Forest Thomer II says he was conducting “guerrilla marketing” when he went to a May 23 “Party in the Park” hosted by the local Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Pointing to Ally Bruener, wheelchair-bound because of Muscular Dystrophy, he quizzed various groups in the crowd, asking, “Do you want to laugh at the crippled girl?” Then Bruener, who is an aspiring comic, wheeled up, told a joke and announced the location and time of her next performance.
Surprise! Someone was offended—so offended that the police were called. They threatened to shock Thomer with a taser and then arrested him, charging disorderly conduct by virtue of “grossly abusive language.” This could have sent Thomer to jail for a month. When Thomer’s attorney made it clear that he was going to argue censorship, the city changed the charge to “Turbulent behavior,” whatever that is. Amazingly, this ridiculous case actually went to trial, and after four days that could have been better spent making napkin holders out of popsicle sticks, a jury found Thomer “not guilty.”
And yes, he should sue the city for violating his right to free speech.
This is as good an example of offense by proxy as I’ve ever encountered. The city’s position was that Thomer’s language was abusive and offensive, even though the individual who was supposedly abused approved of the speech and benefited from it. Indeed, people were shocked; but shock of this kind never hurt anyone. I don’t blame the Chamber for being annoyed to have their event hijacked in such a flamboyant manner. I certainly blame them for having Thomer thrown in jail. Thomer and Bruener were unfair, I think, to invade an outdoor function for their unorthodox advertising, knowing that it would upset people, but if the Chamber wanted to control who could attend their event, it should have held it somewhere other than a public park. Thomer and Bruener were certainly inconsiderate, but what was done to Thomer in response was more unethical by far.
How should this have been handled? Easy. A Chamber representative should have politely requested that Thomer and Bruener stop harassing its guests or leave, and once asked, they should have complied. Arresting Thomer because some were offended at the manner in which he referred to his own friend was outrageous.
Pointer: Advice Goddess
Facts and Graphic: Cincinnati.com