In case you missed it, the San Diego City Council has proclaimed Nov. 23 through 29 "God Bless America Week" in San Diego, resolving to encourage "all people to express their gratitude and appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy as American citizens."
But when it came to a few idealistic young Republicans at the mayor's dismally attended let's-give-props-to-firefighters-and-cops rally, one of those freedoms that fell by the wayside was the First Amendment.
Yeah, it's a bitch when folks don't like how politicos spin a particular issue, in this case the perception that Mayor Yellow Jacket had little interest in adequately funding the city's fire department-until wildfires swept through a terrifyingly large swath of San Diego County.
Naturally, the Murphster hasn't been alone over the years in his queasiness about tossing more dough at fire protection, what with multi-millionaire sports moguls bending both of the mayor's elfish ears about their needs while county government takes more pride in what it doesn't pay for rather than what it does.
But at last weekend's highly promoted "San Diego Gives Thanks" pep rally at Qualcomm Stadium, there apparently was no patience for questioning the wisdom of such past budget blunders. Never mind that the rally, which drew maybe 1,000 people, appeared more like a political photo op disguised as a tribute to the hardworking men and women who save lives and homes for a living.
For Jordan Marks and four high-school-age friends, the event turned into something even more Orwellian-they were detained, threatened with arrest and finally kicked off stadium property for passing out fliers critical of Murphy's fire-protection voting record.
Marks, a 22-year-old economics student at MiraCosta College, is the North County chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a group that touts itself as the country's "oldest, largest and most recognized" conservative youth organization.
An avid reader, Marks found himself growing concerned over news reports of the mayor's inaction in supporting the needs of San Diego firefighters. "I read the newspaper, and I also hang out with other political people," he explained. He's also been disturbed by reports that the city can't account for half of the $6 million it has received in state Prop. 172 funds, the 1993 voter-supported half-cent sales-tax hike intended to bolster public safety, fire protection in particular.
"Like, no matter who you are, this is wrong," Marks said. "I don't care-Republican, Democrat, as we learned with the fires going on, we all were the ones that hurt."
So, he whipped up a flyer on his home computer, including a color photo of ex-Gov. Gray Davis and Mayor Murphy visiting some fire-ravaged area, both wearing yellow jackets. "I thought that was a bit excessive," Marks said of the politicians' choice of wardrobe.
The flyer, by most standards, was pretty low-key. It did refer to Murphy as "Old Yellow Jacket," but the remainder of the flyer was simply informational, Marks said. The flyer noted that Murphy has "consistently cut the San Diego Fire Department budget," "voted against Fire Department raises" and "opposed fire helicopter funding."
It goes on to lament the missing Prop. 172 funds and San Diego's lack of police academy training this year, but perhaps it's the last line that peeved the powers: "Being a leader requires more than showing up to host a party for real heroes."
So after printing up about 2,000 color copies, he found four like minds from the YAF club at Carmel Mountain High School to join him for a leafleting adventure down at Qualcomm. They put flyers on car windshields, into the hands of passersby and even managed to leaflet the firefighters and other law-enforcement officers as they gathered at a staging area to parade into the stadium.
No problem outside Qualcomm. In fact, Marks said, "we were getting cheers about these flyers. We weren't taking a shot, just making a point-that [the politicians] were not doing their job."
How did the firefighters react? "I don't know if you've ever handed stuff out to firefighters," he said, "but they don't really say anything. They give you that nod."
Marks said police patrolling the parking lot had also given them the nod to continue leafleting. Once inside the stadium, however, the reception changed.
After slipping about 100 flyers on the bleacher seats where attendees would be sitting, members of the Elite security detail "confiscated our material and escorted us over to police," Marks said.
While a couple of cops seemed sympathetic to the students' right to free expression, one officer and a rent-a-cop seemed completely ignorant of the First Amendment. While some officers were busy calling the parents of the high-school students, Marks said he talked to one officer who said, "We're going to make an official police record of it and then we're going to escort you out. If you come back, then you will be arrested for trespassing."
He said the cop gave him a choice-either take their flyers with them or police would burn them.
Burn flyers? At a rally honoring firefighters?
"[Police] said they were going to take them back and that they were going to be burning them," Marks insisted. He said police claimed the flyer fell under the category of "offensive material and that we weren't allowed to hand it out at a city event without a special permit."
Marks said one security Neanderthal kept suggesting that his younger cohorts-three boys, one girl, ages 16 and 17-would be arrested. One student had just completed his interviews with Harvard the day before and worried that this might appear on his record.
One security guard did some pushing, Marks said, and one cop kept "making fun of the kids for being Republicans" and threatening them with some vague misdemeanor. Marks said he asked the cop to cite what law they were violating, but "he was unable to do that."
One cop, Marks said, thought the protesters were too young to be Republicans and asked if they had jobs. One said he was making $7 an hour. "The cop then goes, "Then how can you be a Republican?' And he said to the cop that he's aspiring to make more."
Added Marks: "I've made some pretty interesting flyers in my day, but this was extremely tame. We weren't there to take away from the firefighters. We don't appreciate them just in words, though-the way most people were doing it. We wanted to show them, "Hey, we want to make sure you get the proper funding to do your job.'"
Even at 22, Marks understands that standing up when everyone else is busy flag-waving is how this country gets things done. "People would rather just stand back and salute the firefighters," he said. But instead of a $75,000 parade, he suggested, how about using the money to help buy a new fire truck?
Sure beats hollow proclamations.Feeling tipsy?: spincycle@SDcitybeat.com.