FROM OUR PRINTED APRIL 2023 EDITION
No First Amendment in Boston Under Wu
Mothers Still Fighting in Court After Boston Police Intimidate Protesters
by Beth Guidry Hoffman
Moms charged criminally for peaceful protests and a police officer fired over Twitter comments about January 6 make it clear the First Amendment of the Constitution no longer applies in the city of Boston under Mayor Michelle Wu’s reign.
“We don’t have First Amendment rights here,” says Catherine Vitale, in an interview on Street Talk with Stiletto on rumble.com (3-16-23). “Showing up and protesting are meant to shame public officials who aren’t being held accountable for violating freedom of speech,” she said.
When public meetings began to be held remotely during the shutdown, Vitale was “forced into action.” What they were doing to people was “muting and booting,” she said. “You didn’t get to address your government. You didn’t get to say whatever you wanted during a public hearing.” They would just “mute you or boot you or they blocked you from coming on altogether if they knew who you were,” Vitale continued. Note: Public meetings that went remote due to the pandemic continue to be remote—with officials having the ability to mute and boot on Zoom—although the state-declared emergency ended in June of 2021.
There were other First Amendment violations. “Nine arrests so far among five people, all in connection with Mayor Wu,” Vitale said. “Three … of the five are still facing criminal charges … for peaceful protesting.”
Small groups of Boston Police officers block multiple exits from a chain link fenced-in park – refusing to let protesters get closer to Mayor Wu. Mothers let the cops know exactly how they felt about having their 1st Amendment rights stomped on, and squeezed past the officers who yielded (did not physically engage – their threat/bluff being called by the mothers). – Screen Capture: Street Talk with Stiletto on rumble.com.
Two arrests pertain to Wu’s new ordinance superseding the normal Boston city ordinance for noise. As reported previously in the Broadside (Sept. 1, 2022), ordinarily hours protected from loud noise are from 11:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m. It’s legal to be awakened by a construction jackhammer at 7 a.m. in a Boston neighborhood. But after the Boston City Council voted 9 to 4 to pass Wu’s narrowly written ordinance last March, 9 a.m. became the new time before which protesting in neighborhoods is no longer allowed. Coincidentally, 9 a.m. is the time Wu leaves for City Hall. There is video of Wu sneaking out the back of her home running across a neighbor’s property. It’s not as though she is being hunted. She is a public official, after all. But to date, Wu has refused to engage with the protesters.
Wu’s ordinance is civil, punishable by fines, but the moms were also charged criminally for disturbing the peace. While sitting in court waiting to be called … Vitale witnessed the judge dropping other cases right in front of them. One was a case “of someone … stealing from a store.” Vitale’s charges, however, are dragging on from eight months ago. The court is still “waiting for discovery (document search used by legal teams) from DA’s offices.” As for the criminal charges for “disturbing the peace” protesting at Wu’s house, Vitale said, “it’s already been ruled before that you can’t be charged with disturbing the peace while you’re protesting. It’s … First Amendment protected speech.” (tinyurl.com/yvwxmtem) Vitale is currently running for Boston city councilor-at-large. (vitaleforboston.com)
Sergeant Shana Cottone leads Boston First Responders United, a group opposed to vaccine mandates for city employees. Cottone also protested at Wu’s Roslindale home as well as at City Hall. A 15-year veteran of the department, Cottone is one of three police officers recently fired by the city of Boston. She is appealing her firing.
Also fired was Officer Joseph Abasciano, a retired Marine and Iraq veteran. He had been “under investigation by the department for his presence … in Washington, D.C.,” on January 6, 2021, and for “accusing former Vice President Mike Pence of treason on Twitter.” Boston First Responders issued a statement, saying “the cases against both officers are … politically motivated and retaliation for speaking out in support of personal choice and freedom of speech.” (“3 police officers fired over misconduct, Jan. 6 actions,” Boston Globe, 3/15/23)
In a recent development, Wu’s police department put out a summary of an internal affairs report, evidently leaked (possibly by Wu herself) against Sgt. Cottone. The report is believed “to disgrace her and rally public sentiment against her,” according to Joe Battenfeld of the Boston Herald. “This handoff to media outlets is the worst kind of heavy-handed politics, the equivalent of shooting a mosquito with a canon,” he said. (Battenfeld: “You Can’t Fight Michelle Wu’s City Hall,” Boston Herald, March 23, 2023.)
“The First Amendment right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy. But it is also unfortunately true that governments and police can violate this right through the use of mass arrests, illegal use of force, criminalization of protest, and other means intended to thwart free public expression.” (tinyurl.com/2s4ft6n4) ♦