Monday, October 17, 2011

R.I.P. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

Further to laws that police public space to the detriment of the public:

The Economist has published, of all things, an astonishingly poetic obituary for two men of the civil rights era, dead within days of each other: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, a civil rights hero, and Dan Warren, a gentlemanly government lawyer who both prosecuted him and, at times, helped to keep the peace for him.

The obituary tells one of Rev. Shuttlesworth's stories, about a brave demonstration at a public beach. I'd known of another:

Rev. Shuttlesworth was the civil rights demonstrator sentenced to 241 days of hard labor for "loitering" on the sidewalk during a protest against racial discrimination in Birmingham department stores. The Supreme Court upheld his right to demonstrate in Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham.
"...In response to the second request [to clear the sidewalk], Shuttlesworth said, "You mean to say we can't stand here on the sidewalk?" After the third request he replied, "Do you mean to tell me we can't stand here in front of this store?" By this time everybody in the group but Shuttlesworth had begun to walk away, and Patrolman Byars told him he was under arrest. Shuttlesworth then responded, "Well, I will go into the store," and walked into the entrance of the adjacent department store. Byars followed and took him into custody just inside the store's entrance..."
It's one of the great cases defending civil rights and personal freedom in the United States. Admit I'd remembered it mainly because it was cited later in my favorite Supreme Court decision, Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville. It's the case that says this of the Birmingham loitering ordinance:
"...Literally read, therefore, the second part of this ordinance says that a person may stand on a public sidewalk in Birmingham only at the whim of any police officer of that city. The constitutional vice of so broad a provision needs no demonstration..."
It brings to mind a certain law against sitting or lying on sidewalks in San Francisco, of which political demonstrators are now falling afoul.

Eh, the past is really never past, is it?

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