Got Free Speech? Berkeley’s Downtown Ambassadors Ignore the First Amendment

Berkeley’s so-called “Downtown Ambassadors” demonstrate their hostility towards freedom of speech by going after activists who post political messages in public. They seem unable to grasp that there is no law in the land that allows them to remove certain posters based on the political content of their message.

A Downtown Ambassador shows his contempt for the First Amendment by removing a flyer warning that Berkeley is eroding First Amendment rights. Do the Ambassadors understand the concept of irony — or the definition of free speech?

 

by Carol Denney

 

The “Ambassadors” in the Downtown Berkeley Association’s Block By Block program claimed on Sunday, August 19, that only flyers authored by the City of Berkeley were allowed on Constitution Square’s light poles.

That is what they told me as I was putting up a satirical, official-looking notice protesting the crackdown on homeless and poor people. My sign stated, “Restricted Area: Wealthy People Only — Have Your Badges Ready.”

“We’re just doing our job,” stated Ambassador program workers Jamie Bush and Craig Daniels as they repeatedly tried to pull down the flyers placed by the author of this article. I patiently replaced the signs as they were taken down, citing their legality under Berkeley Municipal Code.

Daniels got so heated when I replaced the posters he had just destroyed that he pried my fingers off the light pole in his next attempt to “clean” the pole.

I told him he had hurt my hand, but continued to replace the flyers, citing the First Amendment, while a witness stood by taking photographs. Daniels shielded his face, turned his badge over so that his name would not be visible, and finally removed his badge altogether.

Daniels also threatened to bring back a “rulebook” and “appeal to a higher power” regarding the poster issue, which I politely encouraged him to do.

“There is no law in the land that allows them to remove certain posters based on content while letting other posters remain,” I stated. “A content-based flier policy is illegal.”

The Ambassador workers then called the BART police, and an officer (Badge #261) responded and accosted me. He implied that putting up posters was illegal, but acknowledged that he was not sure of the law and did not arrest me.

“Fascism: It Starts Here. Downtown Berkeley.” This flyer copies the style of Berkeley’s self-aggrandizing posters to offer a more critical message about the city’s attempt to police the downtown.

 

At this point, I walked away for several minutes with the photographer who had witnessed this, and we met up with a videographer, then returned to the Constitution Square area where the Ambassador program workers were busily removing my fliers while leaving up “No Smoking” signs on the same light poles. I had put up all the signs, including the ones allowed to remain.

“I’m doing this to highlight the content-based, flyer-removal policy currently being utilized by the Ambassador program workers,” I said. “If the government can put up posters, then so can we.”

Carol Denney is a local Berkeley activist and the editor of the Pepper Spray Times. To read back issue of the Pepper Spray Times click here.

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