Small Town Big Brother: “Comrade, Do You Have A License To Speak?”

If one follows news online one finds what seem to be a growing number of stories about the surveillance state, or restraint of free speech, or about small town tyranny.

Apopka, Florida has the managed to combine all of these together, if this news story is true.

“Police in Apopka, Florida arrested a man on Saturday morning for distributing a petition that would put the issue of ending red light camera use to a public vote. Mark E. Schmidter, a 66-year-old commercial roofing contractor, stood on the side of the road waiting for the light to turn red at the corner of East Main Street and South Park Avenue. Once traffic came to a stop, he would walk in between cars and distribute a double-sided sheet of paper. One side had a petition form that residents could fill out and a message urging participation in Wednesday’s city council meeting. The other side provided information on why cameras should not be used (view flyer). ‘Red light cameras are all about money — not safety,’ the flyer said in large type. ‘Governments choose tax money over safety of motorists.’ Officer Robert Campbell watched what was going on and used the public address system on his squad car to order Schmidter to stop. Schmidter says he was not able to understand what was said on the loudspeaker. Officer Campbell described the scene in his arrest report. ‘As I was approaching him, I read ‘BAN CAMS’ on the sign he was wearing,’ Officer Campbell wrote. ‘He was holding a large stack of papers… I asked him if he had a permit to protest the red light cameras, and he said no.’ At this point, Officer Campbell asked for Schmidter’s identification. Since he was not driving, the man explained he was not carrying any. The officer then asked for his name and date of birth. Schmidter declined to do so unless the officer could show him what law he had violated. Officer Campbell said he did not have to do that. After asking one more time he grabbed Schmidter’s wrist, handcuffed him, and placed him under arrest.”

The fact that Schmidter was wearing a sign doesn’t mean he was “protesting.” Nor was he petitioning. That word, as a verb, refers to the act of presenting a petition to an authority. The headlines and introductory sentences don’t line up with the actual claims of the story. What was Schmidter doing? He was passing on information to people to alerting them about an issue and an opportunity to make their concerns known to the local revenue lords of the town.

For exercising what is obviously his acknowledged right under the First Amendment of the Constitution, he was abducted for twelve hours, released only on a $500 bond, and was charged with a crime. Officer Campbell is the one who should have been jailed and charged.

For those who care, here is the city contact information.

Apopka City Hall / 120 East Main Street / Apopka, Florida 32703

I would suggest you not send them email since, according to their website,

“Privacy Notice: Under Florida law, e-mail addresses are public records; if you do not want your e-mail address released in response to a public records request, please do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone or in writing.”

I have no idea how much spam you might get stuck with or what else might happen to you through your email address. Instead, you might leave them a message on their twitter or facebook accounts. They will be deleted immediately if my personal experience is any guide, but I think they’ll still get the message.