Note: If this is your first time here, click the ‘Allegations’ tab at the top or the ‘true stories’ category on the right to read about the abuse.
On Saturday, some local alumni and I held a protest at the Dallas Acquire the Fire. We wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of the Honor Academy so we made signs and printed out flyers that had the blog address on them. Before the protest, I went online to make sure I understood my constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free speech.
According to the law, I have the right to protest and hand out leaflets on public property, such as a public street or sidewalk. Luckily, the Dallas Acquire the Fire event was held at the Gexa Energy Pavilion in Fair Park.
Given the fact that Fair Park is publicly owned property, I did not anticipate any trouble from the police.
That was naive.
When we first arrived around lunchtime, we stood just outside the entrance/exit of the arena, on what we believed was a public sidewalk. Within one minute, a uniformed police officer came and told us we had to move and that we were actually on private property. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the officer refused to answer our questions about who owned this supposed “private property” and even more infuriatingly violated the free speech rights of the teens who wanted to speak with us. He ended by telling us that we had to keep moving, we were not allowed to stand still. I asked him if that was the law and he said it was. (I later discovered this was bull.)
(Video broken in 2 parts to protect the identity of other protestors.)
We were confused by this officer’s directions because it did not reflect our research, but we complied anyway and moved to a significantly less impactful spot, standing on the sidewalks where cars pass as they come and go from the event. At this location, it was impossible to talk to people unless they walked about 300 feet out of their way to specifically speak with us.
At first, the officer confirmed to us that this location was acceptable. By this time, many cars and buses were leaving for lunch so lots of attendees were able to see our signs as they left the property. As a line of cars exiting the premises grew, some rolled down their windows and asked us questions while they waited. We answered them as quickly as we could without causing them to delay traffic, usually by handing them a flyer and suggesting they visit the website. About 10-20 minutes after the officer moved us to this location, he came back and told us we had to move again. He told us that we were on “private property” since the owner mowed the grass adjacent to the sidewalk, that we were “standing still,” and that we were “blocking traffic” and therefore not allowed to be on the sidewalk that we were currently occupying. At this point, I knew he was in the wrong and that I was doing nothing illegal. I walked past him, on the sidewalk, towards the arena, instead of away like he wanted me to. He threatened to call a squad car on me. I responded by telling him I wasn’t going anywhere. He specifically told me I could be there, I knew it was a public sidewalk and he had already watched us protest here for 10-20 minutes. He called the squad car, which did not intimidate me in the least. When he realized I wasn’t going to budge, he gave us new instructions not to talk to anybody in a car or hand out our flyer to them. I told him we would comply. He also mentioned that we could be in the parking lot area as long as we did not have our signs.
At this point, we had about 4 officers standing around us – and there were only 4 of us. And we were doing nothing illegal! For the first time, I can understand why people don’t like police officers.
As the youth groups were returning from lunch, one pastor said that he wanted to talk to us. My husband explained that we couldn’t block traffic to talk at length, so he laid down his sign and went into the parking lot to speak with the youth pastor. Less than a minute after starting the conversation, Heath Stoner arrived on the scene and told my husband “You can’t be here.” My husband replied, “I paid to be here” which apparently caught Heath off guard. He then slithered off to get a police officer, while some current staff member tried to convince my husband that the HA is awesome (lol). This officer then escorted my husband off the property but failed to give his name or badge number when my husband requested it.
Except for that original officer intermittently harassing us because we were at times, standing still, the rest of the day was thankfully, much less dramatic. Throughout the afternoon, groups of teens and adults would come talk to us and ask us what we were about. We had some good conversations and were able to share our concerns with many youth pastors and teens. We even had a couple of Teen Mania staff members come talk to us in a very respectful way and bring us some water. That was a nice gesture on their part and reminded me how sincere and genuine the lower level staff members and interns are.
If there was one thing I could change about our protest, I wish we could have made it clear via signage that we are Christians. It seems that many attendees assumed we were against Christianity and Jesus instead of understanding that we are protesting because of our Christian convictions. Overall, I was really surprised how little we were insulted. For every insult that was hurled at us, we got about five “Jesus loves you!” I’d say thats a pretty good percentage for a Christian crowd.
Now that we’ve had time to reflect on yesterday’s events, we plan to seek clarification on some issues related to our constitutional rights as Americans.
1) Is the original sidewalk where we stationed ourselves truly private property? How is that possible given that the entire area is publicly owned by the city of Dallas?
2) Was the primary officer on the clock representing the Dallas Police Department or was he working as a security guard for a private entity?
3) Why did a uniformed officer fail to identify himself when requested?
4) Did a uniformed police officer(s) violate our civil rights of peaceful assembly and free speech? Did they properly exercise their power or engage in bullying, intimidation and harassment by making up laws that do not truly exist (constant walking, “private property,” etc.)
I plan to contact Dallas City Hall and the Parks department and will update you when I know more.