on a blog on the internet. If anything that is an appeal to human decency or peer pressure. Are those now verboten?
Frankly, I think you’re missing the point of the post. I can’t imagine why you would think Dakinikat, of all people, would oppose freedom of speech in any form–especially after the past history of vicious attacks on her for things she has written.
nesting — this is in reply to bboomer and dak, not my own comemnt.
First — on the nuisance thing, for some reason I was just thinking of gawkers, not protesters (definitely a brain blip, it’s the obvious thing). And ok, yes, billboards not signs. I wasn’t trying to play down the obnoxiousness of presentation by using the word “sign.”
On gawkers/protesters — in residential areas, the 1st amendment can be more easily curtailed for breaching the peace. The First Amendment doesn’t protect all speech equally — political speech in “town square” type areas is the most protected, while “commercial” speech is the least protected (excluding p0rn). Clearing people out for disturbing the peace is allowed as long as the law and its application is content neutral. The rule is the time, place and manner restrictions are ok as long as they are content neutral and appropriate to the venue. The same laws for breaching the peace could be used against the signs themselves if they create a breach of the peace, although that’s a bit harder since the signs are on private property, whereas gawkers/protesters would (presumably) be occupying and possibly blocking public spaces. Or laws disallowing protests after a certain late night time in a residential area.
That’s how political signage and such can be regulated, btw, if there are content-neutral zoning laws, for instance, regulating by elements such as the size of signs and so on, and which apply in a neutral way. You would be pretty hard pressed to regulate signage/billboards in a highly public area which has historically been treated as open political forums — like outside city hall.
“Fire!” in a crowded theater doesn’t apply, because shouting fire in a crowded theater creates an immediate, reasonably anticipatible harmful reaction. Putting up billboards in your yard just doesn’t. The test isn’t that its ok to curtail freedom of speech as long as someone can come up with some possible scenario in which violence may result. The violence or harm has to be immediate and almost certain to result.
Ok, so that was all about how the 1st amendment actually works. But that wasn’t really my point. My point was not about the actual requirements of the 1st amendment, but that I disagreed with the original post based on the same principles that underlie freedom of speech, and especially the content-neutral part. If this guy had just put up some really obnoxious sculpture in his yard, I seriously doubt there’d be posts about it all over the blogosphere or getting widespread media coverage.
Second, the images at the link are pretty standard (and traditional) political editorial/satirical types. Politicians as babies, and politicians as puppets are fairly traditional and time-worn. I really don’t see how either is connected to Obama’s race. The comments/text (and I’m just looking at the pics at the link, I haven’t gone out looking for the full thing if there’s additional ones) are also very run of the mill, and are the same ones aimed at politicians of any/all races for quite a long time. Yes, there are a few that are really specific to Obama’s stump speech memes, but they aren’t connected to race (“Let me be clear = let me lie to you”, “Green jobs = imaginary jobs”). And I don’t get them as particularly hateful, either. The comparisons to swastikas goes much, much too far.
dak — could you explain why you think it’s racist? Because I’m just not seeing it. The Soros/antichrist/ antisemitism thing I get, although I might quibble over interpretation. I had actually forgotten Soros was Jewish, and for me invocations of the antichrist are more likely to invoke the most recent horror/scifi movie I’ve seen than fundamentalist Christian interpretations which actually take the idea of an antichrist seriously. That was a lapse on my part, and just shows that I’ve been watching too many episodes of “Supernatural” lately. But at least in the pics at your link, I’m really not seeing racism, and certainly not racism connected to Obama’s race. I don’t think putting him in diapers is particularly invoking race, and the rest of the billboard(s) is all pretty standard (if mostly wrong/incorrect) criticisms of Obama — he’s a socialist, incompetent, the TOTUS and so on. Well, the TOTUS thing isn’t incorrect. And Obama’s extremely competent — at protecting the interests of his various Wall St sponsors. I only wish Obama was a socialist.).
