Happy Independence Day; Let The Revolution Resume

July 6th, 2010 | 7 Comments
Gulf of Mexico Oil Blow-Out
dauphin-island-public-beach-july-4-2010-web

Private security guards working for a company paid by BP prevent a would-be beach-goer from entering public property clearly marked “Open.”

July 4th. Dauphin Island, Alabama.

Two-hundred-and-thirty-four years ago, The United States won its independence from, guess who: the British.

Not so fast. At the end of the road is a public park clearly marked “OPEN.” It’s noon when I approach what looks like a little temporary trailer-style guard station at the entrance.

A young guy with a clipboard straightens up and walks quickly to the threshold of the park entrance. The power play is immediate. He’s joined by an older guy, 60s, who takes over the interaction.

“ I assume this park is open,” I say, “since the sign says, ‘Open.’”

“No.”

“Then why does the sign say it’s open?”

“Because they haven’t taken it down.”

“Why would they take it down if it’s a public park?

“It’s closed.”

“Why is it closed?”

“Because there are operations going on here connected to the oil spill. It’s been taken over by the National Guard. The National Guard is operating down here.”

“And they’ve closed the public park, even though it says it’s open.”

“Yes. The city has closed it.”

“Does that seem right to you?”

“I have no comment on that, sir. All I know is it’s closed to the public.”

“And who do you work for?”

“I work for Response Force One security.”

“What is Response Force One?”

“A security company.”

“And you’re hired by who?”

“Response Force One.”

“Yes, but who are they hired by?”

“BP,” he says with a lift of his chin, as though those two letters are the big trump card of the whole Gulf region. A foreign corporation has hired American citizens to keep other Americans off of public property. These are not even real cops. They’re what we used to call rent-a-cops, private security guards, the kind appropriate for guarding private property like office buildings and department stores. The kind who have no real legal authority. Local police or sheriffs, as I understand it, can grant authority to private security guards, but I can’t check whether they’ve officially done so here, since, after all, it’s a holiday. But these guys are not guarding the park or public property. They’re guarding, well, I can’t really see; looks like more booms and porta-potties.

“So BP closed the public park?”

“No. The town closed it. The town has closed it. Because there are operations going on here.”

The parking lot behind him is pretty empty and the equipment is idle. It’s a holiday, after all. “I don’t really see any operations going on here,” I say.

“Sir,” he says, starting to lose his cool, “I’m tellin’ ya—it’s closed. OK?”

“OK, and I’m asking why.”

“Because there are operations going on. It’s a secure area.”

“So, it’s the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and we won a war of independence and now a British corporation has”—

“Sir,” he interrupts, now getting exasperated, “if you have any questions about the beach being closed I’m gonna suggest that you contact somebody from the Town of Dauphin Island.”

“OK. Who can I contact?”

“Anybody in the city. Contact the mayor.”

“Do you have their phone numbers?”

“They’re not working today. It’s a holiday.”

“But you don’t have their phone numbers, any contact information?”

“No I don’t.” Now he’s pretty fed up with me. Feeling’s mutual, I’d estimate. The eye contact between us is turning hostile. I ask if I can take his picture and, not surprisingly, he says “No.”

“But you’re on public property,” I point out again. I’m no lawyer, yet I assume he’d have a private right not to have his photo taken. But since he’s saying he’s acting in an official government capacity, I’m pretty sure the First Amendment would cover as free speech taking a photo of an “official.” At any rate, this is not a discussion on the fine points of the Constitution. We’re miles and miles from the fine points. This, after all, is The Oil.

I said, NO!” he yells. I see hatred in his eyes and he’s starting to shake with rage. I guess he’s not accustomed to being challenged. Most cars just turn around. He doesn’t usually even have to talk to anyone. His mere presence is enough to repel people. Everyone can see it’s closed, never mind the sign. And obviously, I’ve come with an attitude about this. I hate it. I hate all of it. I feel myself pointlessly returning his glare of rage.

He reaches for his radio in a threatening way, as if to warn, “I’m going to call Daddy.” He’s got his finger on the key.

I should make him call some real police, in uniforms and a real cop car, hired by the citizens and paid with tax money. But I presume they’ll side with him and we might all get angry. I say ‘OK,’ turn, and leave.

But, acting on my own interpretation of the First Amendment, I’ve already got my photos, and my recording of our conversation.

Later, I did find a sheriff and asked how private security guards can keep people off public property, especially where the sign very clearly says a park is Open.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The park is closed; that’s true. In fact a lot of the island’s beach access is closed. But how they’re doing it, you’d have to ask the Town. Right now there’s a lot of screwy things on this island. I don’t understand it all myself.”

I guess you can’t explain something that doesn’t really make sense. Happy Independence Day.

7 Responses to “Happy Independence Day; Let The Revolution Resume”

  1. Michele says:

    I’m not a lawyer either, but I’ve done some reading on this a bit (actually, was forced to for some classes.) My understanding of taking photos of people is that if they are in a public place (even if it is private property that is open to the public, like a mall), you can take someone’s photo as long as you are not harassing them or impeding traffic or blocking a walkway or something. The rule of thumb is that if they are in a place where they don’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” you are not violating their privacy. If someone is on public property, but in an area where they can expect some level of privacy, like a restroom, for example, you can not take their picture. Standing out in the open, near a public park – fair game. Again, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my word as one of authority, but this might be of some help for the future: http://www.rcfp.org/handbook/index.html

  2. Indeed!
    Viva la Ocean Revolution!

  3. This story is unbelievable in “the land of the free” but it shows the power of money. The politicians, elected officials and everybody else who is behind this infringement of people’s rights are probably, or should I say certainly, on the BP-payroll. Is our government in that same situation? A foreign company has the right to use a private company to stop American citizens from going to a public beach? With the approval of the government? Where is our President when you really need him? Is America’s freedom now under control of a foreign company?

  4. M Laney says:

    Carl, a very succinct description by the Sheriff’s Deputy. Hope the trip has been productive.

  5. MisteryX_891 says:

    damn that’s beautifull!

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  7. I don’t normally comment but I gotta state thankyou for the post on this one : D.

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