Free speech watchdog sues after veteran arrested, criminally cited for protesting in public

'I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights.'

One of the very few things Americans can still agree on is support for our veterans. So, most citizens will be horrified to learn about what happened to one veteran who tried to advocate for homeless veterans on public property—and was arrested and criminally cited.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is suing the city of Alpharetta, Georgia and a pair of its law enforcement officers on behalf of veteran-turned-activist Jeff Gray. As shown in the below video, Gray was arrested by Alpharetta police after standing outside their city hall and holding up a sign that said, “God bless homeless veterans.”

The city of Alpharetta claims Gray was illegally panhandling, asking for money, although he insists he wasn’t. FIRE argues that it doesn’t actually matter, as panhandling is nonetheless free speech and city restrictions on it on public property should be voided. They also say Alpharetta officers further violated Gray’s rights by “commandeering and turning off” his video camera, searching him for ID, and banning him from the area.

They’re also suing the police chief of another city, Blackshear, where Gray was issued a criminal citation for a similar protest he made in front of its city hall. The police chief said that Gray would need to get permission from the mayor and city council and get a permit if he wanted to speak there.

FIRE says that requirement is flatly unconstitutional.

“Jeff Gray doesn’t need a government-issued permission slip to speak—the First Amendment is his permission slip,” FIRE attorney Harrison Rosenthal said. “Speaking out in public areas is a core First Amendment right, whether government officials recognize it or not. If our cities won’t teach officers to do their job properly, FIRE will.”

Gray very openly is seeking to make a point here as well.

I have been harassed, trespassed, handcuffed and arrested countless times for peacefully exercising my First Amendment rights,” Gray said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit. “My intention is to ensure that all Americans from the wealthiest millionaire to the poorest homeless person can exercise these rights without fear of consequence from our government.”

Whether you personally care for Gray’s protest methods or message or not, we should all be rooting for him in court. “Public” property is paid for with our tax dollars. The absolute least we are entitled to do is go there and speak our mind. Yes, even when it’s inconvenient for city officials. Actually, especially when it’s inconvenient for city officials!

Here’s hoping free speech wins out in these important cases.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.