Downtowner Miranda Tait believes the arrest and ultimately the lack of prosecution of 9/11 vandal' Salvador "Ace" Perez is a teachable moment. Our cliché, not hers.
[Editor's Note: Miranda Tait is the managing attorney at the Advocacy Center on Jefferson Street. She emailed the following to us Friday.]
As a civil rights attorney and First Amendment absolutist, I could be less sanguine about the decision made by a grand jury yesterday that no felony charges should stand against alleged 9/11 vandal, Salvador "Ace" Perez; but God bless us, our good citizens nailed it! Let no one think that Acadiana is a political anachronism. When the Lafayette prosecutor floated double felony charges - deux? Mon Dieu! - for a paper tableau on and around the 9/11 monument in our public park, Lafayette citizens followed the maxims of our namesake and individual-rights loving Gilbert du Motier, Marquis Lafayette1 and said, "Non!"
"Ace" was arrested two months ago and thrown into a parish jail where he would remain had civil-libertarian-about-town Crawford Comeaux not organized an online movement to raise bond for the exorbitant $13,000 bail. ("Armed and dangerous! The suspect is brandishing a paintbrush and some cardboard, I think we're gonna need back up!") Ace had allegedly damaged with paper two metal beams that survived ground zero. (Maybe playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?) Indeed, Cpl. Paul Mouton and a representative of our fire department appeared in the park to somberly express their shock and distaste to the television media as our beloved Gay Fireman Statue looked on in alarm (fabulous alarm).
What was this really about? The statue wasn't damaged and is always publicly accessible for seating, the placing of flowers and random acts of True American Heroism. Just yesterday, I observed a gentleman bravely throw himself in the path of an oncoming (and most likely of questionable citizenship and financial stability) mockingbird, lest that feathered fiend release any projectiles in the monument's direction. There was no damage. The real issue was that the cardboard images expressed an unpopular viewpoint regarding U.S. involvement in 9/11.
9/11 is not a joke. No disrespect to those who died on 9/11 is implied here; however, those who use a tragedy for political pandering DO trivialize it and should be called to account. Charging two felonies in response to a paper protest was self-serving political hyperbole. Ace's artwork made no comment on the tragedy's victims. In his own words, he wanted to give those victims "a voice." How is questioning the cause of a disaster - even when blaming our own government - somehow a commentary on its victims? And, if the implications of those questions to our government offend us, must we tolerate that speech? Our forefathers would answer that question with an emphatic yes, yes and again, oui! Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even our own "A bas le roi!" Joseph Beausoleil Broussard2 valued the ability to question the sovereign as the bedrock of a free populace. To make real that republic that these men created and many others died for we must tolerate the criticism of our president and government, no matter how personally offensive we may find it. You need not agree with the questioner; but you must allow the question. Otherwise, what you want is a dictatorship. (I hear the kimchi in North Korea is to die for!)
Those who would question the "party line" of any governmental arm would historically be on solid ground. Our government is not perfect - consider the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" and "Weapons of Mass Destruction." True questioning of a government action does not trivialize or criticize the victims involved, it affirms their right to justice. It was difficult for veterans to return home to protests of Vietnam - that made the protests no less necessary and, as it turns out, legitimate. So, is it reasonable to question the Bush presidency - or any presidency - about anything? Does Bill Clinton like a good cigar?
Acadiana is not like anywhere else - our food is better, our music unmatched and we boast the only "dying culture" that has, in fact, evolved into something new and uniquely ours. We have a culturally rich future including an amazing community of local artists and musicians. That old adage about "the next Portland" is dead! I love this place. It makes me want to put on my Parish Ink T-shirt, pick up some Rabbit Bites with watermelon ketchup at Jolie's and head out to to Downtown Alive! Forget you, Portland. I'm with the Marquis, Vive la révolution!
Miranda Tait, esq.