Sunday, February 26, 2006

Amplifier and Boots

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Calm winds and balmy temperatures on Feb. 25 again allowed the preachers to make good use of their Fender-made “The Amp Can.” The amplifier, which points south toward the residential homes on 8th Street, can run on AC power or the internal rechargeable battery. The amp features a six-inch diameter, 4 ohm, 30 watt speaker backed by 15 watts of power. Fender says “The Amp Can” is 8.75" high, 7.75” wide and weighs 13 pounds. The list price is $249.99, but the street price is closer to $150. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Listen Up

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Balmy temperatures and calm winds on Saturday brought the usual amplified speech to the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. It also meant more people were out and about—some stopped to have a listen. Compared to last Saturday, the preachers were somewhat cordial—hurling no words directly at me. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Silent Protest of Words

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Not the usual postings along H Street, the words on the paper taped to the traffic box begin, “God is the light of the heavens and the earth…” (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Many groups are not spared the typical amplified tirade blasted from one group’s amplifier at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. Oftentimes, upset passersby—including Muslims—will shout back at the electrified preachers.

However, while photographing on Feb. 18, I noticed an apparent act of silent protest: Someone had very recently taped several papers to the usually silver traffic light control box on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE. I was unfamiliar with the words, but some quick research shows it is a verse from the Koran—the Muslim holy scripture, 24:35 - al 'nuur - the light.

I'm unaware if the noisemaking preachers noticed it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Returning to a Chilly Reception

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) As Saturday’s winds pushed temperatures to near freezing, the two fellows on the right were apparently upset by the preachers’ amplified comments about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Following a two-weekend absence, apparently due to wet weather, the noisemakers returned to the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Saturday. Their amplifier again pointed south toward the residential homes along 8th Street, the cold, dry air providing extra boost to the amplified speech.

The varying wind direction, however, oftentimes blew the words in different directions--along with discarded papers, wrappers and plastic bottles. Having a class earlier in the day, I arrived at the intersection after 5 p.m.

The fellows were preaching to sparse pedestrian traffic, and their usual stage and signs were out of sight by the time I arrived. However, they apparently did not miss me during these two weeks.

As I started photographing, Sunglasses Man took the microphone, gestured in my direction and said in an agitated voice, “Here comes the cracker with the camera.”

Seeing nobody else with a camera, I presumed he was speaking about me. He went on to say that the “cracker with the camera” takes pictures, then “puts our photos on the Internet.” At this point I knew he was referring to me and this blog, “Quest for Quiet.”

He then said I was writing “lies.”

He did not elaborate on what he meant by “lies,” but he sure seemed angry. I appreciate that he’s reading my blog. I photograph and write about what I observe. Our neighborhood’s position is that the preachers simply stop using the amplifier—nothing more.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The fellow (right), apparently having enough of either the cold or the preachers, leaves the intersection. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, February 17, 2006

An Empty Corner and Pitiful Non-Blogs

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) After a quiet Saturday afternoon on Feb. 11, a night snow blankets the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE. The usual amplified crowd erects their stage of wooden boards on milk crates in between the gray box and the traffic light post. The group’s amplifier points south, down 8th Street, toward the bus stop shelter and the residential homes, here obscured by snowflakes. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Another anonymous person posted this to “Quest for Quiet” last evening:

Anonymous said...
NEWS FLASH!! Hazardous Waste and Noise Pollution by CSX trains!!!!

This Q4Q blog is pitiful... This effort is a non-event... This attempt is at finding a noise polllution source is ridiculous. I live in Ward 7 across the river and there are CSX trains that are as loud as a jet taking off that come past our community at all hours of the night... and the city counsel won't do anything about it... it also carries hazardous cargos through the middle of the nations capitol with no adequate security measures in place in the event of a terrorist attack or accident. Quest for Quiet is a joke on our side of the river!

