City commissioners in Florida’s capital city have instituted a novel way of closing down criticism: cutting off the microphones of speakers at public meetings.
That kind of thinking would have gone over well behind the old Iron Curtain – or the current Cuba – but it’s not what most Americans think of when they think of freedom of speech.
An article in Sunday’s Tallahassee Democrat detailed a confrontation during a March 12 Tallahassee City Commission meeting where Mayor John Sparks shut down the microphone of Tallahassee resident Erwin Jackson while Jackson attempted to voice complaints about a member of the commission, describing acts that he said were part of court documents.
“We’re not going to tolerate personal attacks,” Marks said (see video below). “You’ve done enough of that. Please sit down. Please sit down before we have you escorted to sit down, sir.”
Marks then instructed a police officer to remove Jackson from the microphone to allow another speaker to take his place.
The incident took place only one day after switches were installed to allow the mayor and the city treasurer-clerk to cut off the microphones of speakers who ran over the three minutes allotted for individual comment or who violated the commission’s new policy of forbidding “personal attacks” against commissioners.
According to the Democrat, the policy was adopted last September after the Florida Legislature passed a law codifying the public’s right to speak at public gatherings. So local governments can no longer keep their subjects from speaking – but they can prevent them from engaging in speech they don’t like. And use armed force – in the form of police officers – to stifle it.
It might look like a show of force, but it’s just a cowardly form of bullying. And that kind of abuse of power doesn’t belong in the Sunshine State — or any part of the United States.
In an editorial that also appeared Sunday, the Democrat summed it up pretty well.
“[W]e can think of no greater threat to the principles of our democracy than letting government officials decide what citizens are allowed to say and equipping those officials with a kill switch on the microphone.”
If you can.
And if you want to see what it’s like when an elected official has the power to literally silence an opponent — and use the police to do it — check out the video here.
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