Dealey Plaza Redo: Beware the Goon Squads
Yesterday's city council committee briefing on restoring Dealey Plaza was all very well. The well-intended and the well-heeled have joined together to raise money for a well-designed refurbishing of the place where President John F. Kennedy was ... well, you know ... shot.
I'm sure it will be well done. But here we go again. Dallas has a well-known tendency to use taste and discretion as excuses for knee-capping anybody who colors outside the lines, especially on painfully sensitive topics, of which there is none more so for Dallas than JFK.
I wrote about this in April. The city has gotten itself into hot water in the past by strong-arming Kennedy conspiracy theorist and author Robert Groden, who expresses his point of view and sells books and DVDs at Dealey Plaza. City Hall's version of good taste was throwing Groden in jail in June of last year on trumped-up charges that later were tossed out of court.
City Hall's preferred view of Dealey Plaza mirrors its view of the assassination itself. It's the Warren Commission view: No conspiracy here, folks, nothing to see, show's over, please return to your homes.
But Groden's view, the view of the 1977 House Select Committee on Assassinations, is the one that draws the tourists: lots of unanswered questions, shadows over Dallas, we've got books about it, don't go home without one.
Groden is suing the city in federal court, claiming the city violated his First Amendment rights, which is probably what you're doing about the time you jail an author for selling his book in a public place where such sales are expressly not prohibited.
We imagine the debate beforehand at the city attorney's office:
"Hey, what if there's some jackass author, and he says crap we don't like? Can we jail his ass?"
"I don't know. We got a car available?"
This just isn't a big First Amendment town.
The heavy hands of two organizations show up again and again in the city's efforts to make Dealey Plaza a really nice assassination site. One is the Sixth Floor Museum, which tells the tale the way Dallas wants it told, and the other is Downtown Dallas Inc., an outfit so square it once invented a motto for downtown Dallas, "Find Your D Spot," without realizing it was a vague reference to screwing. Both seem to be very involved in the paint-up spruce-up effort described to barely wakeful council members Monday.
Nothing wrong with painting up and sprucing up. Dealey Plaza needs it. It sounds nice. But it won't be nice if it involves taking a high-pressure power washer to Groden's face.
You know, damn! Dallas always winds up playing to its stereotype. If we use good taste and being respectful and displaying reverence for history as excuses for going after Groden, we look like goons.
Goons is not good taste. Goons is bad.
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