One would expect responsible government to treat the First Amendment with all due respect and consider it its duty to uphold It, barring actual emergency. One would expect the government of a small community to honor and respect its elders and its citizens’ fundamental rights. One would expect persons entitled with uniforms, guns and authority/responsibility to understand on whose behalf such authority is entitled, and what authors it.

On Monday, May 10th,  Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro, under the threat of arrest (i.e., force), broke up a peaceful assembly by respected citizens who were petitioning their government for redress of a grievance. This action was executed against Rockey, one of our town’s most respected citizens and fellow peaceful petitioners. The technical legality of this action is not the purpose of this article; such techno-babble exists for people who are concerned with the rights of government.

These citizens were breaking no laws and causing no threat to peace. They were essentially exercising a citizen’s filibuster as their last logical resort to save the trees, which they should have been allowed to do until today and beyond, if that’s what they chose — the issue is not whether the trees should have been saved, or whether city planning trumps the First Amendment under these circumstances. Could there be a more appropriate set of facts for the redress clause under its spirit? The government should have felt compelled to engage these citizens in dialogue; instead, as is too often the case, it exercised force.

If the government chose dialogue, it would have to put itself on record and answer questions. Instead, through its police chief, it chose the sovereignty of violence and the excuses for it. Citizens should start protecting each other’s fundamental rights for the benefit of all. The First Amendment, among other things, was meant to keep the government accountable and responsive; who doesn’t want that?

Here’s an ordinance for Chief Joe and the government of Manitou Springs:

Manitou Springs shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Watch the video to see Chief Joe hide behind some ordinance as he’s threatening Rockey, peaceful citizens, the First Amendment and, yes, trees — we care about those in Manitou. Watch statist logic 101 on display. Watch authority over decency, respect and common sense. Here’s what was basically said, you’ll have to watch the video for his exact comment.

Respected citizens, I understand you are peacefully petitioning your government for redress; however, the tree cutters are coming and you will have to move. We cannot reschedule the tree cutting, the mayor has no patience for you, Rockey, and we WILL cut the trees today. Therefore, to protect you from yourselves and the falling trees, we will forcibly remove you. We have this ordinance, which we claim at this moment legally allows us to perpetrate this threat of violence against you, and we will take you to jail to make you look real bad, and to make sure you never do this again. We don’t think you’ll sue, and we know you’re intimidated by guns and aggressive behavior.

You are a bad citizen, Rockey, and the next time you want to question our city hall’s decisions, please do so quietly and in the privacy of your own home. This town belongs to someone else. We are entitled to act this way because we are the government, we have the gun and we think that no matter who gets elected, we have the scheme. Any questions?

P.S. After we’ve cut the trees, you can have cosmetic redress of grievances.

To the inanity and immaturity of this infamous moment was added irony by the fact that Chief Joe evokes Andy Griffith, while his department acts and is run as if it were educated by the vile TV show COPS.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was violated to quash specific dissent against a government that doesn’t like to have its authority questioned. Who was Chief Joe serving and protecting? The schedule of a tree-cutting company, the authority of the Planning Department? Chief Joe was acting on behalf of and representing a city hall that considers itself above the First Amendment — a very serious breach of decorum for any community wishing to be progressive. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a generationally indoctrinated mindset that equates progressivism with statism.

One feels sorry for indoctrinated authoritarians because they are stuck in a mindless, concocted universe, and the real universe can’t help but conspire to expose them. In the end, all these authoritarians can do is make threats and bully us until they go too far and expose themselves. I know Rockey doesn’t think like that, but he should have gotten himself arrested, and our town would already be searching for its next police chief.

Who’s Rockey in a statist scheme anyway? Just one of those old people silly enough to be good, decent, intelligent, inspired, perhaps enlightened, talented and (this one hurts statists the most) creative. He’s only a living treasure and legend in our town — wait, but he lives downtown. Manitou’s sage, philosopher, artist and teacher of youth. I don’t personally know Rockey, but having been in this area for over 30 years, I have been warmed by stories about him from people he has touched with his art, with his wisdom and with his spirit.

Imagine if the parking authority called Chief Joe — a private out-of-town company sucking money and spirit out of our community!? I see sirens and aggressive driving in unmarked cars — because that’s what Manitou needs. Sorry, just trying to fill the chasm two weeks of constant anger have opened. Chief Joe should be feverishly protecting us from crime, not protecting the government from the First Amendment.

Manitou Springs City Hall certainly won the battle, but it must not understand symbolism, which artists and sages, such as Rockey, experience; they should be learning from Rockey. What’s causing such hubris in our city hall, which makes even PR a non-issue? If the Manitou Springs government doesn’t respect town elders and the First Amendment, then it will have to be replaced with people who do.

Our government should understand that behind tree-huggers are people who, while perhaps not yet tree-huggers themselves, love them and will stand up for them, and the values they represent. It’s time for organic, naturally ennobled leaders who are saddened by the deterioration of basic human rights, common sense and decency in lieu of statist idiocy and corruption to come forth in our community.

Chief Joe should be reprimanded for cause due to his conduct on Monday, May 10th and the city of Manitou Springs should issue a formal apology to Rockey and the citizens whose fundamental rights it violated under the threat of force. 

an Op-Ed by Justin Idea

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