It may have been predestined by the political calendar that a small southeast Michigan town’s F-bomb flap would become a script for the silly season, that time in early summer when politicians pull stunts they hope snap voters’ attention away from the beach, if only for a moment.
The donnybrook is low-hanging fruit for a relatively unknown candidate whose political party is known for defending the unfettered right of people to say whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. In it, Libertarian James Weeks II, a candidate for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, may have stumbled upon the perfect stunt:
He's organizing a May 31 “This Is ‘Effing BS’ Rally,” staged near the playground where Brighton teen Colin Andersen was slapped with a $200 ticket for – Andersen claims – “muttering” those same words.
Weeks may be a political nobody, but his assertion that Brighton police violated Andersen’s First Amendment rights to free speech when they ticketed him under the city’s disorderly conduct ordinance isn’t wrong, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said Thursday, according to a Detroit Free Press report.
ACLU Michigan successfully defended Timothy J. Boomer, the so-called “cussing canoeist,” in a 2002 case dubbed “The People v. Potty Mouth” by the New York Times.
In People v. Boomer, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that an archaic 1897 law banning 'indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language'' in the presence of women or children was unconstitutional. The case stemmed from a 1999 canoe accident, when defendant Timothy J. Boomer let a string of vulgarities fly after he fell into an icy river. Authorities claimed his rant could be heard a quarter of a mile away.
“Courts across the country have consistently ruled that cursing is speech protected by the First Amendment, regardless if people are within earshot,” ACLU of Michigan Deputy Director Rana Elmir said Thursday, adding:
“I think we would all be in trouble if swearing wasn’t protected speech.”
Chant ‘This is Effing BS’ Around Naked Man?
Not everyone posting on Weeks’ campaign page on Facebook – where the all-caps slogan “I FIGHT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL” uses the encircled A, an oft-used symbol in the Anarchist movement – thinks the rally as a good idea, at least not in the planned location.
Ricky Gibson said rallying near the Imagination Station is too in authorities' faces, and thinks there are public places more suitable for free speech rally – say the nearby courthouse or the chamber of commerce building.
“I hope this whole rally thing … isn’t gonna be 60 people standing around the naked man swearing, ‘This is effing BS,’ ” Gibson posted on Facebook. “Don’t do it right there. People are going to be trying to enjoy their Saturday. Do it … somewhere it’ll actually make a difference, not somewhere it’ll just cause a disturbance.”
The normally quiet small town's place under the spotlight has caused headaches for Brighton Police Chief Tom Wightman, who said officers were patrolling the area after an increase in complaints about rowdy teenagers and young adults hanging out near the play structure.
The chief defended the ticket as part of an overall campaign to create a family-friendly community, but told WHMI Radio there’s no organized smackdown on swearing by his department.
Brighton’s disorderly conduct ordinance is standard municipal fare, Wightman said, no different than most others in that it includes language that breaches the peace among prohibited acts and gives officers discretion to consider a totality of circumstances.
Andersen's Video Telling His Side A Viral Gift
“This (happened) in a parking lot, like away from the play structure, away from any families or little kids,” he said on the video. “Under my breath, I just said, ‘this is effing BS’ because I was pissed, and I think anyone else would be if they just got kicked out of the park for no reason.”
The video is more political collateral material for Weeks, who only got the Libertarian nod in a nominating convention earlier this month.
It's a gift that keeps giving to a token third-party candidate with little stature in a race for an open congressional seat: The story is click-bait epitomized, resulting traffic is viral and in algorithms across the cybersphere, Weeks’ name may indexing a few points higher.