In an amazing turnabout of tolerance, more than 20 left-wing protesters from the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice (CCPJ) were allowed to congregate, mill and perform (anti-Bush!) “street theatre” (see video and photos below) in the parking lot of Democrat Congressman Tom Perriello’s Charlottesville office, Wednesday, May 19, 2010, without complaint.
This, on the heels of the November 17, 2010 prohibition by Charlottesville Police—at the direction of Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warner David Chapman—of a similar but far smaller protest planned by the University of Virginia College Republicans.
On that occasion, approximately four members of the conservative group were met on the premises of Perriello’s parking lot by professional but stern warnings from three Charlottesville police officers. The college students were told then that under no circumstances could they congregate in or occupy any portion of the lot.
This position was solidified in a November 16, 2009 email from Charlottesville Police Chief, Tim Longo:
…I met with the property owner of the Glass Building on Friday, and spoke with her over the weekend as well. She expressed concern that the various gatherings on her property have adversely impacted businesses and have created unsafe conditions on the parking lot as well.
Captain Kirby and I have met with the Deputy City Attorney, Rich Harris, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Dave Chapman, on Friday to discuss the best course of action. We have come to the conclusion that the property owner is well within her right to ask that the various assemblies move off of her property and on to the public sidewalk.
I have directed officers who may be called to respond to this location to identify the organizer and politely and professionally advise them that the property owner has requested that they leave the parking lot. Thereafter, the group is free to lawfully assemble on the public sidewalk if they so desire.
Yours is not the only group that has visited this site over the past few weeks. I will work to identify the others and provide them with the same information…
Property owner, Lisa Murphy, herself a liberal Democrat (and a $1000 donor to Perriello’s 2008 campaign), was nowhere to be seen during this protest—this in stark contrast to conservative-based gatherings where Murphy personally and angrily ordered conservatives to leave.
In a December 10, 2009 cover story, The Hook quoted landlord Murphy’s justification for banning protests from her property:
“I want to send a clear message,” says Murphy. “We are not going to risk safety of people and small children in a small parking lot with cars attempting to get through people while others are pulling out in order for this minority to get media coverage.”
Murphy went on to assure The Hook that her complaints for removal were not politically motivated:
“There is no one of any party allowed to stand in front of, in, or block egress to a privately owned parking space that tenants are paying $100 per month for, no matter what party they are from or how much money they gave to local government,” she says.
“I would never think,” she continues, “because I supported a candidate that I had the right to go onto someone’s property and endanger their business and the safety of others to get media attention.”
Also inexplicably absent was spa owner and Perriello neighboring tenant, Victoria Snapp, a visibly and audibly irritated presence at nearly every previous conservative protest held at Perriello’s Charlottesville office. In The Hook story, Snapp made a business case for banning conservative protests from the parking lot she shares with the Congressman:
“It was turning into a nightmare,” says Snapp. “Last week,” she says in mid-November, “we had three different assemblies, and the smallest was 17 to 20 people.”
“We’re a full service spa,” she explains. “You want to get a massage to step away from the world. The last thing you want to do is go through a screaming crowd while trying to relax.”
“Here we are trying to peacefully enjoy our business,” says Snapp, “and there’s no consideration.”
Police were not on-hand for Wednesday’s CCPJ protest, but in light of Murphy’s and Snapp’s expressed concerns, why were police not called or proactively present? The protest itself was well publicized via a CCPJ email media release and extensive pre-event flier distribution at the Charlottesville City Market.
Civil liberties organization, The Rutherford Institute, became involved in the free-speech dispute surrounding Perriello’s parking lot last year, after being contacted by both the University of Virginia College Republicans and the Jefferson Area Tea Party.
A December 10, 2009 Rutherford media release characterized the situation:
The Rutherford Institute was contacted by a number of individuals concerned about restrictions imposed upon their ability to exercise their constitutional rights at Congressman Tom Perriello’s office in the City of Charlottesville. Specifically, representatives of the Jefferson Area Tea Party and the University of Virginia College Republicans have been prohibited from engaging in peaceful petitioning activities at Perriello’s office. They have also been informed that they would be deemed trespassers if they dared to demonstrate on political issues while in the parking lot to Perriello’s office. The College Republicans were met by the police and informed that they could not have access to the parking lot.
In a same-day letter to Congressman Perriello, John Whitehead, President of Rutherford, urged Perriello to move his office location in order to protect First Amendment rights of potential protesters. Perriello subsequently declined.
While CCPJ members were knowledgeable of recent prohibitions of protest in front the Congressman’s Charlottesville office, they chose to gather in the prohibited areas anyway, perhaps aware that they would not be bothered due to the leftist political leftist of the building’s owner.
In Socialist bastions like Charlottesville, Virginia, political biases in governance unfortunately are to be expected, but no such expectation should apply to prosecution of the law or application of legal edicts.
If the property owner and other tenant complainants are to be believed—that police involvement and subsequent prohibitions were not politically based—then the questions remain:
- Why were the police not called on this occasion?
- Why were the property and business owners not concerned for safety of “people and small children” during this leftist gathering?
CCPJ’s media release notes that this protest is the first in an ongoing series, scheduled to take place on the third Wednesday of each month in the same location.
If they were not previously, the legal, private and government establishment now is on notice of potential infraction and misapplication of justice . Will the CCPJ’s Perriello parking lot reception remain as unencumbered on the third Wednesday of June?
Photos and video courtesy of Keith Drake, Carlisle Media Group