Dallas Has Now Lost 82 Cases Against Robert Groden. Someone Call Guinness.
Robert Groden lectures and sells printed and digital material about the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza on weekends.
The city of Dallas got poured out of court again yesterday in its decades long extra-legal persecution of Kennedy assassination expert Robert Groden, making the 82nd time the city has lost against Groden in its own municipal courts, not counting a major slap-down suffered by the city in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier in the summer.
That’s something. In 82 at-bats, 82 strike-outs. In professional baseball you’d have to be the owner’s son to rack up a record like that.
This is about a sign that says “Grassy Knoll.” To understand this story, you have to know that the words “grassy knoll” are forbidden in Dallas. No one is allowed to say them out loud, let alone put them on a sign.
Don’t believe me? Give me a minute. You will.
The unremitting determination of Dallas to throw the bat at Groden time after time, year after year, with the same result each time (“Yurrr OUT!”) is a remarkable testament to sheer institutional stubbornness and/or sheer institutional stupidity, take your pick.
Groden sells books, magazines and videos on weekends from a folding table on the grassy knoll (Oh, I said it!) in Dealey Plaza downtown, where President John F. Kennedy was murdered on Nov. 22, 1963. The city has engaged in a decades long war to make Groden go away, repeatedly ticketing and even jailing him.
Yesterday the city was kicked out of court for the same old reason: A municipal judge couldn’t find a municipal law that Groden had broken.
Here’s the thing. If you have strong feelings about the Kennedy assassination, Dealey Plaza or banners, please put them aside for one moment and consider this question: How much respect can the city of Dallas command for itself when it knowingly engages in a decades long persecution not based on law?
At some point do we not have to conclude that Dallas does not respect the law? And then are we supposed to respect Dallas?
Even though Dealey Plaza is sometimes rated as the second most visited tourist attraction in the state,
Dallas, which is still ashamed of it, doesn’t put up signs to tell visors where stuff is there. So Groden does. When he’s there selling his wares, he erects a banner by his table that says “Grassy Knoll.” Otherwise, a newcomer would have no idea where it was.
Last April 22, a Friday, when a city code inspector and a cop showed up at Groden’s table, Groden was there with his assistant Marshal Evans. The code inspector and the cop ticketed Evans for erecting an illegal sign.
But — surprise, surprise! — the sign wasn’t illegal. Groden’s attorney Bradley Kizzia explained to me that the ordinance under which the code inspector ticketed Evans didn’t cover temporary banners. Hence, when the ticket finally arrived on the bench of a municipal judge this week, the judge kicked it out of court, saying he had no jurisdiction.
This is the Groden story over and over again. They have ticketed him for selling books and magazines without a license, even though the city ordinance says you don’t have to have a license to sell books and magazines.
They ticketed him once for selling in a park, even though Dealey Plaza isn’t a park. They ticketed him for not having a permit to do what he was doing, even though they don’t issue permits for what he was doing.
Every time — 82 times — the city gets to court and a judge tells them that he or she cannot try Groden for doing something that is not against the law. So they do it again.
Dealey Plaza is rated by some as the second most visited tourist site in Texas.
It’s sort of remarkable, is it not, almost as if they have a small research team somewhere in the city attorney’s office. Twice a year someone tells them, “Scour the books for something Groden isn’t doing wrong so we can charge him with it and get ourselves kicked out of court again.”
Kizzia is a major piece of the puzzle here, having stuck by Groden over many years. It was Kizzia’s cross-examination in the federal civil rights case that elicited damning testimony from a Dallas police officer. He confessed that he and his superiors knew Groden had broken no law when they jailed him six years ago.
When the arresting officer reported to his superior that Groden had been forced to go without prescribed medications in jail all night, the superior officer praised him for a job well done.
The battle between Dallas City Hall and Groden probably is not well known within our municipal borders, because the city’s only daily newspaper and other major media here have given it scant attention. But beyond our borders, the story grows. Last year Dutch documentarian Kasper Verkaik debuted his film about Groden and Dallas City Hall, Plaza Man, which has since been well received in international festivals. (Dallas City Hall is not the hero.) And in the online universe, the saga of Groden and Dallas City Hall has become Kennedy assassination equivalent of a Mexican corrido ballad.
Dallas did beat Kizzia in one round. In federal district court here, former federal District Judge Royal Ferguson ruled that Groden could not sue the city because he was unable to identify the top-most city official originally responsible for the campaign of persecution against him. But the appeals court tossed Ferguson’s ruling and sent the case back to Dallas for a fresh trial with the city as a defendant.
That fresh trial keeps getting delayed. Just as the city hoped a night in jail without his meds would break Groden’s will and Kizzia’s determination, they must be hoping now at age 69 that Groden will give up or die. I don’t know about dying, but based on my conversation with him yesterday I would say the city should give up on his ever giving up.
Groden says while the city stalls the federal civil rights retrial, it is back to its old tricks, trying to wear him down. Because the city promised a federal judge they wouldn’t harass him until the federal case gets resolved, Groden says, the city has now set out to harass his assistant, ticketing the assistant for the grassy knoll banner even though Groden was standing right there at the time and says he told the code guy it was his sign and he put it up.
“The city doesn’t want to openly harass me until we get to court and see how it gets resolved in front of a judge,” he said. “But going after Marshall is their way of getting around the fact that they promised to leave me alone. This is their way of doing something to try to harass us. That’s the way it looked to me anyway.”
I do take satisfaction from the Verkaik documentary — beautifully done, if you ever get a chance — for one reason above all others. If the city should get its wish and Groden not survive, if he should shuffle off to his everlasting reward before the federal civil rights case is resolved, God forbid, then at least I know that through the film his ghost will haunt Dallas City Hall forever.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.