Thursday, February 23, 2006

Who’s Harassing Whom?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) These cammo-clad cronies brave Saturday’s cold temperatures. They apparently feel harassed by this blog. The neighbors feel harassed by their amplifier. But which group can turn off their source of harassment? (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Late Saturday afternoon (Feb. 18) with temperatures close to freezing, I ventured out to the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE to observe the amplified band of men, bundled in thick layers of urban and jungle camouflage attire. As usual, they were shouting into the powered amplifier, which was pointed south toward the residential homes on 8th Street.

As I was photographing, I spotted Yohanna—the group’s apparent leader and a person with whom in the past I’ve had cordial conversations—sitting in the driver’s seat of an idling red van with Pennsylvania tags. It was parked directly behind the gathered preachers on the corner. I waved and the van window rolled down.

Yohanna proceeded to give me grief—not in an angry way—about not being out in the cold earlier in the day to “harass” them. I told him I had an earlier obligation, but was happy to make a few photos now. I said apparently we’re both harassing each other. Then he rolled up the window.

I’m not sure why the preachers feel harassed, but I know the neighborhood feels harassed by the long hours of amplified noise. The residents simply want the amplifier turned off.

One thing is for sure: These fellows are dedicated at standing on a cold street corner and yelling into a microphone. But I must ask: who is harassing whom in this saga?

Based on the angry rant Sunglasses Man threw my way when I first approached the group last Saturday, I presume the group considers the observations and photographs in this blog, “Quest for Quiet,” to be a form of harassment.

However, the residents living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE believe that hours and hours of unabated amplified speech blasted into their homes is harassment. Are all things equal? Note quite.

If the preachers feel harassed, they have the power to NOT view “Quest for Quiet.” They can choose not to go the web address or they can choose to turn off their computers. It’s their choice.

However, the neighbors have no choice. They cannot turn off the power if they find the amplified words to be harassing. That control is in the hands of those doing the harassing from the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets. The D.C. city council must fix the law to protect the rights for the enjoyment of peace and quiet at home.

As the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in its 1949 ruling KOVACS v. COOPER, which upheld a city’s noise ordinance to regulate amplified devices:

While this Court, in enforcing the broad protection the Constitution gives to the dissemination of ideas, has invalidated an ordinance forbidding a distributor of pamphlets or handbills from summoning householders to their doors to receive the distributor's writings, this was on the ground that the home owner could protect himself from such intrusion by an appropriate sign 'that he is unwilling to be disturbed.' The Court never intimated that the visitor could insert a foot in the door and insist on a hearing.

We do not think that the Struthers case requires us to expand this interdiction of legislation to include ordinance against obtaining an audience for the broadcaster's ideas by way of sound trucks with loud and raucous noises on city streets. The unwilling listener is not like the passer-by who may be offered a pamphlet in the street but cannot be made to take it. In his home or on the street he is practically helpless to escape this interference with his privacy by loud speakers except through the protection of the municipality.

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