Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bright Blue, Blaring Banter

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Brilliant sunshine bathes a plastic Madonna hanging from a traffic signal on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on April 29. The prop is part of the Saturday theatrics performed by the men from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Another gorgeous Saturday afternoon pierced by the amplified sounds of the ISUPK. They rant and rave on H Street NE, yards from residential homes and apartments.

While I was photographing at the corner Saturday, Sunglasses Man pointed at me and said into the microphone that I was one of the “white devils” who wanted them “off the corner.” As usual, the gathered crowd stared at me. And as usual, I just quietly shook my head to refute this false claim the ISUPK continues to repeat. The neighborhoods’ only beef is with the powered amplifier, with which the group continues to bombard the community.

Hey, I’d be more than happy to walk away from the corner and leave all the harassment behind. But that wouldn’t do any good. You see, the amplifier allows the ISUPK to force their weekend diatribes into the homes surrounding the corner. The residents cannot escape it, and the ISUPK know it.

Whatever happened to love thy neighbor? Obviously it doesn’t apply in this case—the ISUPK are not from the neighborhood. Several drive to the D.C. corner from Virginia and Pennsylvania.(CLICK TO ENLARGE) As if people on the sidewalk would be unable to hear the ISUPK without the amplifier. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Disorderly Conduct and Unlawful Assembly or Free Speech?

The Washington Post carried a story yesterday (5 Lawmakers Arrested at Darfur Protest) about five members of Congress who were among 11 arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly for protesting outside the Darfur Embassy. The story didn’t indicate whether the protestors employed amplifiers.

But that brings up a question: Just what did the group of 11—including the members of Congress—do differently that got them busted compared to the group that assembles every Saturday on the corner of H and 8th Streets NE to blast the neighborhood with an amplified loudspeaker?

Obviously these lawmakers wanted to get arrested to draw attention to events in Darfur, but did they have to beg the police to arrest them? Are the provisions enforced randomly by the District of Columbia?

If someone knows the answer to my many questions, please enlighten me.

The neighbors in and around the 700 block of 8th St NE don’t want people arrested or booted off the corner—just give us relief from the hours of amplified speech. And since the city noise statute is impotent, all other laws and regulations should be enforced evenly and fairly across the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Noisemakers Start Blogging!

Finally, some of the noisemaking fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) are exploring quieter ways to distribute their message. They’ve started their own blogs.

A dedicated “Quest for Quiet” reader alerted me to the sites. One is called Lord’s Chosen. The other is called Furious Zion.

Interestingly, several comments to a Lord’s Chosen posting include references to me--the "'cracker' that takes our picture every weekend.”

Disappointing, however, is a misstatement about the intent of the residents living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street. To clarify, we don’t desire to remove anyone from the corner. We support a person's right to assemble and exercise free speech. We only object to the unrestricted use of a powered amplifier.

In addition to both profile photographs, “Furious Zion’s” homepage contains a link to a series of copyrighted photographs lifted from my “Quest for Quiet” blog. I will ask him via email to either properly credit and link to the “Quest for Quiet” blog or remove them from his site.

These blogs are virtual (and quiet) tours of what the community experiences from a blaring amplifier every Saturday.

If you want to explore their theology, no need to beat a path to H and 8th Streets NE, only to be blasted by the amplifier. Let your mouse do the clicking! Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cahoots with the KKK?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man engaged in a sidewalk argument with the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) tries to make his point on April 15, 2006. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

The man, who earlier was holding his own small, green bible, was infuriated. He tried to debate the ISUPK on the merits of religious content. After nearly 10 minutes of yelling against the amplified guys standing on the small stage, his friend tried to pull him away from the confrontation. He screamed that the ISUPK guys were just spouting racist words. What happened next was quite odd.

As his friend pulled him away, the man pointed directly at me. He accused the ISUPK of being affiliated with the “KKK,” and shouted that I was in cahoots with the amplified fellows because I appeared with them on the corner every Saturday.