Here was my response…

Dear anon:

Sorry to hear about your noise and other issues with the CSX trains. What is your Ward 7 councilmember's position on the issue? I can understand the frustration with the city...hence the reason for this blog.

I would be interested to know how the train noise affects you and your neighbors. If you email me, I will post prominently on this Quest for Quiet blog.

Also, I suggest doing what our neighborhood did: Organize, decide what it is you want to achieve and take action. Also, start your own blog, too. It's free.

Stay in touch.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Snow is Nature’s Muffler

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) After a quiet Saturday afternoon on Feb. 11, an evening snowfall swirls around the street and traffic light on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE. There was no sign of the amplified crowd, which usually assembles Saturday afternoons underneath the street pole. It was the second consecutive weekend that weather apparently kept the amplifier away. Snow also has a tendency to keep cars and trucks off the streets, while the white ground blanket absorbs most sounds. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Yesterday in downtown Washington, I ran into one of the men who participates in the typical Saturday noisefest at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. I barely recognized him without his urban camouflage fatigues--he was apparently taking a lunch break from work and was wearing a necktie.

I introduced myself and told him I hadn’t seen him the past couple of weekends. He acknowledged the weather was the culprit, but he said his group would be on the corner this Saturday, weather permitting.

Fine by me, but please leave the amplifier at home.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Looming Snow Discourages Amplifier

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Stopping by H and 8th Streets NE on a quiet Saturday evening, there was no sign of the amplified crowd which usually assembles on the southeast corner of the intersection. The snow was just beginning to fall about 5:15 p.m. It was the second consecutive weekend that weather apparently kept the preachers--and their amplifier--away. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ambrose Commits to Fixing Noise Law

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) During the Feb. 9 ANC6A monthly meeting, ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler (left) asks Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose to introduce legislation to fix the D.C. noise law. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose said 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.

The current state of the D.C. law has allowed a religious group to use a powered amplifier to blast residential homes in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE for hours during Saturday afternoons and evenings.

Ambrose made her commitment during last night’s monthly Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A meeting at D.C.’s Miner Elementary School.

ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler asked Councilmember Ambrose to introduce legislation. He indicated an April 15 deadline for this to happen.

During the public meeting, Fengler introduced me and explained our neighborhood’s long-festering dilemma about amplified noise. Ambrose replied that this was a difficult issue because of free speech rights. I agreed with her, and reiterated that our neighborhood supports the right to free speech, religion, and assembly. We only object to the use of a powered amplifier.

Ambrose then asked me if there was a group which performed dances at the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE, near where the noisemakers assemble. I said I was not aware of any dancers, but that the residents wouldn’t object as long as the dancers were quiet.

As a follow-up to last night’s positive development, I also urge the city council, when crafting the new language, to review other municipal noise ordinances to ensure the D.C. law will protect the rights of free speech as well as those rights of peace and quiet.

The council also should move with confidence, knowing that the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision KOVACS v. COOPER upheld the legality of municipal ordinances which regulate amplified devices.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE) During the Feb. 9 ANC6A monthly meeting, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose commits to offering language to fix the D.C. noise law. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

ANC6A to Ask Ambrose for Noise Law Fix

D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose is scheduled to attend tonight’s monthly Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A meeting. ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler said he would request Councilmember Ambrose introduce legislation that clarifies the current noise ordinance in order to eliminate the option of using amplified devices in or around an R4 zone. He indicated an April 15 deadline for this to happen.

The ANC6A meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Miner Elementary School, 601 15th Street, NE.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Almost a Juror for the Hall Trial

Whoever said “it’s a small world” wasn’t kidding.

I’ve been fulfilling my U.S. citizenship duties these two weeks, showing up as summoned to the U.S. District Courthouse in D.C. as part of the pool of potential jurors from which sitting juries are chosen.

On Tuesday, 55 of us paraded into the courtroom of Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. I was surprised to see sitting before us at the defense table none other than former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert Hall Jr. (ANC6C). He was indicted on charges of wire, mail and securities fraud, in addition to operating a Ponzi scheme. Hall is representing himself. The Voice of the Hill offers more coverage.

