An "FUGW" Sign Can Get You Arrested
When peace activist Frank Van Den Bosch heard that George Bush was coming through Platteville, Wisconsin, on May 7, he knew he wanted to be there to protest.
Van Den Bosch lives only thirty miles to the north, and he and his wife had helped set up a group called Students for Peace and Justice when she was at UW-Platteville a few years back, he says.
Van Den Bosch considered what to write on his poster. "I couldn't think of any one particular issue I wanted to address, and I was so completely saddened and angered by what was happening that the most concise statement I could come up with was FUGW."
When Van Den Bosch arrived at the protest, he joined a group of about twenty others. But soon his sign drew attention.
"An officer came over and said, 'You can't display your sign,' Van Den Bosch recalls. "She said she had checked with the Secret Service, and they didn't like the sign.
"And I said, 'Well, that's their problem.' "
But Van Den Bosch did agree to modify the sign. Under the F, he wrote in smaller letters "ree" to spell "Free," and under the U, he wrote "s" to spell "Us."
"But they weren't satisfied with that," he says. "A sergeant came over and tried to take the sign away from me, it, but I rolled it up and stood in the back a bit."
When Van Den Bosch saw the Bush-Cheney buses coming, he wanted to display his sign again.
" I unrolled my sign and stood there," says Van Den Bosch, "and then they came over and grabbed the sign and said, 'We told you couldn't show that sign.' They walked me over in front of a frat house where a bunch of guys had been harassing us, and they handcuffed me there to the cheering of the guys. Then they put me in an unmarked car and drove me into town, fingerprinted me and photographed me, and gave me a ticket for disorderly conduct."
Van Den Bosch has a court date of May 17.
Lieutenant Tom Schmid of the Platteville Police Department gives a slightly different account of what happened.
"We had a person complain about the sign, and we went down and asked the gentleman not to show the sign because there were kids in the area and it didn't seem appropriate," Lieutenant Schmid says. "Later on, he showed the sign again, and we went down and arrested him and charged him with disorderly conduct."
Why does holding such a sign constitute disorderly conduct?
"It seemed to annoy and disturb others," says Lieutenant Schmid, "and when you have conduct that tends to annoy or disturb others, that's disorderly conduct."
Sergeant Michelle Hechel, who spoke with Van Den Bosch at the protest, denies that she mentioned the Secret Service or that the Secret Service had anything to do with the incident.
"He had a sign," she says. "It was offensive. And we asked him to not show it."
As to whether he has the right to display an offensive sign, Sergeant Hechel says, " Once it starts offending other people, which it did in that area, he was asked to not display that. It was not appropriate. We said he could use a different sign, but he chose not to."
Van Den Bosch is fighting the charge, which he says shows "the fangs and teeth of the state. The chilling part is they knew they were violating my civil rights. Any eighth grade civics class will teach you that you have the right to express yourself."
Addendum: Nothing happened in this case on May 17. The plea hearing is now set for May 27, according to Frank Van Den Bosch's attorney, Andrea Baker.