I don’t know who was more shocked at the man’s presumption—the ISUPK fellows or me. Anyway, it doesn’t matter everyone's saying; the neighborhood just wishes everyone would say it a little quieter.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) At the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE, a woman finally tries pulling her friend away from a heated argument with the fellows from the ISUPK. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Excuse Me, Sir, but You Woke Up My Kid

Among the letters to Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose and D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Graham comes this one sent by a neighbor living in the 700 block of 8th Street NE:

April 22, 2006

Dear Council Member Graham,

Thank you for your attention to the noise issue at the corner of 8th and H St. NE, Washington, D.C.

My husband and I purchased [a townhouse near this intersection] in 2001 and we have enjoyed living in the NE neighborhood.

I would like to write, though, to let you know of the growing disturbance that the Twelve Tribes of Judah has become for our neighborhood over the past several years.

On many Saturday afternoons, the amplifiers and sound from their presence on the corner of 8th and H St. NE has been audible from the interior of our home and on at least one occasion the noise woke our 21-month-old son from his nap.

My husband and I have attempted to have legitimate discussions with the Twelve Tribes of Judah, but are unfortunately called names and harassed beyond the point of even beginning a conversation. I have only been able to shake the hand of one of the leaders three consecutive times – only to stand in his presence to be called profane names in response to our handshakes. After three handshakes and three series of profanities I was not able to continue in his presence and walked away.

So, any efforts that you can make to assist our neighborhood to bring about some peace would be great!

Thanks so much for your attention to this matter.


(name omitted)

Clearly the city council must repair the broken noise law. Would they be quicker to respond if this scenario was being played out in their neighborhoods? We invite Councilmembers Graham and Ambrose to visit during any sunny, Saturday afternoon. If they’re feeling extra energetic, they can try and reason with the noisemaking fellows.

The city council may not be losing sleep over the issue at H and 8th Streets NE, but the residents who live in the vicinity most certainly are.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Rain Washes Away Noise

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Between rain showers, a man bicycles east on H Street yesterday. The men from of the Universal Practical Knowledge usually erect a small wooden stage between the silver traffic box on the left and the traffic signal and red box on the right, but were absent most likely because of the weather. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

The residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street enjoyed an amplifier-free Saturday afternoon after rain apparently washed out a group’s usual assembly at the southeast corner of H and 8th Street NE. It was the Universal Practical Knowledge’s (UPK) fourth Saturday absence of 2006.

And so it goes that crappy weather—when most neighbors are huddled inside from the rain—provides respite from the harassing amplifier, which blares just yards away from residential homes.

The D.C. law allows this nonsense to happen anywhere in the city—from Adams Morgan to Anacostia; from Georgetown to Tenleytown. The D.C. Council needs to fix this broken law. Councilmember Jim Graham said in March that his staff is drafting language, but he did not set a timetable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Residential Homes Besieged by Blaring Amp

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Looking north toward H Street NE, front step railings (right) are visible along the east side of 8th Street. The residential homes and apartments are within yards of the amplified loudspeaker, which blares for hours from the southeast corner of intersection. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Clear Weather Coaxes Crowds

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Looking east, the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE is a cacophony of crowds and cars on Saturday, April 15, 2006. Foul weather last weekend allowed the community a break from the amplified noise. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Nice weather invites people to leave their coats at home and relish their day along H Street NE.

Sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s also tempted residents living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE to open windows, pick up litter, and tend to gardens. But gorgeous weather means a tradeoff for the people living in the neighborhood—they must endure hours of amplified speech from a blaring sidewalk loudspeaker only yards away from their residential homes.

Saturday was quite a show. In addition to their usual urban cammo clothes, the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) sported new, fashionable t-shirts with big, bold “UPK” emblazoned on the front. Vehicles were parked illegally behind their assembled stage on H Street—free bread distributed from one. Don’t get me wrong—free bread is wonderful, but doing it safely is also important.

(As an aside, the ISUPK guys read this blog and I know I’ll hear an earful next Saturday about making that bread statement. And to that I must reiterate: the neighbors support free speech, assembly and religion. We only want to minimize the noise. However, we also believe assembled groups should obey all D.C. laws and ordinances.)

A larger crowd also meant numerous reactions from passersby. People on the sidewalk tried to scream over the withering barrage from the electrified amplifier. The volume jumped, causing neighbors working outside down the street to turn their heads, expecting to see a physical altercation.

