“Stop Obama Now” in San Diego has been organizing overpass protests since Inauguration Day (January, 2013). We were attaching signs to the fence from the very beginning. Various police departments never said a single word of complaint about our signs on the fence being illegal until these protests began to spread nation-wide.
On June 8, 2013 we held a protest in Carlsbad, Ca that touched off the national “Overpasses” movement. A local reporter claimed that our demo caused a 10-mile-long traffic “snarl” on Interstate 5. He exaggerated, either because he wanted to create more interest in the story or to make us look bad, maybe for both reasons. I-5 is one of the busiest freeways in the nation and it is not unusual for traffic to slow there for miles, in fact it happens daily. We did not think we caused a traffic slowdown any more than advertising billboards cause a traffic slowdown.
Due to that spurious claim, news of our demo went national on the Internet. After that, Obama followers felt that their idol was threatened and began often to call 911 and report us to the police, whenever they saw an overpass demo.
Side Note: To help avoid police/highway patrol responding as an emergency to 911 calls to your event, call them and let them know a couple days ahead of time about your demo. If they do not know abut it, they are required by law to respond as an emergency when some O-bot calls 911 and may be angry, when they arrive, that they did not already know about the event. If they do know ahead of time, they may not even respond.
In order to limit the effectiveness of our demos the police began to warn us that hanging the signs on the fence is illegal, that we are distracting drivers, causing traffic to slow down and creating unsafe traffic conditions. Police have done this in California, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, Washington State, Missouri and probably many more states. Since June, hundreds of signs have been hung on Overpass fences all across America often in the presence of police and highway patrol. To this blogger’s knowledge, not a single citation has been written by the police anywhere in the nation for temporarily hanging an attended protest sign on an overpass fence.
If you litter, police write you a citation. If you jaywalk, police write you a citation. If you speed you get a ticket for speeding. If you spit on the sidewalk, you can get a citation for that. You are cited, because there are laws that specifically apply. However, police never cite us for the simple act of hanging a freedom-of-speech protest sign on a fence, though they often claim that it is illegal.
They always conjure up some other convenient reason, such as creating an unsafe condition for traffic, which depends only on their own judgement. They can then order you to disperse and arrest you, if you do not obey. The prosecutor may not file charges, but the police know that just making an arrest or dispersing the group can discourage protests widely, especially among conservatives, who tend to take obedience to law enforcement officials to the extreme.
This is evidence that there is no law that prohibits attended protest signs that are hung on the fence temporarily, during the protest. The policemen apparently do not believe that a prosecutor and judge would accept it as a reasonable charge and they could even potentially face a personal lawsuit for abusing the civil rights of the protestors. They claim that hanging signs is illegal, hoping people will be intimidated and just submit to their arbitrary will.
If some want to obey every whim of the police, fine, but the police claim should not be validated that hanging temporary protest signs is illegal. It seems obvious that is it NOT illegal, because the police never cite you for it. The police are often being pressured, probably by influential people, at times, to discourage these protests. Do not take police claims about illegality of hanging signs at 100% face value.
Hanging signs from the fence increases the effectiveness of a demo, especially, if there are relatively few participants. Prohibiting the hanging of signs is just a way of attempting to limit and discourage these protests, in the hope that they will eventually fade away. Police departments across the country communicate, or at least watch what police in other states do, and often develop common strategies for specific situations. We should do the same and react to them with our own common strategy.
Do not be bamboozled by the police. Hanging an attended, freedom-of-speech, protest sign temporarily on an overpass fence is protected by the 1st Amendment, as long as it does not violate the rights of someone else or create a clearly unsafe condition. Petty local laws do not overrule the Bill of Rights. This is an extremely important cause, worth fighting for the right to exercise your freedom of speech in the the most effective way and to the fullest extent possible.