The event on Saturday was the fifth of a loosely-organized monthly 'Smoke Down Prohibition', which attracts well over a hundred diverse people to Independence National Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell. There are speeches by a variety of pro-legalization individuals ranging from medical marijuana patients to NORML representatives to military veterans. At 4:20 pm, most people in attendance perform a minor act of civil disobedience by lighting up a joint in public.
For the first three Smoke Downs, there was very little overt police presence and little controversy. The Smoke Down in April, however, got a bit of attention on the national stage. A rightwing religious nut from the homophobic, anti-woman, anti-science (etc., etc.) group Repent America happened to be passing by and demanded that the police do something about these law-breaking weed-smokers. The resulting video, filmed by Repent America, became a minor internet sensation. In just over three weeks, it has gotten nearly 100,000 views on YouTube and generated over 700 comments.
Well, when the police are embarrassed on the national stage like that, it's not hard to expect that they would be feeling the need to come down hard the next time. On Friday, the Smoke Down organizers, under the auspices of local comedy activism podcast The Panic Hour (they mix serious politics with outlandish conspiracy theories involving extraterrestials, chemtrails and lizard overlords) announced on their Facebook page:
Just banned the Independence National Park Service from our page for trolling us!
The state is scared and they should be!
Upon arriving at their usual rallying spot, they found a heavy presence of both local and National Park police, along with lots of barricades, upon which were affixed signs declaring the law "The possession and/or use of controlled substances is prohibited. 36 CFR 2.35(B)(2)"
On their Facebook page, the Panic Hour warned:
The park police have caged us in.
Do not bring pipes or excess bud.
Bring a sign and come make a stand!
After the speeches, at the usual time of 4:20, the activists started lighting up and the police moved in, zipping past most of the joint-toting folks and aiming for certain individuals. There were a handful of arrests, but most were quickly released with citations. As far as I can tell, only two people remain in custody Saturday evening: Koresh, and event organizer N. a. Poe of the Panic Hour. They are in federal custody, having been arrested by the National Park police, with bail hearings not expected until Monday. (Also arrested but then released was libertarian candidate for New Jersey's 14th State Senate district Don Dezarn.)
Given the large number of law-breaking folks on the scene, it seems clear that the police were targeting very specific people. Poe, as organizer of an event that had brought national embarrassment to the Philadelphia and National Park police was one target; Kokesh, organizer of an upcoming event I'm sure the government would prefer to see not happen, was the other.
Agree or disagree with the politics, agree or disagree with the tactics, but I would hope we might agree with this: arrests aimed not at enforcing the law but rather at suppressing the organizers of protests is disturbing.
A video of the arrests can be seen on YouTube HERE and HERE.
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