Friday, February 8, 2008

questions over where first amendment rights begin on ellsworth (updated)

Amateur photographer and Silver Spring resident Chip Py, whose run-in with Downtown Silver Spring security last June garnered national headlines and led to a march on Ellsworth Drive, is testing the limits of free speech in Downtown once again. This afternoon, Py was on Ellsworth handing out literature supporting presidential candidate Barack Obama when guards from the Peterson Companies, who manage the Downtown complex, demanded that he stop. Obama's campaign recently opened its MoCo headquarters a block away.

UPDATED: Chip has altered us that the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board will be discussing the incident and First Amendment rights on Ellsworth at their monthly meeting Monday night.

After the jump, Chip Py's letter sent to various Montgomery County officials:

My name is Chip Py and this summer I was prevented from taking pictures on Ellsworth Drive in what is now trademarked as Downtown Silver Spring. I brought this to the County Council and Executives attention, staged a protest on Ellsworth Drive, drew the attention of the media and the American Civil Liberties Union. But I am sure that you are more than aware of all of that as you authored the attached document about the publics right to use Ellsworth Drive and their first amendment rights on what you,through this document,have determined to be public space.

The reason that I am writing you tonight is something that I find completely unsettling based on the events of this past summer. Tonight after spending all day campaigning for my candidate of choice in the upcoming presidential primary I stood on Ellsworth Drive and exercised my first amendment rights of handing out campaign literature. I was immediately stopped by security guards working for the Peterson Companies who told me that I could not do that around here. I presented the letter from County Executive to the guard who called her supervisor over and said the same thing that handing out campaign literature is not allowed on Ellsworth Drive.I showed him the letter and was directed to the office there the head of security told me that the "The Photography thing this summer got all blown out of proportion' and that 'we can't just let anybody do what ever they want on Ellsworth drive'.

Quite frankly I find this offensive, the mistaken policy of the company that has been entrusted to run a taxpayer funded public/private development was tested and proven to be wrong this past summer and now with out regard to the people of Montgomery County who worked hard to right this wrong we are now faced with the denial of First Amendment Rights again on what the County Attorney's office has determined to be a public street.

I appeal to you, The office of the County Attorney, as the rule of law in this county to seek an answer. What are the next steps here?? What do we as citizens need to do to protect our fundamental freedoms on the streets of our town??

Thank you,
Chip Py


b said...

It is my understanding, that as an American, my first amendnment rights apply from the moment I leave the womb, till I'm placed in my grave. If minimum wage nazi's think different, then we should go after their employers, not them, but we should ACT!

Anonymous said...

This Chip guy is pushing the limits. Time to figure something better to do than harrass poor African secuity guards. Does this guy have a job besides being a amateur trouble-maker? Obviously not. And the blogging community along with Marc Fisher of the Post seems to be in bed with him...Only in Montgomery County.

WashingtonGardener said...

Anon - what is an "African security guard" is that some kind of new elite force? And if Chip's run-in was with "European security guards" would THAT be cool with you then?
The point is that is a PUBLICLY owned street and our rights are once again being assaulted.

KCinDC said...

Anonymous, the security guard is the one doing the harassing, along with the management. It's unbelievable that even though Chip showed them the letter from the county executive specifically stating that people are to have their First Amendment rights on Ellsworth, they ignored it.

If the security guard is poorly trained, then that's not his fault, but it's still a problem that needs to be rectified (and I'm not sure what "African" has to do with anything). If the Peterson Co. is violating its agreement with the county government, that's an even bigger problem, and I'm glad that Chip isn't taking it lying down.

Clancy said...

I don't completely understand how Py was stopped from distributing the literature. It seems like the Peterson security guards merely told him to stop. Did they physically restrain him? Call the police to have him arrested? Seize his literature? It seems as if they did not. So far, their tactics seem to rely on Py (and everyone else) being intimidated by their presence.

I would love for Py--or anyone for that matter--to test his commitment to the First Amendment by simply continuing to hand out the flyers when asked to stop. If the directive (to stop) violates his rights, then any resulting arrest would logically not be valid. If there was some sort of question on the matter (as the letter Py seems to carry with him would engender), one would think that the Police might be hesitant to arrest him.

Daniel said...

I am considering organizing an event similar to last summer's photography march, this time to hand out political literature. Unfortunately, the elections are Tuesday, so any event after that will not have the same impact, but it is time we remind Peterson Companies once again that they have no right to prevent us from exercising our First Amendment rights on a public street.

Hopefully we can get State Senator Jamie Raskin to show up like he did last year.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again! We have nazis working in Downtown Silver Spring? Or is there ignorant trouble makers looking to fight the system. Why must we always fight the system? Can't we just follow the rules and live a peaceful life in our own city. It ticks me off that I go down town to shop and I have to deal with people stopping me to talk about the ozone, saving the whales, stopping the war and trying to make me join a gym. Don't these people have any lives? I know that I would rather work for a living then go home to my family than wasting time bothering folks. Only this crap happens in Downtown Silver Spring. You can't change the world. For every rule you try to change, another problem arises. I think people forget that rules were created for a reason such as safety. Leave those poor guards alone and get a job.

silverspringtrails said...


I agree, we should follow the rules. The rules are defined by the constitution, and not by the Peterson Co. or their hired security employees. The point of the dispute is how we best get the Peterson Co. to follow the rules, i.e. the first amendment.

fpnss said...

There are a billion other places Mr. Py can hand out his propaganda. The developer is looking out for the interests of the patrons and pushing out any disruptive activity. You wouldn't want Mayor Lane pissing into Silver Fountain while your kids are playing in it, would you? Public urination only recently has been banned from public streets in Montgomery County. Only developers and their private security forces can confront such disruptive behavior and their role should be expanded. Get a job Mr. Py. Sen. Clinton needs you before she loses Tuesday.

Springvale Roader said...

Poor Anonymous 9:12, you just can't deal with people exercising their freedom of speech and taking a stand against problems? Maybe you should stand on the street corner and speak out against standing on the street corner and speaking out. It's your right as an American, you know, and that's a right many people the world over wish they had.

As for not being able to change the world: you're right. Blacks and women still can't vote. There are no cuts in sidewalks to help people with wheelchairs. AIDS is not discussed openly. Polluters are allowed to dump toxic waste in our lakes. Nobody questions wearing fur coats. The workweek is still seven days. But forget all that: the English still rule the American colonies and tax us without representation! I give up!

katmere said...

More than our rights being assaulted again, it never really stopped. There was an incident over the summery, and the County was clear in it's directive's in July. And PFA is blatantly ignoring it. They paid lip service to the idea, after significant public outcry, and without someone to put pain to it they never bothered to change.

They just hoped the annoying people would go away.

Their dishonesty with how they dealt with us in July was rude, and their decision to make no changes based on what was a pretty clear directive from the county is downright insulting to every citizen of MoCo, whether they are offended on their own behalfs or not.