Providence mayoral candidate pleads not guilty to disorderly conduct
Thursday, December 31, 2009
PROVIDENCE — Democratic mayoral candidate Christopher F. Young pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an outburst at a November health-care forum at Brown University.
At his Municipal Court arraignment, Young was represented by Keven McKenna, a former Municipal Court judge, and Tom Brejcha, the president and chief legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm that opposes abortion.
Young, at the November health-care forum, had voiced his anger at Congress for supporting health-care legislation that he said would provide federal funding for abortions.
McKenna argued that Young was merely exercising his First Amendment right of freedom of speech and that the circumstances of Young’s arrest did not meet the standard for disorderly conduct.
“Politically incorrect speech is still free speech,” McKenna said. “Lively discussion, albeit politically incorrect, is not disorderly conduct. It’s ironic that Brown University is trying to criminalize free speech.”
McKenna says his client will file a motion to dismiss the charge prior to the trial, which was set for Feb. 17.
According to a Providence police report of the incident, Young was “using threatening, disruptive and loud language” during the public comment portion of the Nov. 30 forum. At one point, Young approached Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, one of four discussion panelists, and “threw” a CD case at him, the police report said.
[ NOTE That was a DVD- and the film was Maafa21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America ]
Young continued to address the forum from the microphone. The police report says officers eventually had to escort him away at the request of forum moderator Dr. Edward J. Wing, dean of Brown’s medical school, because he was being too disruptive. The police then tried to bring Young out of the forum entirely, but, according to the report, he resisted, instead sitting down on the floor while continuing to yell at the panel.
Finally, the officers placed him in handcuffs and charged him with disorderly conduct.
Young, in his explanation of the events to The Journal Wednesday, said Kennedy “nodded” toward him, which he took to mean he could hand the congressman the disc, which contained a documentary on abortion. He denied being disruptive.
Young, 41, of Narragansett, said he has also been banned from Brown University property as a result of the incident. The university sent him a letter this month prohibiting him from entering any building leased or owned by Brown.
“This is clearly a retaliatory action against me as a candidate for Mayor of Providence, because I have publicly stated my desire to tax Brown University property and to remove private police powers from Brown University security,” he said in a statement. “Brown University obviously has a vested interest in trying to stop me from becoming Mayor of Providence.”
Marisa Quinn, a university spokeswoman, said the notice, which was issued by the university’s public safety department, is “consistent with the university’s practices and policies regarding individuals not associated with the university who are arrested on campus.”
Young announced his candidacy for mayor in May and is the only official challenger to Democratic incumbent Mayor David N. Cicilline.
He has run unsuccessfully for several offices –– sometimes simultaneously –– in the past. In 2006, for example, he ran in the Democratic mayoral primary against Cicilline and against U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.
The disorderly conduct charge Young faces is a petty misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of either $500, 30 days in jail, or 30 days of community service.
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Attorneys from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society are appearing in Providence municipal court tomorrow for a hearing on their motion to dismiss disorderly conduct charges against Christopher Young. Young, a Democratic mayoral candidate, was arrested and dragged away to jail after questioning Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, about his pro-abortion views at an “open forum” on health care at Brown University last November.
Thomas More Society attorneys argue that Young was not “disorderly” but rather was exercising his First Amendment rights when he questioned Rep. Kennedy about his support for abortion in health care reform and tossed a video onto the table at which the Congressman was seated. The video was Maafa 21, a documentary on the history of abortion aimed at African-Americans that charges Planned Parenthood and other abortionists with “black genocide.” Young’s questions were blunt and spirited but wholly peaceable, falling far short of “fighting words” or threats that might have exceeded the bounds of constitutionally protected speech.
“This event was open to the public and widely advertised as an open forum, that is, an opportunity for the very sort of robust, wide-open debate on critical issues to which our nation cherishes such a profound commitment,” said Tom Brejcha, the Society’s president and chief counsel, “and Young was wholly within his rights in putting tough questions to Kennedy, who never answered but sat smugly and watched while his questioner was muzzled, handcuffed and hauled off to jail.” He added, “Kennedy had argued that every person has a divine spark that entitles him or her to health care, and this provoked questions from Young, also a Catholic, as to how Kennedy could advocate health care laws suppressing conscience rights of Catholics and others who deem it abhorrent that the divine spark is snuffed out in so many infants before they even see the light of day. How sad it is to reflect that the younger Congressman’s late father, patriarch of the Kennedy family for so many years, was once outspokenly pro-life, and that the family has strayed so far from those early and eloquent calls to protect the unborn.”
The hearing to dismiss charges will take place tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. For more information or to speak with an attorney from the Thomas More Society before or after the hearing.