Friday, July 28, 2006

Iraq war protester's case is gaining support

Iraq war protester's case is gaining support
ACLU monitoring Ferndale arrest
By Frank Witsil / Detroit Free Press

For more than two years, Victor Kittila stood on a Ferndale corner and peacefully protested the war in Iraq by waving a sign that read "Honk For Peace."

But after he was arrested for demonstrating earlier this month, his message has gotten more notice than ever.

It's capturing the attention of local activist groups and even filmmaker Michael Moore and antiwar activist Tom Hayden, who Kittila said recently called to hail him as a hero. It also has gotten attention from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is keeping an eye on the case because it has First Amendment implications.

Kittila pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of disorderly conduct at his arraignment in 43rd District Court, which was packed with dozens of metro Detroit supporters who said that they believe Kittila's July 3 arrest was unjust and a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

"It's outrageous," said Kathleen Parker, 46, of Harrison Township.

Kittila, who has long gray hair and a beard, is set to return to court at 1 p.m. Aug. 22 for a pretrial hearing. His $500 bond was reduced to a personal bond. He said he is seeking a jury trial and is going to stand up for his rights. He said the support has been growing since his arrest.

"I'm overwhelmed by all of this," he said of the crowd that gathered at the courthouse.

The 55-year-old antiwar protester from Eastpointe was arrested because he said he was waving a sign that said, "Don't Honk If You Want Bush Out." City officials said he was breaking the law by encouraging drivers to honk their horns -- even though the sign indicated the opposite -- and by refusing a ticket.

State law says that horns should be used only for necessary situations, which on its face, potentially makes the case a public safety -- not a First Amendment -- case, some attorneys say. However, Kittila's attorney, Deborah Choly of the National Lawyers Guild in Detroit, said the case is about the right to free speech and assembly.

Ferndale City Manager Tom Barwin said this is an "awkward situation" because the city has passed resolutions in support of antiwar protests, and Barwin acknowledges he has honked when passing protesters holding signs. Barwin also acknowledged that the arrest seems to have sparked even more protesting and honking.

He said the city attorney is evaluating the charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and $500, and may choose to drop it.

Meanwhile, a second protester, Nancy Goedert, 73 of Ferndale also was charged with disorderly conduct. She was ticketed and has a pretrial arraignment hearing on Aug. 8.