Tuesday, May 23, 2006

No Amplifiers Used in Busy Downtown D.C.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Banks uses his natural voice to lead a group of about 20 people protesting on behalf of a carpenters’ union. The protesters marched in a short, circular pattern between orange safety cones on the sidewalk at 7th and E Streets NW in downtown Washington, D.C. No amplifier was present during the May 17 protest. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

After departing the dependable X2 Metro bus one morning last week, I walked the remaining six blocks to work. On my way, I encountered a cluster of protesters carrying signs and walking in a very orderly, semi-circular pattern on the sidewalk.

The group was protesting what they called one association’s use of non-union carpenters to hang drywall. “Non-union companies pay sub-standard wages,” explained the hoisted signs.

The protesters were led in chant by a man who shouted to them from one end of the circle. And despite being in the middle of a business district in downtown Washington--with tall buildings and traffic all around--nobody used an amplifier.

In my opinion, the chorus of voices was loud, but not piercing--a decibel meter would have been the final judge. Union representative Mike Zaner approached and asked why I was photographing his group.

I explained our neighborhood’s saga in dealing with one group’s abuse of a city noise law, which allows for unrestricted use of an amplifier to blast non-commercial speech anywhere in the city from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. I provided him with a copy of the D.C. Attorney General’s ruling.

Mike said his group needed no type of permit as long as his protesters stayed within one block. “Otherwise, we’d need a parade permit,” he said.

But why not use an amplifier?

Mike said he’s never felt a need. The group usually protests for two hours each day while the non-union work is being done. “That usually lasts four to six weeks; then we go someplace else,” he said.

Police usually check on his group, which he always limits to no more than 50. “The police always depart without incident,” said Mike. “We’ve never had to call a lawyer.”

I thanked Mike, and headed off to work.

Even though Mike and his group could have used 20 amplifiers and megaphones to blast the entire commercial area, they chose not to.

Meanwhile, the amplified group at H and 8th NE--mere feet from residential homes and apartments--continues to maliciously crank up the amplified volume every Saturday. Simply put, the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge is taking complete advantage of the law.

The city council has a duty not only to protect free speech, but also to protect citizens from brazen harassment and abuse of ill-enacted legislation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Nuf said.

8:37 AM  

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