The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California sent SanTana city council members a letter reminding them the basics of free speech just ahead of this evening's meeting. It takes offense to the now infamous October 7 meltdown that occurred when Mayor-for-Life Miguel Pulido demanded a man named "Bijan" take off his "Fuck the Police" hat. When he refused, an hour-long standoff ensued between community members and cops, leading to the Don Papi canceling the city council meeting before it ever started.
"We write to express our strong concern with Santa Ana's policy and practice of restricting speech at open and public meetings of the Santa Ana City Council," the ACLU letter reads.
ACLU-OC head Belinda Escobosa Helzer described the actions of Pulido and crew as "viewpoint discrimination" violating both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Liberty Speech Clause of the California Constitution. She tells the Weekly that city officials haven't bothered responding to the October 17 letter.
In the meantime, the civil liberties group points to the hypocrisy of Pulido giving service awards to Santa Ana cops–one of which faces three lawsuits over a fatal shooting last year–at a September 2 council meeting. The occasion allowed for pro-cop applause. Pulido, on the other hand, wanted protest signs against the honored officers removed. The mayor added to that telling moment by brimming with anger over Bijan's "Fuck the Police" hat the following month.
"The Mayor and the Council do not have the ability to define disruption to mean, simply, the presence of speech they find "offensive,"' the letter reads. It bolsters the claim citing legal cases left and right from the historic Cohen v. California "Fuck the Draft" jacket racket to our own local Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa drama. "Actual disruption means actual disruption."
That's where the ACLU points the finger at Pulido and not Bijan, who just sat quietly in his seat. By canceling the meeting over the hat, the group accuses the mayor and other officials of breaching city code that holds:
No person shall violate the order and decorum of a council meeting, speak without permission or do anything which may interfere with the effective deliberation of the council. Any violation of this provision is declared to be a misdemeanor and any person violating the same may be prosecuted.
The ACLU ends by giving the SanTana city council some homework ahead of this evening's meeting lest they tempt potential litigation: Council members should issue a public statement affirming the right to free speech, be trained on how not to clamp down on the people's right to participate in council meetings and get their decorum rules in order instead of breaking them in their name!
What the Don Papi actually does in response to the ACLU's criticism remains to be seen.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2