Never let authorities tell you to believe them over your own eyesAll Out Politics Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Commentary: All Out Politics
“Your eyes deceive you.”
Essentially, that’s what lawyers representing the police officers who beat Rodney King half to death said 23 years ago last month.
“You did not see what you think you saw.”
That’s what Communist Party officials continue to say to Chinese people who were around to see the bloody massacre in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago this month.
“Don’t believe your own eyes.”
That’s what the San Diego Police Department and City Attorney’s Office are saying in the case of Will Walters, who was arrested for public nudity at San Diego’s Pride festival three years ago next month.
Yet a mere glance at photos of Walters from that day reveals the fact that he was wearing a sufficiently modest leather outfit at Pride 2011. All it takes is the ability to see to understand the fact that Will Walters was by no means nude.
But what if San Diego police were correct in arresting Walters for public nudity? What if my eyes deceive me? What if you’re eyes deceive you?
If our eyes do indeed deceive us, and the photo above does depict a nude Will Walters, then three astonishing implications must be drawn from his arrest:
Astonishing implications No. 1
Conservative newspaper publishes nude images.
If the arresting officers were correct about Walters being nude, San Diego’s famously conservative newspaper, the Union-Tribune, ran photos of a smiling, bare-naked man in print and online—plain as day, for families and children to see—without any censor bars to cover his private parts.
Of course, Walters’ Pride Day photos needed no censoring. As anyone can see, his private parts are covered.
Astonishing implication No. 2
Deputies deny inmate clothing?
If San Diego Police Officers were correct about Walters being nude, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, kept him nude the entire time he was their wrongfully arrested “guest.”
That means, contrary to law and human decency, sheriff’s deputies kept Walters naked throughout inmate processing and continued keep him nude during the entire time he was in custody alongside fully clothed inmates.
Human rights groups would call that torture. Fortunately, as their eyes told them, deputies knew Will Walters was wearing clothing—they could see that he wasn’t nude.
Astonishing implication No. 3
City attorney says, ‘parade nude with legal impunity?’
If police were correct in arresting Will Walters for nudity, that means the San Diego City Attorney set a precedent that says it’s just fine to promenade nakedly in public places in San Diego. Don’t worry about being prosecuted. You may be arrested, but you won’t face nudity charges in court. That’s right, the city attorney declined to press public nudity charges against Will Walters.
Even the federal judge who recently threw out Will Walters’ discrimination and wrongful arrest lawsuit against the City of San Diego never affirmed the legitimacy of his arrest for alleged public nudity. Even she was not blind enough to do that.
Unfortunately, Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo was profoundly blind to the clearly discriminatory way the San Diego Police Department enforces nudity laws at straight events versus at gay events.
Justice is supposed to be blind in terms of not favoring whites over blacks, men over women or straight people over LGBT folks. The idea of blind justice is that if you can’t see race, you can’t favor one race over another. That’s good blind justice.
But that doesn’t mean that a judge should be blind to the facts of a case. Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo should have believed her eyes when she saw the photos marked here with the words “NOT ARRESTED” and “ARRESTED,” respectively.
Not arrested were women at an annual, predominately straight, event wearing swimsuits that reveal as much or more of their bodies than Will Walters’ attire, shown in the photo marked “ARRESTED,” reveals of his.
Yet somehow Judge Bencivengo did not see the double standard these photos clearly reveal. Nor was she convinced by the testimony of an officer who said he was aware of “a more relaxed standard” of enforcement of nudity laws for scantily women at the beachside event where these photos were taken as compared to events like Pride.
By definition, that is discriminatory enforcement of the law—a violation of the 14th amendment, which requires equal enforcement of the law for everyone.
Regardless of the clearly visible double standard, she ruled to deny Will Walters a chance to bring his lawsuit against police before a jury. Were it not for his right to an appeal, now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that would be the end of Walters’ story.
Most observers (and some say, even the defendants) were shocked by the judge’s dismissal of his case. He and his attorneys are confident that a jury of ordinary people with enough courage and common sense to believe their own eyes will render a fair verdict.
But if the 9th Circuit fails to give Walters his day in court, those who tell us that only what they say is true, that we’re not to believe our own eyes—those people will have succeeded in chipping away at democracy.
“I would never presume to directly compare what happened to me at Pride three years ago with the massacre committed against Chinese dissidents in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago,” Will Walters said in a recent interview. “But I think the fact that both unfortunate events, which coincidentally share anniversaries this time of year, are examples of the same anti-democratic concept at different scales. They’re both cases of the authorities saying, ‘whatever we say is true; forget what you saw with your own eyes.’”
Walters invokes a classic Hollywood film to make his point more simply.
“They remind me of the man behind the curtain claiming to be the great and powerful Oz in the ‘Wizard of Oz,” he says. “He tells Dorothy, the Tin Man and everyone else to ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.’ But they can clearly see it’s him speaking into a microphone, pulling levers and blowing smoke in order to intimidate them into believe he has all the power.”
Says Walters, in order to keep democracy, free people must expose “illusionists” even when they were badges.
“Instead of making us believe they’re wizards, in real life those who abuse their power, which is really only on loan to them from the people; they rob of us our power and come between us and our rights when we let them get away with those abuses.”
Sadly, most people don’t respond to having their rights violated by authorities the way Walters has. In addition to suing police, he has also founded a nonprofit called FreeWillUSA dedicated to teaching young people, especially LGBT youth, about the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
“The idea of FreeWillUSA’s Speaking of Freedom program and our Know Rights -or- No Rights campaign is to make the Bill of Rights and the Constitution exciting to young people,” says Walters. “I think sometimes it’s easy to make the subject of civil rights boring and abstract in the schools. Along with my team, I hope to make young people energized and informed about their rights.”
His organization’s “Speaking of Freedom” program pays for accomplished filmmakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs and explorers to come from all over the country to speak at public schools about how the Bill of Rights made their success possible.
I found the FreeWillUSA mission to make educating LGBT youth about the Bill of Rights sexy and exciting so compelling that last year I agreed to help Walters get the word out about his group’s programs.
Paraphrasing Will Walters, who frequently tells young audiences, “We’re more powerful when we know our rights,” we’re also more powerful when we believe our own eyes.
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