If you have missed it in the news, there was controversy in New York with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) over a pro-Israel advertisement. The ad (seen below) – paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) – has been accused of being hate speech and endorsing violence against Muslims. The MTA was being sued by AFDI for violating the groups First Amendment rights. Federal District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled in July that “there is no good reason for protecting some individuals and groups, but not others, from [demeaning speech].” As a result, the MTA was ordered to start displaying the ads within 30 days.
So the ads went up, and the complaints came in. Some of the ads were defaced almost immediately, with Middle Eastern and Muslim organizations quickly criticizing their display in such a public spaces. On September 25, 2012, however, things were escalated and captured on camera. Below you will see a video confrontation between Pamela Hall – President of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) – and Mona Eltahawy (journalist and MSNBC Analyst).
In the video, Eltahawy proceeds to spray paint the ad before Hall steps in front of the ad to protect it. The two start arguing as Eltahawy attempts to spray paint around her, which eventually gives way to physical contact. Near the two-minute mark in the video, the police arrive to arrest Eltahawy and proceed to escort her away.
Some of the audio out-takes from the exchange are:
Eltahawy: “Defend racism” stated to Hall as she stands in front of the poster.
Does “racism” apply to differences of religious beliefs? After all, religion is not limited to biological characteristics or national cultures. This was one of the main objections to the poster initially being approved. Is it racist to label those who practice Jihad as savages? Does this apply to all forms of Jihad (Jihad can be both a Holy war as well as a struggle within ones self)?
Hall: “You are violating free speech…”
Does spray painting over a poster “violate” free speech? It is if you reference the 2001 ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court. Back in 2001 on a case regarding tearing down fliers off of a bulletin board, the Court stated, “We conclude that, because [the flier] was designed to convey information, it constitutes a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.” Applying that ruling to this case, the covering up of the sign denies the organization to convey their message to the public.
Eltahawy: “It is my right as a US citizen to what you are arresting me for.”
She is correct. She does have the right to be notified of why she is being arrested. However, you do not need to be informed of charges right away if you are only being detained. According to the Ohio Bar website, “An arrest is different from a stop. A stop involves brief questioning in the place where you were detained. If the officer wishes to hold you for a longer period of time, or decides to take you elsewhere, such as to the police station, he or she is no longer just stopping you, but is arresting you. Because an arrest deprives you of your freedom of movement for an even longer period of time than a stop, the law limits the instances when arrests can be made.”
In the short amount of time following the arrival of the cops and the end of the video, it is unclear if the cops inform her of what she is being charged with. Starting around the 3:15 minute mark, the black officer is heard discussing the situation with Eltahawy, though it is unclear of what all is being said.
Eltahawy: In response to being arrested, “I am expressing myself free and I am hurting no one … This is what happens in American when you non-violently protest.”
You can argue that it was not the intent of Eltahawy that Hall was spray painted. Hall put herself between Eltahawy and the poster, and kept moving in the direction of the spray paint. However, Eltahawy was vandalizing private and public property by spray painting, so regardless of if she was “non-violently protesting”, she was breaking the law.
Both sides are going to claim to be “the victim” in this case, and both will be wrong. Eltahawy played the role of victim once the police arrived, even though it was obvious that her intent was for her to get detained/arrested by the police. Why else did she bring the videographer with her? Hall will claim to be the victim of an assault for being spray painted, even though she intentionally placed herself in front of the spray paint can as well as initiated contact with Eltahawy by wedging the pole of her camera between Eltahawy’s arm and body and later pushing her away from the sign itself. In the end, both parties lose credibility in my book.