White House Vigil
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
July 21, 1984
Mr. G. Ray Arnett
Assistant Secretary for Fish
and Wildlife and Parks
U.S. Department of the Interior
Office of the Secretary
Washington, D.C. 20240
Re; USA vs. Thomas Compliance with Judge Louis Oberdorfer's Federal District Court Order dated 7/19/84 for camping" guidelines
Dear Mr. Arnett:
My wife, Ellen Benjamin Thomas, has shared your letter of July 11, 1984 with me. It is refreshing to receive some official recognition that I actually exist after three years of harassment and ridicule. Thank you, Mr. Arnett, for your expressed concern. And thank you. Secretary Clark, for passing Ellen’s letter on to Mr. Arnett.
On July 19, 1984, I was sentenced by Judge Louis Oberdorfer of U.S. District Court to two years probation on my third conviction for "camping." Given the Supreme Court's recent decision (CCNV vs. Clark), I'm pleased by Judge Oberdorfer's leniency. His behavior indicates to me that he is just another pawn with a twinging conscience in a system running amok a system composed of people who are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but who value things above people, who fail to do for others as they would have others do for them.
A condition of Judge Oberdorfer's sentence was the provision that the Interior Department or the National Park Service be consulted with respect to any communicative activities which I intend to engage in within memorial core area parks. I am pleased that Judge Oberdorfer made this suggestion, because I am as confused as the police and the entire judicial system seem to be about precisely what constitutes "camping." In this most recent conviction a friend, Concepcion Picciotto, was found innocent of "camping" after having been arrested by the same police officer at the same time, doing exactly the same thing I was doing. Somewhere in between my behavior and that of Mrs. Picciotto must lie the line between constitutionally protected and criminal behavior, and I think it is imperative that everyone concerned in this unfortunate state of confusion over loosely defined regulations be given guidelines which can be strictly followed or strictly broken under the law.
On its face this may seem nothing more than a "frivolous" or abstract consideration. However, the practicality of it and its effect on human lives is, it seems, clearly evident. Witness my 23 "camping"
related arrests over the past three years. Witness my sentence of two years probation, with imposition of prison sentence suspended. This, in practical terms, means that any time during the next two years, perhaps as in the past as a result of a police officer's subjective interpretation or the whim of a probation officer whose reason may be clouded by religious, racial, political, economic, or personal beliefs, I may be sent to prison for any length of time which Judge Oberdorfer, who also is not immune from personal beliefs, deems appropriate.
To bring this consideration even closer to reality, let us examine the cases of Anthony Nelson, Aimilee Werner, and Cassimer J. Urban, Jr.
Anthony Nelson was arrested for camping along with six other people by Officer David Haynes on June 6, the same incident Ellen describe to you in her June 18 letter where three of us were assaulted by Officer Haynes and then charged with assault. The assault charges have been dropped by the government despite, or perhaps because of, Officer Haynes' perjurious testimony at the preliminary hearing. The camping charges remain.
Anthony Nelson had only just arrived in Lafayette Park a few hours prior to the arrest. He was seated under a tree in the predawn tranquility discussing philosophies with several individuals, one of them a citizen of New York who had arrived at only three a.m. that same morning to petition the government for redress of a grievance, and who was also arrested. Since Anthony was in no way connected with the demonstration and since he was not symbolically, casually, or in any other way sleeping, building a fire, preparing food, breaking ground, pitching a tent, or any other activity which might be construed as "camping," he was, obviously, unfairly arrested. Nevertheless, he was found in violation of parole and is now in prison, his parole officer obviously having by whim clouded by religious, racial, political, economic or personal beliefs decided that Mr. Nelson is guilty until proven innocent.
Judge Joyce Green set a "minor" cash bond of $300, and since the Park Police are still holding as evidence (claiming they belong to me) Anthony's backpack and $180, all that he possessed in the world, I'm told –- he is stuck in prison until someone can satisfy the bond requirements or hear the case. Judging from past experience it could be six to ten months before the case is heard. I have been trying for a couple of weeks to appeal to the public via the only effective forms of communication available to me, signs, literature, and speech, for assistance in satisfying Anthony's bond requirements, at this point to no avail.
