Looks Like the City May Allow Free Speech on JFK 50th After All

There are signs -- hints, indications, wisps of smoke in the wind -- suggesting we might get out of the JFK 50th observations in one piece after all. I've been quick to suggest Dallas would blow itself to smithereens with a bizarre compulsion to shut down free speech at Dealey Plaza come November 22 when the world remembers what happened here a half century ago. I guess I should acknowledge that it could also come out OK.

First good sign: the mayor of Dallas is acting like a not-totally-crazy person about it. As I report in my column in the newspaper this week, Mayor Mike Rawlings quietly met with a national umbrella group of assassination conspiracy theory experts in Washington last January when he was there for the inauguration. When he talked to me about it recently, he had generally respectful things to say about them.

The back-story here is a push by that most important of all local leaders in this politically opaque town -- the Great and Powerful "Somebody" -- to shut down Dealey Plaza with paramilitary force on November 22, specifically banishing anyone who would dare inform visiting media that some people still aren't sure who killed Kennedy.

That's crazy. Welcome to Big D.

John Judge, head of the Coalition on Political Assassinations, described three eminently reasonable compromises he put to the mayor in their meeting. The mayor acknowledged having heard most of them. Any fair-minded person would think there has to be a way forward somewhere in there. Fair-minded people are often wrong about Dallas.

The second big indicator, however, is that the city of Dallas has raised the white flag in its emblematic persecution of conspiracy theory author Robert Groden. Groden, arrested and jailed two years ago for giving speeches and selling tracts and other literature in Dealey Plaza, won an appeal in the matter.

But back on the fair-minded thing. I should point out that this was the 81st time Groden beat Dallas. That would be ... let's see here ... yes, every single time they have ticketed or arrested him over the years. Eighty-one. And this appeal was not Groden appealing; it was the city, having already lost 80 times, appealing yet another defeat and losing for the 81st. I wish Texas Lawyer would look into whether that's a record for municipal legal defeats.

After the city informed Groden's lawyer Bradley Kizzia that it would not further appeal again, he sent out an email that began, "Praise the Lord!" That tells you something, does it not?

But, wait. Another harbinger of possible better outcomes ahead: After Groden won his appeal, The Dallas Morning News, which has a long history of trying to grind all conspiracy theorists under its inky boot heel, congratulated him and called it a victory for free speech!

No! Not kidding! You might have missed it. I did, until Kizzia called it to my attention. It was a one-paragraph item shuffled into one of those long "hits and misses" bullet-item editorials that I never read. The header for it was, "A victory for free speech."

They said, "Author and photographic evidence consultant ..."

Pause. Author and photographic consultant: Did you get that? Not necrophiliac monster liar slanderer of Christian mothers. Praise the Lord!

"... Robert Groden has been persistent and visible among a bevy of JFK conspiracy theorists, so much so that the city of Dallas tried to stop him from hawking conspiracy brochures and books at Dealey Plaza," the paper said last Friday.

"In a win for the Constitution, a county appeals court this week ruled that the city can't block Groden from exercising First Amendment rights. Score one for free speech."

A win for free speech, they said! Instead of a pernicious threat to observant virgins! This is a change in the winds, indeed.

The whole idea that there is some great danger in allowing groups like COPA to take part in the 50th observations has always been absurd. I commend to you the words of Dawn Quiett, who used to be a spokesperson for the city's official Sixth Floor Oswald-Did-It-Now-Shut-the-Hell-Up Museum. She makes the point that, yes, this being the planet Earth and humans being what they are, some humans on earth who are JFK conspiracy theorists are goofballs, but many of them are perfectly respectable and respectful sorts who have never made a mockery of these observations in the past and won't now.

But here is where I depart from Quiett's sanguine view. They won't make a mess of it now unless they have to.

The conspiracy people I have spoken with always make it plain that the overriding issue in this matter of access to Dealey Plaza on the 50th has nothing to do with who-shot-John. For them this is a matter of free speech. My sense of them is that they would much prefer not to get bollixed up in some big messy contretemps that looks crazy and disruptive. I think they are like most human beings on the planet: What they really crave in the end is simple respect.

But free speech is huge for them. Their life-work, after all, is focused on what they believe has been a suppression of truth in this country and the world. This may be the last group in the world that would ever agree to trudge off meekly to some state-sanctioned dissent venue distant from Dealey Plaza on the 22nd.

They are going to Dealey Plaza. They have to go to Dealey Plaza. There may be a chance this could all get worked out between now and November in some way that would avoid a showdown. But if it isn't worked out, there will be a big messy showdown.

Maybe the Great and Powerful Somebody will take this as word to the wise. I call him or her, "Some." So, Some, look at it like this: We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way. But, Some, listen to me: One way or the other it's going to get done. This being Dallas, it's up to you.

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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

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