After several hours of the noise nuisance, most residents retreated inside to a calmer environment.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Tony (in the light blue shirt) screams in debate with Yahanna, wearing the latest in UPK fashion and holding the microphone. Tony and I have known each other for several months, mainly through conversations while waiting for the X2 bus. After his shouting match with Yahanna, Tony and I had a short chat. But the ISUPK fellows were quick to scold him—via the amplifier—for commiserating with “a white man,” an apparent reference to me. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, April 14, 2006

What Remains

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) An empty plastic sports drink bottle is all that remains Sunday morning, March 26 from the previous day’s encampment of the amplified Isreali School of Universal Practical Knowledge. The bottle sits atop a traffic signal control box at the southeast corner of the H and 8th Streets NE. A seagull swoops in for litter food leftovers at the busy city bus transfer point. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bibles and Hydration

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Bibles and sports drink quench the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge on Saturday, March 25. Shouting into a microphone all afternoon can be thirsty business. Imagine the workout they’d get without the use of their amplifier. Imagine the relief the residents would get if the fellows were considerate or the city council would take action to fix the broken D.C. noise law. Councilmember Jim Graham said two weeks ago that he has asked his staff to draft the language. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sunrise Over H Street

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) It was a quiet April 8 weekend for the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE. So, I’ll reach into the archives for a photo from Sunday, March 25. This is looking east as the sun rises over H Street NE at 6:20 a.m. ET. The photo was made from the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets, where 12 hours earlier, one group’s use of an amplified loudspeaker created a long and stressful afternoon for the residents of the neighborhood. Photographing sunrises in the H Street Corridor must be unusual and suspicious because in two separate instances during my 15 minutes on the corner, Metropolitan Police Officers pulled me aside for questioning. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cold, Damp Banish Amp

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The empty southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE at 6:15 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 26. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

For the third Saturday this year, the boisterous guys from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge were absent from the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE. The dreary day of rain and temperatures in the 40s most likely postponed their weekend tradition of blasting the neighborhood with amplified speech.

Also absent was the group’s battery-powered amplifier. It was a welcome respite for the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street.

Sometimes it takes a little drizzle to keep the peace and quiet.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Don’t More D.C. Protestors Use Amplifiers?

Many people protesting in the District of Columbia apparently are unaware of the loophole in the D.C. law that allows the use of amplifiers for broadcasting free speech.

A story in the April 7 Washington Post, “God Blew Up the Troops,” is about protestors outside Walter Reed Medical Center on Georgia Ave NW in D.C. The story and photos do not make it apparent that amplifiers are in use.

I can only guess why they’re not using amplifiers.

Maybe they are not aware of the D.C. noise law loophole. Or perhaps D.C.’s ordinance and permitting process applies differently to larger gatherings. To my knowledge, no permits have been issued for the weekly assembly at H and 8th Streets NE.

In fact, the Post’s reference to one group’s revving of Harley Davidson motorcycle engines to drown out the other group’s speech probably is more disruptive to the recuperating soldiers than the actual speech.

The story clearly focuses on one speech content. As illustrated, speech content is very subjective. It can distract people from the real issues of a public debate. To the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Streets NE, the issue is the unabated use of an amplifier.

To say one hopes “God will kill the injured U.S. soldiers” is not unlike saying “God will kill the Chinese, Japanese, Muslims, and white man.” Provocative, indeed, but it is protected free speech.

It makes no difference whether the speech is “kill, kill, kill” or “love, love, love.” Hours of it blasted by an amplifier every Saturday afternoon is a noise issue.

The city council needs to fix the law now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Graham Commits to Fixing Busted Noise Law

D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham said he is preparing legislation to fix the city’s broken noise law, which permits unabated amplified speech anywhere in the city from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

In response to a recent letter from me, Graham writes:
“I am considering introducing legislation that would correct this situation, and have asked my staff to draft it. I appreciate your patience.”
I’m not a big fan of the word “considering,” but otherwise it’s a positive step for the community in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE.

Several of my neighbors who recently wrote letters to the Ward 1 councilmember received similar responses.

The noise issue at H and 8th Streets NE is happening in Ward 6—the seat currently occupied by outgoing Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. Graham’s involvement is critical because he chairs the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which has jurisdiction over the noise issue. The related legislation, I believe, must originate in his committee.

I testified about amplified noise issue before Graham and his committee on Nov. 2, 2005. In his letter, Graham indicated no timetable for introducing language to repair the law.

For those keeping score, here’s a rundown:
Aug. 29, 2005: Residents, MPD, Office of Attorney General, ANC commissioners, DCRA and the Dept. of Transportation meet to discuss a solution to the noise issue. Noisemakers from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) are invited, but do not attend.

The ISUPK’s amplified sound is measured with a decibel meter on three occasions in 2005 (June 18, Aug. 27, and Sept. 10) by D.C. DCRA Noise Inspector Mandoza Lowery. The group was found to be in violation of the D.C. noise ordinance each time and was cited and fined $1,000.

December 7, 2005: A letter from Robert Spagnoletti of the D.C. Office of Attorney General says a 2004 amendment to the D.C. statute apparently renders enforcement of amplified speech regulation powerless.

Jan. 11, 2006: Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C votes unanimously in urging the D.C. City Council to fix the noise statute.

A Jan. 12, 2006 editorial in the Voice of the Hill newspaper calls on the D.C. City Council to fix the law.

Feb. 9, 2006: During Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A meeting, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose says she would pursue legislative language to fix a loophole in a city statute that permits amplified non-commercial speech from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in or around R4 zones.

March 9, 2006: During its monthly meeting, ANC6A unanimously votes to formally request that the District of Columbia City Council consider amending the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004” in order to modify an exception currently contained in the noise ordinance that permits amplified free speech on the city’s public streets.
A VERY LOUD word of thanks for everyone's interest and support of our neighborhood's issue.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Diverging Perceptions on H Street

Judging by the traffic on various listservs, a story about H Street NE in today’s Washington Post by reporter Paul Schwartzman seems to have been read by just about everybody. But what just about everybody DIDN'T see was a whole lotta mention about the amplified preachers who assemble every weekend at the intersection of H and 8th Streets--except for one small reference in the 12th paragraph.

The story, Whose H Street Is It, Anyway?, explores the dispute over restaurant zoning on H Street NE. It probes the potential reasons for the dispute--from bureaucratic bungling to gentrification to racism.

The fact is, Schwartzman knows about the preachers from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). He's even seen and heard them in action.

After reading my blog (Quest for Quiet), Schwartzman contacted me and visited the corner of H and 8th Streets NE on two cold and windy Saturdays in January (Jan. 14 and Jan. 21). He wanted to hear the noise for himself.

While we’ve never met in person, I had a sense of Schwartzman’s story angle after receiving this Jan. 23 email from him:
The invective was upticked a bit when you were gone. i'm still interested but this may be more of a warm weather story.

there could be a broader story about H Street and changes, and clashing cultures

His words “clashing cultures” confused and concerned me.

I reiterated to Schwartzman again that the residents (of all shapes, sizes and colors) in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE simply want the preachers to stop using the amplifier so that the residents can enjoy peace and quiet in our own homes.

Further, I emphasized that my neighbors and I see this as a noise issue--not an issue of speech content or a group’s right to assemble.

I’ve not heard from Schwartzman since January, but anticipated a story like today’s. My guess is he has several more H Street stories in the works. I’ve emailed him to see if plans to include the noise issue.

Like it or not, the story illustrates one thing: Everybody has a perception--true or false--about the changes happening to H Street NE. It was evident from today’s story that some of these perceptions are very real to some people.

And just as perceptions differ, so do views about speech content. That's why our neighborhood is focused on solving this issue on the merits of something easily measured: the loudness of sound using a decibel meter.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Amplified Shouting at Bicyclists

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) tries to argue with the amplified fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) Saturday. The discussion was prompted by the ISUPK yeller, who spied the bikers riding down the street. He used the amplifier to scream, “Brigham Young was a faggot!” The phrase was repeated several times and echoed throughout the neighborhood around the intersection of H and 8th Street NE—obviously plenty loud for the LDS bikers to hear. The sidewalk conversation lasted no more than a minute before the helmeted fellow rode away apparently frustrated with the exchange. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)