Also — where did I express sympathy for his complaints about taxes? In fact, I don’t agree at all with the billboard’s assertion that Obama = higher taxes, and my comment had nothing to do with expressing any sort of sympathy for the billboard owner. I also never said you couldn’t voice your opinion, I just disagree with it. Just like you disagree with the billboard owner.
All you need do is turn on the tv to find people yelling, screaming, and berating one another to actually feel the pulse of uncivility and its roots.
Reality tv would not be reality tv without the shouting and name calling emanating primarily from women looking to ramp up the drama. Jersey Shore is one of the highest rated programs currently on view with its “stars” earning millions for behaving like utter fools.
Shows aimed at teens feature young people referring to one another as ho’s and bitches as the “F” is blipped every few seconds.
Social sites like Facebook and Twitter feature anonymous insults and personal revelations that has become a source to unload the hatred and contempt for one another which had bred more and more incivility at a faster pace.
We are becoming a nation devoid of manners and respect as we praise those who employ “in your face” tactics as a response. Civility has all but disappeared behind the shouting and insensitivity that we have come to accept as our due. Look at those last few GOP debates and listen to the boos toward a young gay soldier and the applause that accompanied 234 deaths in Texas.
We have become a nation that thrives on the concept of “bread and circuses” which may be why it has become easier and easier to vote in favor of those who would pull the plug out from under the social safety nets without a whimper.
Sadly this lack of empathy and civility has now become deeply entrenched within the public psyche.
Personally, I have no respect for the office of the president. Obama was not elected. Nor was Bush the lesser. Each cheated to get in. I have no respect for either of them. They are both war criminals. That should never be forgotten. They are mass murderers. Yeah, these signs are stupid, but they’re also irrelevant. Last year, somebody chewed me out on another site for saying how much I despised seeing the two Bush presidents right behind home plate at a Texas Rangers game. They were laughing it up real good, along with Babs, “this is working out real well for them,” and Laura, a killer in her own right. Every batter, there was the Bush crime family whooping it up. Right in my face. It makes me sick. All of it. The last vestiges of the democracy that may have once been. Corrupt, venal murderers.
I might add, as things get worse economically, and they will as we sink ever deeper into the depression to end all depressions, violence will erupt all over the place. When people have nothing left to lose, it becomes real ugly real fast. I just had an emergency root canal and other dental work, totaling $1,500. Medicare doesn’t cover dental, and I don’t have Plan B anyway as I can’t deal with any insurance at all. $1,500 out of my pocket that was designated for something else. Now, I’m lucky because I had the money set aside for my tax bill (which will be enormous thanks to the government taxing my Social Security). But what about those writhing in pain who can’t afford to pay? Unfettered capitalism can only collapse when there is no worker base left to exploit. Rage leads to violence, invariably. The worker fools on the right, off base as they are in their reasoning, nevertheless feel the same rage as the workers on the left. This is headed for some serious destruction.
I have no respect for the office of the president either. Mostly because it has only been an office for men (thus far) and I have no respect for male “leadership.”
Personally, as someone who supported Hillary and witnessed the lying, cheating and stealing carried out by the Obama campaign and the DNC I have zero respect for BO. While I respect the office, this man is a fraud. The more people realize this and speak out about it, the better. He’s lucky we’re all not marching in front of the White House with just such (despicable as they are) signs.
Marching in front of the White House with signs of any kind would be a much better exercise of freedom of speech and assembly than the example we’re talking about here. That would actually amount to a political protest. However, it would also put this person in jeopardy, which is probably why he’s just sitting in his house and putting up billboards in his yard. If NOLA has no zoning laws for billboards, then he has a right to do it. I’m not sure what it is accomplishing though–certainly not political change.
You know the other thing that really hits me about these signs is that they don’t really seem as motivated by political discourse as they do by anger, arrogance, greed … It is like the seven deadly sins on parade.