Senator Deb Fischer wants to put you in jail if you leave her a note, and the Lincoln City Attorney’s office is happy to oblige.
On Monday, September 23, Lincoln resident Patricia Wonch Hill is scheduled to go to court. Her “crime”? She allegedly taped a note onto the office door of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer in October of last year. The note was not threatening, and the tape was not some kind of unusual industrial glass-destroying tape. It was, according to the police report, a paper that read “Deb ♥s Rapists” affixed to the glass door with a piece of packing tape and two stickers. The staffer who called the police upon discovering the note claimed it had caused $1 worth of damage, though how a piece of tape could cause $1 worth of damage to a glass door was not specified. Presumably $1 is the labor value the staffer placed on the time it took her to peel the note off.
The message “Deb ♥s Rapists” appeared on the door shortly after Senator Fischer voted to confirm alleged drunken sexual assaulter and habitual dick-in-facer Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. If Hill is the one who taped the note on the door, this clearly political message was a communication from a constituent to the office of a seated elected representative on a matter of public interest.
It is shocking enough that a U.S. Senator is so willing to violate a constituent’s First Amendment rights, but it’s even more shocking that the city prosecutor is doing her bidding. Here is the city code for destruction of property:
It shall be unlawful for any person without proper authority to intentionally or knowingly cut, mark, mar, deface, break, alter the appearance of, damage, tamper with, convert to such person’s own use, injure or destroy any real or personal property, public or private, of any description in the City, or to intentionally or knowingly place thereon any mark, word, label, symbol, or figure.http://online.encodeplus.com/regs/lincoln-ne/doc-viewer.aspx?secid=8732#secid-8732
Let’s take a moment to dissect this ordinance. What it is criminalizing is any person “without proper authority”–both “proper” and “authority” going undefined–to do any of the following intentionally or knowingly to any property of any kind in the city:
- alter the appearance of
- tamper with
- convert to your own use
Further, it is also illegal to place any of these things on property in the City without “proper authority”:
- any mark
- any word
- any label
- any symbol
- any figure
A child running through her neighbor’s sprinkler would be converting the neighbor’s property to her own use, and assuming she does this without “proper authority,” whatever that means, she is guilty of destruction of property under the Lincoln ordinance. Have you seen a dirty car with “WASH ME” written in the dirt on it? Assuming the car owner did not grant “proper authority” to the person who did that–if indeed “proper authority” is even something a property owner can grant?–this is apparently a crime that the police will run forensics on and the city attorney will prosecute.
Have you ever come home to find that UPS left a note on your door saying they tried to deliver a package? Call LPD and claim it cost $1 of your time to remove the note and insist they run a fingerprint analysis on it, then demand the City Attorney prosecute. Or does UPS have “proper authority” to leave adhesive notes on doors but constituents speaking to senators don’t? Ah, perhaps “proper authority” means “I am glad this person wrote this to me” versus “I am mad this person wrote this to me,” in which case “proper authority” seems like it’s doing a lot of work allowing some nonthreatening speech to be criminalized based on content, which is a 1A violation. What if a neighbor taped a note on your door saying “Your goddamned dog got loose again and I put him back in your yard. You’re welcome.” That would be intentionally placing words upon your property, and I guess whether you deem them to have “proper authority” depends on whether you are glad they returned your dog or offended they took an angry tone with you.
U.S. Congressman Jeff Fartenberry had been trying to make a similar case–that taping googly eyes on his campaign sign (and improving it 100%) is a property crime, but it looks like Fartenberry has finally lost the intestinal fortitude for the case, as he seems unable to make it to court and his case has been indefinitely put on hold.
We saw a lot of outrage in Lincoln last week against a trans woman who 1) told off a lobbyist who wants to keep her a second-class citizen and 2) took her lumps when she was fired for it. The predictable civility debate ensued, in which many people seem to think it’s more polite to lobby to oppress classes of people and keep them in poverty than it is to use an f-bomb against such a person. Well, here’s a new question for you, Nebraska: what do you say to a U.S. Senator who wants a constituent to be fined up to $500 and be imprisoned for up to six months for allegedly taping a non-threatening note about politics on her office door? And what about the city attorney who is squandering public resources to make that happen? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let Deb Fischer’s office know at 402-441-4600. And you can ask the City Attorney’s office about it at 402-441-7281–don’t worry, they apparently have plenty of time on their hands to address these important matters.
But whatever you do, do not post them a note.