Aimilee Werner (aka "Jane Doe) has a different sort of problem. She was swept up in another arrest on June 23 because she was lying in the grassy area about 15 yards behind our antinuclear signs. Neither Ellen nor I was sleeping or performing any other camping activities, but apparently our time had come to be arrested (again by Officer Haynes).
Mrs. Werner is a harmless Eastern European woman, 53 years old, without a home or family in D.C., who seemed to have been drawn to us because of the protection our 24-hour vigil provides against rape and mugging. Because Mrs. Werner has been abused by a society which has little patience with a poor, aging woman with a language barrier, and because she had never been made to understand that sleeping at night on the grass in a public park which teens with sleeper during the day is considered a "crime in the United States, she at first refused to give her name to the police. She later did give the information and listed her address as the Community for Creative Nonviolence "women's shelter at 2nd and D Streets N.W., which is where she says she receives her mail. Throughout the three days she and Ellen were imprisoned together between our 5:30 a.m. arrest and our appearance before the magistrate she was cooperative and respectful, merely protesting her innocence of any crime the few times she spoke. While in jail with Ellen she was suffering from a migraine headache for several hours, but was repeatedly denied either an aspirin or a doctor. When she did appear before the magistrate she was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for a 90 day "evaluation" without the benefit of counsel, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right, and she may well be held either at St. Elizabeth's or in prison until such time as this case comes to trial, again probably six to ten months, because she has no money with which to purchase a permanent address or to purchase her freedom.
Cassimer J. Urban, Jr. has been a fellow vigiler in Lafayette Park since March, 1984. His vigil is also his campaign for President on a platform of peace. For some reason, probably the sheer luck of not having been in the park when Officer Haynes swept us up, Cass was not arrested until July 17, when he was incarcerated for lying on a blanket on a sidewalk in front of a sign which read "Welcome to Reaganville 1984, where sleep is considered a crime.
Cass was assigned a public defender, who recommended to the Court that he undergo a forensic examination "because he disagrees with everything the rules and regulations, aims, and structure of the system." This attorney concluded there was reason to question Cass's sanity, although he hadn't said anything in and of itself notably unreasonable, because "when one disagrees with everything about the system, one's life becomes very difficult." Indeed. Particularly when one chooses to disagree publicly, and to peacefully communicate that disagreement with the free speech one is supposedly guaranteed under the First Amendment.
As a result of this public defender's recommendation, Cass too was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for 30 days, although the last I heard he was still in D.C. Jail because they lost him on the computer, which lists him as Urban Camiser."
On June 27, 1984, President Reagan made a speech to the Soviet Union in which he suggested that a condition of renewing arms negotiations would be for the Soviet Union to be more concerned with the civil rights of its dissidents, to stop putting in Jail or mental institutions those individuals who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Soviet system. Yet here is Cass, locked in a mental institution without benefit of trial, and here I am, facing in inevitable prison sentence if the police continue behaving true to form, for expressing our dissatisfaction with a system which values things over people, death over life, park benches over the homeless, and the voice of slavery to money and fear over the voice of reason and logic. This type of incident cannot continue, Mr. Arnett, lest we find ourselves, like much of the rest of the world, totally devoid of individual rights. I am afraid, however, that unless we can get clear guidelines as to what is legal and what is not legal in Lafayette Park, this type of incident will continue. I appeal to you to help the Court resolve the problem.
My intention and commitment is to continue to maintain a 24-hour vigil in front of the White House. 36 CFR 50.19(a)(1) defines "demonstration" as "demonstrations, picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils, or religious services, and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons the conduct of which has the effect, intent, or propensity to draw a crowd, or onlookers." Therefore I maintain, in addition to a Constitutional right, I enjoy regulatory privilege to continue an unqualified vigil....Assuming as the federal regulations do that a vigil is a communicative form of conduct then, if I have a right to maintain a one
hour vigil it is logically inescapable that a 24
hour vigil, which is at least 24 times as communicative' is also my right.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has a constitutional right to limit free speech where a "substantial governmental interest" is involved. Most recently in CCNV vs. Clark the Supreme Court held that preservation of park lands in the memorial core area constitutes such a "substantial governmental interest." Assuming that the Supreme Court has a moral and legal justification for its majority opinion that the grass is more important than free speech, there remains a tremendous gulf between the hypothetical issues of permitted demonstrations by a group sleeping in tents and their "unsustainable impacts" on park lands, as represented in CCNV, and the matter of individual demonstrators demonstrating under the permit exemption (First Amendment?) 36 CFR 50.l9 (1)(b) and allegedly sleeping without shelter.
