THERE IS NOTHING subtle about the repressive and censorious actions behind this year’s Muzzle Awards.
At Brown University, some pupils didn’t like it when the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, published a provocative ad opposing slavery reparations for African-Americans — so they stole and destroyed copies of the paper and mobbed the Herald’s office.
In Newburyport, residents were asked to pay $60 to have bricks on a public walkway inscribed with a message of their choice. But when Mayor Lisa Mead received complaints that two of the bricks contained religious references, she had them removed.
Ever leery of the potential excesses of democracy, the Founders warned against the tyranny of the majority, who might vote to take rights away from the minority. But that didn’t stop Massachusetts citizens last fall from stripping prison inmates of the right to vote, thus drawing an ugly mustache on the state constitution written some 200 years ago by John Adams.
This year’s Muzzle Awards include a repeat winner as well. Former governor Paul Cellucci, who also won both in our inaugural year, 1998, and in 1999, joins our Hall of Shame for insisting that the MBTA stick to its anti-free-speech policy of refusing to run advertising by a marijuana-decriminalization group. Hall of Shame members are ineligible for future awards, but we at Muzzle Central are grateful for Cellucci’s many contributions over the years.
This year’s round-up of anti-free-speech zealots — presented, once again, just before the Fourth of July — was compiled by keeping a close eye on freedom-of-expression issues throughout the year. It is based mainly on stories reported by various New England news outlets, including the Phoenix, and on the Web sites of free-speech organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org) and the Freedom Forum (www.freedomforum.org). The criteria: the person or persons singled out must have committed their misdeeds in New England, and said misdeeds must have taken place — or come to fruition — since July 4 of last year.
A final note. Since last year’s Muzzle Awards were announced, we have learned that the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has been awarding the “Jefferson Muzzles,” to dishonor enemies of free speech on a national level, since 1992. The Jefferson Center can be found on the Web at www.tjcenter.org.
Onetime leftist David Horowitz has made his reputation as a racial provocateur, reinventing himself in recent years as an outspoken conservative.
This spring, in a blatant bid to raise his profile, Horowitz submitted an ad to college newspapers across the country. The title: “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea — and Racist Too.” His hope: to castigate student journalists who refused to run the full-page ad as hostile to free speech.
Yet his greatest publicity coup came at a college whose paper did run the ad — Brown University, where the Brown Daily Herald took Horowitz’s $725 and published his ad in its March 13 edition. Three days later (this obviously was not a spontaneous action), a mob of Brown students stole and destroyed copies of the paper and stormed the Herald’s offices to demand that the editors apologize, and that they give the money “back to the Third World Community.” Herald staff members reportedly barricaded themselves inside as frenzied protesters attempted to break in and grab the last 100 copies of that day’s paper.
To their credit, the Herald’s editors refused to back down — and the university administration supported them. The next day, 4000 copies of the paper were distributed under police guard. Brown’s interim president, Sheila Blumstein, called the removal and destruction of the newspapers “unacceptable.”
There is no shortage of candidates for this particular Muzzle. Brown’s director of Afro-American studies, Lewis Gordon, told the Washington Post, apparently with a straight face, that the papers seized by the protesters couldn’t be considered stolen because “if something is free, you can take as many copies as you like.” The self-styled Coalition of Concerned Students even found something pernicious in the Herald’s status as a privately owned corporation that receives no Brown funds, justifying the protesters’ actions by accusing the Herald of “masquerading as a University paper.”
The Muzzle, though, has to go to the nameless mob that destroyed papers and pounded on the Herald’s doors. Some were certainly coalition members; but no doubt others were just along for the excitement. A mob is a terrifying, mindless force, even when it consists of privileged Ivy League students. No one’s rights are safe when a mob mentality takes over.
Obscured by the free-speech controversy were the merits of Horowitz’s ad, which are certainly debatable. For instance, Horowitz’s assertion that “trillions of dollars” have already been paid to African-Americans in the form of welfare and hiring preferences is not just offensive but wrong, given that more whites than blacks are on welfare.
Nor was the Brown Daily Herald under any obligation to accept the ad. College papers that turned it down have nothing to be ashamed of. At least one paper — the Harvard Crimson — showed uncommon good sense by rejecting the ad, but then running an image of it to accompany an article on the issue.
But the Brown Daily Herald, once having decided to accept the ad, had every reason to expect that its free-speech rights would be respected. That those rights were threatened in an academic environment only compounds the ugliness.
Targeting S&M in “Paddleboro”
They were ordinary men and women who liked to dress in exotic leather outfits and spank each other. Until, that is, one night last July, when Attleboro police raided their club. Suddenly they were the subject of titters, and of snickering Boston Herald headlines such as spank bust ripped as bum rap.
But “Paddleboro,” as the affair came to be known, was about something considerably more important than the dubious joys of sadomasochism. At root, it was about the right of people to participate in consensual sex, in private, without having to fear that police will burst in and arrest them.
Police patrolling a privately owned building stumbled across a reported 50 or so men and women with whips, chains, and other S&M toys. A Manhattan woman, Stefany Reed, was charged with assault and battery for spanking a woman with a wooden spatula. Ben Davis, a Hudson, New Hampshire, man suspected of running the $25-per-person party, was charged with assaulting a police officer, as well as with several other offenses that sound like something out of the 17th-century Puritan legal code, such as exhibiting or lending articles for self-abuse and keeping a house of ill fame for lewdness.
By all accounts, the woman on the receiving end of the spatula suffered nothing worse than some reddening of the skin — something she had, after all, requested. As ACLU of Massachusetts lawyer Sarah Wunsch told the Associated Press, “In general, voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults is constitutionally protected activity — or should be.” Added lawyer John Ward, “If you take the sex out of it, what is the difference between this and boxing and other dangerous activities that people engage in all the time?”
But Attleboro police were unrepentant. And prosecutor Roger Ferris, in an interview with the Providence Journal, defended the arrests, contending that Davis had struck one of two cops who discovered the party while on a routine patrol of the building. “The assault gave them the right to go inside and make the arrest,” Ferris said.
Ferris’s comments, though, serve as little more than a convenient cover for a disturbing truth: once police had obtained entry, they used their presence to go after people whose idea of a good time did not jibe with the officers’ view of mainstream norms.
Numerous news reports pointed out that the club had operated for months without being detected, even though it was across the street from the Attleboro police station and a short distance from City Hall — further proof, if any were needed, that the S&M enthusiasts were not bothering anyone.
It’s time for the Attleboro police to get the message.
A Web site devoted to Ben Davis’s legal defense can be found at www.paddleboro.com.
Issue Date: June 28- July 5, 2001