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A Tale of Two T-Shirts

February 3rd, 2006

You may have heard that two people were ejected from the State of the Union address earlier this week. One of them was Cindy Sheehan, for wearing a shirt that read “2,242 Dead. How many more?” and the other was Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Young (R-Florida), whose shirt read “Support the Troops — Defending our Freedom.”

These ejections were later called a “mistake,” but one is a mistake–two is a policy. Clearly there was a policy in force that called for the ejection of anyone who wears a T-shirt with writing or a political statement of any kind. And it’s not new, either–in fact, it’s clearly recognizable as the exact same policy practiced at Bush and Cheney campaign appearances in the 2004 elections, also occurring when the speeches were made at public venues paid for by the taxpayers.

Such a practice is illegal, by the way; in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in Cohen v. California that wearing a T-shirt in court with unapproved-of language constituted free speech–which is likely why charges against Sheehan were subsequently dropped.

But this is a gambit commonly executed at Republican events–to eject someone unlawfully from a public event for any one of a number of charges such as trespassing or disturbing the peace, then later dropping the charges and claiming an “error” was made. But in the end, it is a successful strategy because it allows them repeatedly to eject people they don’t want at events. The “oops” strategy never tires.

It is also of note how the two different cases were handled by the Republican-run Congress: Sheehan, someone opposed to Bush, was treated very roughly, handcuffed, and was arrested. The officer shouted, “Protester!”, roughly grabbed Sheehan and quickly pushed her out. The Republican woman, on the other hand, was asked to leave and was not arrested–despite the fact that she uttered a “stream of profanity” at the officer who took her out.

So why the difference in treatment?

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