According to Judge Kennedy, Hall’s trial is expected to last two weeks.

Hall was indicted on separate charges in January--along with my current ANC6C Commissioner Anthony Rivera--for fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Rivera, with whom I’ve worked for many hours on the noise issue, has told me he has done nothing wrong, his ANC record is good, and he will fight all charges. His trial is scheduled for October.

During Tuesday’s voi dire, Hall read to us his witness list, which included about two dozen names. Among them are many current and former ANC6C commissioners--including Rivera--as well as several members of the D.C. city council, including Marion Barry and Kwame Brown.

As expected, the judge excused me from the jury because I was familiar with the details of the case and knew several of the witnesses.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Rain Chases Noise Away

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Feb. 4 was the first Saturday since mid-November of 2005 that the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE was free and clear of any noisemaking groups. My only guess is Saturday’s rainy weather had a part in the welcome respite. This photograph was made from the exact location where the noisemakers place their amplified speaker. It looks south toward the neighborhood homes in the 700 block of 8th Street NE. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Second ANC Calls for Fix to D.C. Noise Law

This letter was mailed today on letterhead stationery and signed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC6C) Chairman Mark Dixon. This letter joins a similar one transmitted on Dec. 15 by ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler.

Here’s the text:

February 1, 2006

Council Member Sharon Ambrose
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Suite 102
Washington, D.C. 20004

Council Member Jim Graham, Chair
Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Suite 105
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Council Member Ambrose and Chairman Graham:

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C, at its January 11, 2006, duly noticed, monthly meeting, with a quorum of commissioners present, voted unanimously 8:0 to support amending the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004" in order to modify an exception currently contained in the noise ordnance that permits amplified free speech on D.C. public streets. We note that Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A voted similarly at its December 2005 meeting. (See attached.)

Currently, members of the Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ, Inc. gather on Saturdays at the corner of Eighth and H Streets N.E. to exercise their right of free speech. This group often uses an amplifier to deliver their religious message. The use of the amplifier projects the sound to the surrounding streets in all directions, disturbing the peace, order, and quiet of the neighborhood. This directly affects Single Member Districts 6C05 and 6C06, represented by ANC 6C Commissioners Rivera and Sherman, respectively.

Neighbors have no objection to the group or their religious speech. The problem is the use of the powered amplifier. Over the past ten months, the community has worked with ANC 6A and 6C, Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and the Office of the Attorney General in attempts to resolve the issue of amplified noise.

ANC 6A recommends an amendment to the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004" to prohibit use of amplifiers in close proximity to residences. ANC 6C supports this proposed amendment. Residences in the District of Columbia deserve peace and quiet from unwanted street noise. A carefully considered amendment to this Act is sorely needed to protect the neighbors in their private space from publicly amplified sound.

Finally, we ask the City Council and attorney general to examine the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kovacs v. Cooper, which found that a municipal ban on the use of any sound system emitting “loud and raucous” noises did NOT violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In closing, we respectfully submit that the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, whose members are elected by the residents of the District of Columbia to represent their concerns, offer this advice in accordance with the D.C. Charter that states “great eight” be given to ANC recommendations to City agencies. Thank you for your serious consideration to this request.


Mark Dixon
Chairman, ANC 6C

Attachment: Letter from ANC 6A

Council Member Kwame Brown
Council Member David Catania
Council Member Adrian Fenty
Mr. David M. Rubenstein, Deputy Attorney General,
Office of Attorney General
Mr. David Klavitter

Kid Level Loudness

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Children passersby, whose ears are close to the source of the electrified noise, are especially prone to loud levels of sound projecting from the amplifier. In this Jan. 14 photograph, noisemakers use the amplifier to preach to people on the sidewalk, typically no more than six feet away. One must ask if the amplifier is intended to reach passersby or harass the neighborhood residents? (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)