Vermilion Parish-It’s Not Russia!

By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion

Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech.png
Recent events remind me of an iconic painting from an American artist of an earlier era. The painting features a young man speaking at a town hall meeting. His clothing and hands are dirty from work and are a contrast to the white shirts, coats and ties worn by the other men in the painting. He is visibly poorer and younger than those around him. None of that matters. He is standing in the painting and is speaking without fear and with the confidence of a free man in a free nation, the equal under the law of anyone in that room. There is no police officer hovering in the background. The man in the painting is not looking worriedly over his shoulder afraid that the authorities will come should he say the wrong thing or be insufficiently obsequious to petty authority. When the painting was commissioned, America was locked in mortal combat with Nazi tyranny with the outcome far from certain. The painting is Norman Rockwell’s 1943 “Freedom of Speech” and over the intervening 75 years remains the finest artistic interpretation of the First Amendment ever rendered.

I thought of Rockwell’s painting when I looked at the news and saw a video of a middle school teacher being forcibly removed from a school board meeting and subsequently arrested for having the unmitigated gall to question the propriety of a rather sizable raise for the district superintendent. I watched the whole video several times from start to finish, from her asking questions of the board through her being escorted out, handcuffed on the floor and being frog marched to a police car out in the parking lot. There was no outburst. There was no obscenity laced rant. No threats to anyone were uttered. There was no assault, at least not by her. The deputy marshal’s shouted order to “stop resisting!” was obviously for show, not borne out by the video and would be laughable were it not the basis for one of the craptastic charges for which she was arrested.

Make no mistake, that night’s events were an assault on our liberties as a free people and should be regarded as such. An arrest is a serious, life changing event where an armed agent of the state handcuffs you and takes you to jail. He or she may use force to effect this. You may not resist. If you have any kind of responsible job, you probably just lost it. Even if you are released later, the record will follow you for the rest of your life. At best, it will be an expensive hassle. At worst, it will morph into serious trouble. Taking that into account, do you still want to speak up at the meeting? Do you even want to go to the meeting? It is by merest chance that this ham-handed retaliation failed and so spectacularly backfired. Think what would have happened had there not been a news outlet taping the meeting and capturing the whole sordid mess on video. It would have been her word against the officer and board members. I think it would be a safe bet that she would find herself in a much more precarious legal position. A free press watching the government is a bulwark of liberty. In a small town in southern Louisiana, a schoolteacher and a reporter with a camera phone proved the 231 year old First Amendment still holds an overreaching government at bay. The Founding Fathers would have been proud.

Who was this troublemaker, this agent of anarchy who was such a threat to public order? A fellow citizen, a schoolteacher who had been selected as teacher of the year, no less, stood in a school board meeting, was recognized and expressed her opposition to the board giving a sizable raise to the district’s superintendent. That led to her removal from the meeting and arrest, an arrest I might add that took place out of sight in the hallway outside ot the meeting room. It would have worked had it not been for an alert reporter with a camera.

No citizen should fear his or her government. No governmental body should be able to pervert with impunity the legitimate police power of the state in order to retaliate against dissent. It destroys public trust in both the government and law enforcement. This is the United States of America, not Putin’s Russia!

Photo Courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum

 

11 thoughts on “Vermilion Parish-It’s Not Russia!

  1. Excellent article – and very timely – That guy standing in the meeting, no matter what his concerns are – should be able to express them without fear of being assaulted — equally frightening to me are the gangs of masked students preventing any opinions but their own to be expressed on our nations college campuses, often supported and encouraged by professors. Attacking others ‘freedom of speech’ because theirs is the only correct way to think. I am so proud of that teacher in Vermillion Parish – sounds like her concern was a legitimate one.

  2. The “evil” lawyer DID NOT place the dreaded handcuffs on the verbose-time limited expired teacher. The “evil” lawyer only excluded her from the room so the agenda/meeting could continue. The young officer escorting her out into the hall cuffed her on his own “authority/power/misapplied/illtrained” self.
    Your hatred, scorn and distaste for lawyers overshadows your concern for the cuffing. Get a life!Better yet, don’t be so angry!!!

  3. You get the government you deserve. This is particularly true at the local level. I hope the Vermilion Parish citizens who voted to elect this school board will reconsider their choices come next November. Perhaps the citizens of Natchitoches Parish should do the same.

  4. A cautious warning that power corrupts and complete power corrupts completely. The police officer use his badge and authority under the law improperly and is, in the same vein, also corrupt. Well stated Kevin!

  5. The School Borad President that put this travesty into motion is an attorney who used legal lawyerly double speak to justify his actions. He justified his action based on some bizarre notion that by asking questions of the board during the time for commments somehow violated the rules. This is just one more example of many as to why you should never give political power to lawyers.

    • Paul. Well said. This is the crux of the matter in it’s entirety. Lawyers are ruining this country. Laws should be used to settle disputes not to instigate them.

    • False, she tried to introduce an item for discussion that was not on the agenda (teacher pay). When she was told the issue couldn’t be discussed because it was not on the agenda, she persisted anyway, which resulted in her being asked to leave. She refused to comply with direct orders from a peace officer which resulted in her arrest.
      You want to talk about the 1st Amendment? What about the school boards right to peaceable assemble?

      • Sorry Toby; the First Amendment right to peaceble assembly DOES NOT apply to the government, in this case the School Board. That right is reserved to the citizenry. The teacher was VERY peaceable in addressing the Board, until the heavy hand of the government intervened and violated her rights. It’s also obvious to me that the Vermilion School Board needs to revisit its policies for addressing the Board.

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