Monday, November 22, 2010
Shut down in Hollywood...again.
I've been really blessed to be able to preach the Gospel with my brothers in arms from CBC and from the Burbank and surrounding areas. To be honest this is one of the things I most looked forward to about my visit here. On Thursday we went to the NoHo Metro station (the usual fishing spot). Friday it was mostly NoHo again...but we also went to Hollywood Blvd. I hadn't been there for about 6 months; the last time I was in Hollywood was when brothers Dave (who heads up the CBC team) and Nathan were both cited for open air preaching. The cops were cracking down on street performers and costumed characters on the Boulevard--as a result of complaints from business owners--and of course we ended up being lumped in the same category as them. The charges: "loitering" and "obstructing the sidewalk". I remember that afternoon seeing a golden statue man in handcuffs, and various costumed superheroes being rounded up and taken into police cars. By God's grace I didn't caught preaching that day.
The case against Dave ended up being dropped, and several months ago I read a news report about the superheroes and their fans protesting their ill-treatment by the police. (This news report mentions their recent victory in court.) So I thought to myself, surely by now things have cooled down in Hollywood, and everything is back to normal.
Though it certainly appeared that way when we got off the Metro and set foot on the famous star-lined sidewalk last Saturday evening, my hopes were short-lived. Yes, there were street performers dancing, playing loud music, and doing their thing on the Boulevard. And yes, we did get to preach--with amplification, I may add; brother Tony Miano joined us that day and had the honors of going first. But as soon as I started getting comfortable there, and believing that maybe even I would get the opportunity to preach in Hollywood again, I found myself surrounded by several police officers. By this time Dave had been open airing without amplification or a box, and not many people were stopping to listen to him. Never mind that street dancers had drawn a large crowd on the very block we were on. Never mind that Hare Krishnas were dancing to loud music only several yards away. We were the targets of police harassment. Apparently someone had called to complain about us, only us. And the cops just about ignored everyone else, and went only for us. Tony and Dave spent a considerable amount of time reasoning with them, to no avail. They threatened to write us up for the phoniest of charges (Tony describes it in more detail in his blog). Our First Amendment rights were most definitely compromised. One police officer remarked that while we certainly had free-speech rights, she believed that people have a right to not be "offended". I remember thinking, What? Not only will you not find that in any written law anywhere, but your opinions mean squat in the court of law. Since when is violating a police officer's personal beliefs equivalent to breaking the law?
Despite the grave injustice done to us, Dave and Tony complied with the officers and we eventually left Hollywood Blvd.
I write this post with the hopes of reminding all who read this that, even though this may seem like a tiny, insignificant case in comparison to the sufferings of our brethren in other parts of the world, persecution is already here. This is only the beginning. If by the grace of God we live in a "free" country, may we learn to appreciate our freedom and boldly proclaim the Gospel on the streets while we still have the time. The day is coming (real soon) when the cops will do a whole lot more than politely ask us to leave.