[UPDATED below to include BOPA comment.]
Thoughts on this, Brew readers?
For the second year in a row, anti-abortion picketers displaying signs with bloody and explicit images made the scene at Artscape – this year in a very prominent spot, in front of The Lyric.
Many people attending Baltimore’s venerable annual celebration of art, craft, children’s games and rides, music and fried dough stopped in their tracks, jaws agape when they saw the deliberately provocative “Art of Abortion” display.
“I think it’s disgusting. I think it’s awful that they’re making that little child hold that sign,” said Lydia Michailo, of Virginia Beach.
“It’s unnecessary. You’ve got little kids walking here,” said Amani Haal, who was with Michailo. “It’s not appropriate,” Michailo added. “It’s not like we’re outside an abortion clinic.”
Shocking and disgusting was, of course, the point, said one of the people holding the signs with the glistening red tissue, Moira Sheridan. “Conveying the magnitude of this horror is worth the risk of upsetting people,” Sheridan said.
“I’ve seen two dozen small children walk by without blinking,” Sheridan also said. “Small children see violence all the time on their televisions sets, in movies. And that’s fictional.”
One man who said he didn’t agree with the protesters, Charles Pekow of Bethesda, nevertheless defended “their First Amendment right to agitate.” City officials seem to be taking this position, as well.
Several people approached nearby Baltimore police officers to ask if the city, which subsidizes and promotes Artscape, was okay with this. The officers said basically, yes, as long as the protesters don’t block the pedestrian flow on the sidewalk.
The protesters had not been given permission to be in the spot, according to Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, Artscape organizers. “We received several complaints via email and referred the matter to the Baltimore Police and the City Solicitor’s Office,” she said.
No response yet from city police to our request for clarification on their policy for these and other protesters.
A thought: where was all this municipal concern for the First Amendment at other protests squelched by the city this year?
One example is the January action in which Occupy Baltimore demonstrators tried to go to City Hall to protest the closure of city recreation centers. And city police blocked them and threw their sign – a mock recreation center – into a trash truck.
Here’s what their sign looked like:
We asked Baltimore police what the difference was and spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said it was the size of the Occupy group’s sign. “There was some concern it would block the pedestrian flow and constitute a safety hazard,” Gugliemi told The Brew.