Which brings us to the crux of the issues which Judge Oberdorfer' condition demands be resolved between me and the U.S. government with, if necessary, Judicial review.
The Federal Register of June 4, 1982, 36 CFR 50.27, states, "short-term, casual sleeping which does not occur in the context of using the park for living accommodations will not be affected by these regulations." The same Federal Register also states, "an across board ban on sleeping...might well be constitutionally acceptable if promulgated and even handedly enforced." This across board ban, however, has not been adopted, since in fact on any pleasant day or night you can be sure you'll see a number of individuals fast asleep for hours in Lafayette Park on benches or the grass with blankets and picnic supplies, without being arrested or even acknowledged by the Park Police.
It is my position that since 36 CFR 50.27 is not an across board ban on sleeping, there is no regulatory process by which the human demands of sleep can be denied me despite the fact that I am maintaining a 24-hour vigil on park lands unless, of course, it can be illustrated that the act of my sleeping results in impacts which the area is incapable of sustaining. Since the government has been unable to prove such impacts in the three years I have been here, I am sure we will be able to determine at which point permissible ("casual") sleep becomes destructive, impermissible sleep, and so the first question demanding agreement is, precisely, what is "casual sleep"?
We leave it to your discretion to tell us just how many hours per day we are legally permitted to sleep.
We'll also need to know exactly what is meant by "storage of personal property." In May of this year Ellen and I were issued a permit which acknowledged our right to protect from the elements sensitive electronic equipment utilized in the communication or expression of ideas or beliefs, as well as paint and other tools required for the construction of signs, literature, legal documents, and other materials required to maintain the vigil and communicate. Therefore it seems to me there is no question that we have the right to possess this "property within federal park lands in the memorial core area without violating the regulations. However, there is no clear guideline as to precisely what we may have in our possession with regard to protecting our persons from the elements. Therefore, a question that seems to mandate resolution is, are we permitted to have a raincoat to protect ourselves from the rain? If so, how long after the rain ceases or before it starts may we have the raincoat in the park? May we have an umbrella? A coat? If it snows may we have boots? May we wear mittens or hats? How cold must it be before we may wear them? May we use a blanket for anything? If so, between what hours? Are we permitted to eat? If so, only when the office workers are eating, or are we permitted to eat with the squirrels and pigeons? What may we eat?
Although these may seem like very complex questions, or, if one has a sense of the absurd, very stupid questions, they are quite germaine in our lives and in our specific case have a simple answer. All of Ellen's and my needs with regard to "storage of property" can be met amply by the simple expedient of an 8' by 4' by 3 1/2' wooden box on wheels identical to the permitted structure which the Park Police obliterated on June 6 (along with our camera with which we photographed Officer Haynes exercising his extra constitutional power of brutality, and a considerable amount of our literature and legal documents).
Having discussed the matter with my attorney, Sebastian K.D. Graber (548 2110), and intending to discuss it with my probation officer, Laurie Lyons of the Federal Probation Office, Mr. Graber and I agree that the proper course of action for us at this time is to meet with the appropriate member of the Department of Interior and/or the National Park Service to hammer our the details so we can conform our behavior to governmental interests as perceived by the Supreme Court during maintenance of constitutionally protected expressive conduct.
Copies of this letter are being sent to officials in these departments who our experience would lead us to believe would be involved in the decisions on these policies.
Please contact Mr. Grater, Ms. Lyons, or if you prefer (as I would, believing in direct communication between individuals), either Ellen or myself, for any suggestions which you may have as to the most effective way in implement Judge Oberdorfer's probational condition.
Secretary William Clark
Chief of Park Police Lynn Herring
Assistant Chief of Park Police J. C. Lindsey
Manus J. Fish
Judge Louis Oberdorfer
Jay D. Hair