Last Thursday, March 26th, reporters from Counter Current News, Alternative Media Syndicate, The Anti Media, The Fifth Column, The Greene County Herald, Truth Voice and Cop Block all filled the court room in Xenia, Ohio to witness one of the most bizarre things in the history of the American legal system: a man being convicted of the “crime” of raising money for charity.
Virgil Vaduva is a reporter for the Greene County Herald. He is known throughout Greene County for his tireless activism on several fronts, including fighting for the rights of the poor and homeless. Tuesday, March the 31st, Virgil was sentenced for his “crime” of “panhandling” for the poor. What was the sentence? Judge Murray handed down the maximum sentence of 30 days in jail. He even added extra “punishment” of 100 hours of community service, to be carried out within 90 days.
The judge went out of his way to say that his sentence is not a punishment for my choosing to take this to a jury trial, which in the words of George Carlin it means that he was lying and in fact the sentence is a punishment for choosing to take this to trial.
His sentence went beyond the maximum sentence allowed by law. He gave me 30 days in jail, suspended for 2 years on condition of good behavior, $150 fine and 100 hours of community service to be done by July. This is a really harsh sentence considering there was no victim, violence or destruction of property involved. Unfortunately, the Xenia taxpayers will pay for this when I am done with them.
Xenia neighbors the infamous City of Beavercreek, where John Crawford was gunned down last August. Like Beavercreek, Xenia has an ordinance that outright bans asking someone for money. So while our reporters were in the court room, and one asked another person there to support the defendant if they had change to feed the meter, they were committing a criminal act. Moreover, another member of the media requested “a couple of quarters” outside for their parking space, as jury selection for this minor, fourth degree misdemeanor took all morning. That journalist too had committed a criminal act by making this request.
Last month Virgil Vaduva of the Greene County Herald joined journalists from Counter Current News and other organizations to inform the City Council of Xenia that the law against making such requests was unconstitutional and that similar laws have been challenged in court and overturned, time and time again. The very next day Virgil showed up outside of the City Council building and police department to “panhandle” for charity.
Virgil made it very clear that the act was one of protest and also that the funds were being donated to charity. He did so because he knew that in their arrogance, the City of Xenia would ticket him for something that was not actually even prohibited in their ordinance. Virgil came to court with a receipt from United Voluntary Services, attesting to the donation of 100% of the funds he collected. The judge refused to admit it into evidence.
The Xenia ordinance, however, reads that to be “panhandling” it must be done for “personal” gain.
The city’s definition of panhandling reads:
“PANHANDLING. To request verbally, in writing, or by gesture or other actions, money, items of value, a donation, or other personal financial assistance. Further, PANHANDLING shall include any request for a person to purchase an item for an amount that a reasonable person would consider to be in excess of its value.”
As expected, the police cited Mr. Vaduva and he came to court to make his case – not only against the unconstitutional ordinance, but also maintaining that he had not actually violated the wording of the ordinance.
You see, when the sentence says “or other personal financial assistence,” it is saying that everything mentioned before the word “other” was also for “personal” financial assistance as well. That is how the English language works. But more than a few people in the City of Xenia have difficulties with the English language. You remember the cult film classic “Gummo“? Yeah, that’s Xenia. Really: it’s based in Xenia, Ohio.
That might help outsiders understand why the judge and prosecutor were having so much difficulty with their reading comprehension related to this ordinance.
The judge and prosecutor were furious that they had been played, so they decided to try something new: insisting that the wording of the law actually means something entirely different than what it grammatically says.
Even though Vaduva pointed out that the ordinance does not prohibit “panhandling” for charity, they said that donations of all sorts were banned in Xenia. Justin King of The Anti Media and The Fifth Column was there with us. His editorial on the courtroom circus notes the following:
Unless the city plans to admit that this case was simply attacking a journalist critical of their government, the rule must now be applied to all charities soliciting donations in places outlined in the rule. The city council’s war on the homeless and poor created a rule that was so encompassing that it now effectively bans raising money for charity anywhere in the city. Below is a list of just some of the prohibitions, and the effect of the new application of the law.
(4) From any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle or from any person entering or exiting a motor vehicle;
Firefighters often “pass the boot” at stop lights to raise money for different causes but primarily for the MDA. Sorry children with Muscular Dystrophy, Xenia doesn’t care about you.
(7) Within 20 feet of any entrance or exit of the building for any check cashing business, bank, credit union, or savings and loan during the hours of operation of any of these businesses;
United States Marines often collect “Toys for Tots” at banks across the country. Xenia has become the Grinch that Stole Christmas from these children.
(12) Within 20 feet of the area of the sidewalk;
The Boy Scouts of America often sell popcorn far in excess of its value to support their activities. Sorry Tiger Cubs, you need to find another way to finance the jamboree.
(13) Within 20 feet of the entrance or exit of any public facility
One of those in the juror pool worked at the library. The Friends of the Library can no longer solicit funds.
(14) On public property within 20 feet of an entrance to a building;
The bell ringers of the Salvation Army that operate on the sidewalks of Downtown Xenia in front of the various shops are no longer welcome in Xenia.
Before the trial, Judge Catherine Barber (or Kathryn Barber), a retired judge filling in for the Xenia Municipal Judge Michael Murray stated “there will be no mentioning of the Constitution” and then laughed when the defendant claimed that uttering words on a public sidewalk constitutes free speech. The audio of the hearing can be found here on Bambuser.
But at the trial Thursday you can hear the entire court room laugh at the prosecutor’s suggestion that they can regulate free speech in public space. They believed that asking for money can be compared to “shouting fire in a crowded movie theater” even though the former does not endanger anyone’s safety or lives. In philosophy this argumentative fallacy is known as the fallacy of “false analogy.”
If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is not going away. This case is headed to the federal courts. Help us SPREAD THE WORD so this ridiculous “Gummo” Xenia Court doesn’t get away with this perverse form of “justice.”
(Article M. David; S. Wooten and Jackson Marciana)