City Hall

City Hall Blames Dealey Plaza Arrest On Sixth Floor. Can You Guess Who Sixth Floor Blames?

Just for the sake of historical accuracy, I would like to point out that the city of Dallas has claimed in court filings that the Sixth Floor Museum was behind the June 10, 2010, arrest and incarceration of Kennedy assassination author Robert Groden, who is charged with illegally selling literature in Dealey Plaza.

And just for the sake of even more historical accuracy, I would like to remind you of a statement given to me by Sixth Floor director Nicola Longford and included in an Observer cover story published back in April. I'd asked Longford to talk to me about why the museum got Groden arrested. She told me, in a frosty email: "Concerning the city of Dallas and activities in Dealey Plaza, we are not party to the matters you have referenced, and it would thus be improper for us to comment."

Au contraire, it would appear. Not only was the Sixth Floor a party to the arrest of Groden, it was the host of the party, according to papers filed June 16 in Groden's federal lawsuit against the city.

Groden does a brisk weekend trade in books, magazines and CDs, which he sells to tourists from a folding table in the old pergola at the west end of Dealey Plaza, where President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. But last year, Groden was arrested by city police officers for selling without a license in a city park. That arrest was tossed by two criminal courts after Groden's lawyers demonstrated that the city doesn't even offer licenses to sell in parks, and Dealey Plaza isn't a park, anyway.

Groden is suing the city in federal court, arguing that his arrest came as the culmination of years of persecution in violation of his civil rights.

But why?

Groden, a conspiracy theorist, has a fairly conspiratorial case to make: that the city wants tourists to hear only the Sixth Floor theory (Oswald did it) and not his own (more people were in on it). Other vendors who work the weekend crowds at Dealey Plaza offer a simpler story: that the Sixth Floor is all fancy-schmancy and best-foot-forward and doesn't want a bunch of rag-tag conspiracy guys junking up the landscape.

And while Longford, the Sixth Floor's gal, told me that the museum had nothing to do with Groden's arrest (before shutting down our brief interview), half the city's defense appears to be that that the Sixth Floor made them do it.

Court records show that police arrested Groden because a security guard working for the Sixth Floor "had observed Groden sell some merchandise from his parked vehicle." Police made the arrest after the guard, who worked for a company hired by the museum, "explained that he was a security guard and that such commercial activity was not permitted there."

Interesting source to rely on in making an arrest. Just a month before, police had accused an employee of the same security company, Platinum Security and Consulting, of trying to steal a safe from the Sixth Floor. And the day after Groden's arrest, Tanya Eiserer in The Dallas Morning News had what we in the news business call a real good story pointing out that Platinum had recently paid a $10,000 fine for using 140 unlicensed guards, some with criminal histories.

But, sure. If we're the cops and we have to decide whether to arrest a prominent author for selling books and CDs in a public place, let's ask Professor Platinum. He works for the Sixth Floor Museum, after all.

Still, the city won't cry "Uncle!" in Groden's federal suit. They admit they don't really have licenses for selling in parks, but they say they could totally have some if they wanted to. They admit that Dealey Plaza isn't really a designated park, but they say it totally should be. And, anyway, the Sixth Floor started it.

Not the strongest case. So what does the city have going for itself? An entire wing of City Hall filled with lawyers. That's what they have. That and a great deal of patience. Plus, when the suit finally does settle and that big cash register rings in the sky, guess who will will be paying Mr. Groden?

That bell tolls for thee, my fellow taxpayer. It tolls for thee.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze