Published on Saturday, April 12, 2003 by the Boston Globe
Massachusetts State Senator Seeks to Charge War Protesters for Costs
by Cynthia Roy
Fed up by war protesters clogging streets with their signs and traffic-obstructing tactics, the Republican leader of the state Senate has filed legislation to force them to pay the law enforcement costs of their demonstrations.
''These antiwar protesters are so hypocritical,'' said Lees. ''They stand out there with their signs that say don't spend our money on war. They should add a line that says don't spend our money on war, but spend it on arresting me.''
Under his proposal, protesters who block the flow of traffic would face a $50 fine and could be arrested. If convicted, they would be forced to pay the cost of the police officer who arrested them as well as the court fees.
Outraged, protesters say Lees is so intent on bringing money to the state by whatever means, that he is willing to take away the First Amendment rights of those who oppose the war.
''The cost of the freedom of speech is priceless,'' said Jennifer Horan, of the group United for Justice With Peace. ''The roads are public space that our tax dollars pay for, and we have the right to protest this invasion of Iraq.''
Lees said his bill is common sense and is necessary for ensuring public safety. While the language in the bill does not specifically mention war protesters, Lees made it clear that they are the target. He said he is ''sick of protesters who believe they are above the law.''
''It is only those who do not support our troops who are going out and lying down in the middle of roads,'' he said. ''All the prowar rallies have been held safely on town greens and on sidewalks, the way they should.''
But war protesters say they have the right to protest however they want, and say Lees is the real hypocrite.
''It seems to be his intent to discourage dissent,'' said Eric Weltman, organizing director for the group Citizens for Participation in Political Action. ''This is part of a pattern you are seeing to squash opposition and create an atmosphere of fear. It seems to be contrary to the values we are supposed to be defending in Iraq.''
Democratic lawmakers are siding with the protest groups, arguing that protest and civil disobedience are fundamental components of a democracy. Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat, equated Lees's bill with the laws of Cuba, where 75 dissidents were recently arrested.
''I have a question for Mr. Lees,'' he said. ''Why does he aspire to the behavior of dictators like Fidel Castro, who we are looking to unseat, instead of aspiring to the values of freedom and democracy that this country stands for?''
But with a glaring $3 billion budget deficit next fiscal year, some lawmakers say that although they oppose the bill, it must be viewed as a possible source of revenue for the state.
''While I personally oppose it and think most of the members would form an opinion against this, any bill that has a fiscal side, that could add money to the state coffers, has the potential to be closely looked at,'' said Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.