On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Moultrie handed down a defeat to a performance artist who has been kicked out of the park repeatedly. Better known as the "statue guy" who stands motionless atop newspaper dispensers, Scott Riddell was booted from Pioneer Square three years ago. Under the park's rules, he was "excluded" from Pioneer Square for 30 days. When he ignored this expulsion several days later, he was charged with criminal trespassing.
The park's rules state that a person may not sell goods or solicit in Pioneer Square without a permit. While standing motionless, Riddell would lay a hat at his feet to collect comments and whatever spare change bypassers cared to donate. Even though he was not approaching anyone, the court found that Riddell was soliciting, a violation of city code, unless he obtained a $310 a day permit.
Citing "freedom of speech" last week in court, Riddell claimed that saddling him with such an expensive permit was unconstitutional. The legal brief submitted on his behalf argues, "As people rush from Nordstrom to Starbucks to Abercrombie & Fitch, Mr. Riddell stands frozen, staring into space, as a non-verbal response to the rush of consumerism. His art serves as a silent and motionless cultural commentary on the frenzy of contemporary urban life."
According to Ed Johnson, his attorney, to obtain a $300 daily permit to stand motionless in the square was an undue burden on his client's right to free speech. In legal terms, explained Johnson, it is a "prior restraint on free speech," because Riddell could not afford that permit and therefore could not practice his performance art. But the judge did not agree and refused to overturn Riddell's criminal trespass charge.
Although Riddell's case has been the only legal challenge to the so-called park exclusion rule and permitting process, his complaint is far from isolated. Since December, a group known as Buddhas Not Bombs has held weekly vigils in the Friday evening hustle of the park; recently, those vigils have also ran afoul of the park exclusion rules and permitting process.
In connection with weekly protests against U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan, several pacifists have gathered each Friday in the square to stage silent meditations as a form of protest. As part of their vigils, they have sat on folding chairs.
Over the course of three weeks, security guards approached the meditating protesters, informing them they may have to obtain a permit in order to remain in Pioneer Square. More shockingly, they were informed that they were not allowed to place chairs on the ground because, in post-September 11 parlance, they could be considered safety hazards and potential weapons.
Since then, the group has continued their weekly vigils, but without the offensive chairs; gingerly trying to adhere to what seem like invisible park rules.
Underlying these complaints is a suspicion that security officers enforce the rules in a manner that proves the City favors business interests over personal expression. Writing on the IndyMedia message board, one supporter of the vigils remarked that the City and security officers have no problem tolerating dozens of spectators with folding chairs who line the park during the summertime Rose Festival.