Free Speech Zone

Today I was out volunteering my time canvassing for a presidential candidate.  I was delivering fliers to people on a list of reliable party voters in my neighborhood and it had been relatively uneventful aside from the occasional “Good afternoon” exchanged with passing neighbors out for walks. 

As I was climbing the mile-long hill out of the Olentangy river valley, I noticed a house with a POD and a bunch of furniture out in front.  A woman in a car pulled up and got out, then upon noticing the furniture started screaming at a man who seemed to be doing some kind of work in the garage.  She went from 0-60 in no time flat.  One moment she was casually stepping out of her car, the next she was engaged in a full-on tirade.  I assume it was her house (the county auditor lists it as belonging to a Julia Sycks-Alldredge). 

About 3 houses up the hill and across the street, I had an address on my list, so I laid down my bike near the street, walked up to the door, and unobtrusively placed the flier under the doormat with a few inches sticking out so it couldn’t blow away but it’d be noticed. 

I was out of water and it was a hot day, and I only had 8 houses to go when I noticed the woman from down the street yelling something in my direction.  She seemed to be demanding to know what I put on her neighbors porch.

I picked up my bike and crossed the street and thought, you know, it’s really none of her business.  She’s not on my list, and as far as I know, it’s not her house (according to the County Auditor, the houses do not belong to the same person so it seems my first guess was correct).  She didn’t seem to be in a good mood so I figured I’d offer her one as well and I said “It’s a political campaign flier, would you like one?”

She immediately responded that she did not want one and that the neighbor did not want one either.  Then she said that the neighbor was handicapped and could not pick things up.  I pondered this for a moment.  Maybe she was telling the truth, but I saw no evidence of this.  Furthermore, I know many elderly people who cannot pick things up – and their neighbors often help them in this task.  At any rate, all I knew is that this woman several houses away was *ordering* me to go pick it up, and I didn’t know her from Eve.

I asked the woman if the house was hers.  She didn’t really answer, but becoming increasingly irate, she stormed up the street to the front porch of the house and said “Fine!  If you won’t pick it up – I’m calling THE POLICE!!!”.  Then she explained that I was really in for it because she “works for the police department”.  My response was that in that case she should be aware that it is illegal to file a false police report.

She angrily asserted to the police dispatcher that I had placed an item on *her* porch and that when asked, I had not removed it.  Indeed, if this were the case, I would sympathize.  In fact, even if she would have lied and said she owned both houses, then I would have probably retrieved it and apologized for the misunderstanding.

She demanded my name and I said “I’ll gladly give it to the police when they arrive.” to which she replied that I had really done it now because the police were on their way.

Knowing the police in my city, it could have been a half-hour or more before they arrived – and they could have never bothered to show up.  Furthermore, the woman could have been lying about calling the police at all.  With that in mind, I decided to finish up the street at a leisurely pace just in case the police really did want to infringe on my civil liberties on her behalf.

I easily dropped off fliers at the next 8 houses, then began a leisurely ride back to my house.  Suddenly a police car (31-R) pulled up beside me and the officer asked if I could stop to talk for a minute.

He said “Hey buddy, why am I getting calls about you putting stuff on peoples porches and not taking it off?”

I explained that I was canvassing for a presidential candidate based on a list of registered voters with that party and had been for days in the neighborhood without incident.  Then I told him of witnessing the woman unleash a tirade on someone at her own house before turning her authoritarian rage my way.  I explained that when ordered to remove the flier I asked her if she owned the house and she did not indicate that she was the owner, and that considering that fact I owed her no more credence than the many neighborhood dogs that had barked at me earlier in my day, I did not comply.

I explained that if the woman opted to make an issue of it, I’d be happy to push back for her filing a false report to the police and, considering she said that she worked for the police department, impersonating police.  The officer smiled and said “It’d be hard for me to believe that she has anything to do with the police department”.

The officer explained that I had to remove materials if people asked me to, and I clarified that I had to remove them if the property owner asked me to.  This woman did not indicate that she was the property owner – and every other indication was that she was 16B (the Columbus police code for a crazy person).

The officer then smiled and said “Heh, she probably is.  You didn’t break any laws, and I won’t be filing a report, just remember that if people ask you to remove stuff to do so if it’s their property.”  I said I’d continue to do that, then he said he was glad to see people out exercising their rights to free speech and becoming involved in our nation’s political process.

I explained that he could expect to see me canvassing in the neighborhood in the future and he smiled, nodded and drove off.

Who knows what the woman’s problem is.  Clearly she was having a bad day.  But that’s no reason to harass people walking down the street and waste the time of the police when they could be dealing with crimes.

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