Your opinion is a breach of the peace! And so is your camera!

A relatively minor incident in the news serves as a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment -- as well as its inherent fragility.

If the reports are correct, a New Haven, Connecticut man was arrested merely for stating that he understood the mindset of the man who went on a shooting rampage at a Connecticut company which the shooter said was racist:

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Connecticut police say they arrested a man at a management company after he mentioned the shooting rampage across the state that killed nine people and said he understood the killer's mindset.

Fifty-eight-year-old Francis Laskowski of Derby was charged with breach of peace Wednesday after making the comments while working at Fusco Management Co. in New Haven.

Nine people died in the shootings Tuesday at Hartford Distributors in Manchester, including gunman Omar Thornton. Thornton told police in a 911 call that he wanted to avenge racial discrimination, allegations that company officials denied.

Laskowski told The Associated Press on Friday that his comments were blown out of proportion. He says his arrest was "ridiculous" and he didn't make any threats.

Laskowski posted bail and is due in New Haven Superior Court on Tuesday.

He is absolutely right to call this ridiculous; I mentioned the same incident in an earlier post, and while I didn't say that I "understood" the shooter's mentality, I am sure that countless bloggers did. I would note that it is possible to understand such a mentality from either a sympathetic or unsympathetic POV. For example, I could say that I understand why Palestinian gunman Sirhan Sirhan would shoot RFK while still thinking he deserved the death penalty. Or the Fort Hood gunman. Or even Charles Manson. Understanding does not mean approval. But whether it does or not, if saying you understand someone's mentality is an arrestable offense, then the entire blogosphere belongs in jail.

Now, at the risk of sounding a bit paranoid, what intrigues me about this case is that I think it touches on an ugly nexus between corporatism and statism. Notice that in another article, it is pointed out that the arrested man was an employee of the Fusco Corporation, where company police initially made the arrest:

Francis Laskowski, 58, allegedly made the statement at Building 4 at Science Park in the city's Newhallville section.

Police released only basic details and did not release where he worked.

Police were initially called to the Fusco Corp. offices at 555 Long Wharf Drive on a threatening complaint and were informed by security officers there that an employee "referred to the shooting incident in Manchester and that he (the employee) understood the shooter's mind set," police spokesman Officer Joe Avery said.

What this boils down to is that corporate security police were the ones who arrested this guy, and the local police came in and dutifully hauled him away.

On a completely bogus charge which will be tossed out of court.

Now, the company had every right to tell the man to keep his opinions to himself (and, I suppose, fire him), but arresting him for breaching the peace? Come on.

Does anyone think that if a podunk mom and pop business had called the cops over a similar comment by an employee, he would have been arrested?

Fusco, bear in mind, is no ordinary corporation, but a huge contracting company. It has built many of the most important buildings in the state, and its president also heads the state public broadcasting corporation:

Lynn R. Fusco, President of the Fusco Corporation -- one of the leading construction and property management companies in New England -- has been elected as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, Inc. (CPBI), parent company of Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) and Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR). The election took place during the CPBI Board of Trustee meeting on Tuesday, January 27, 2009, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Fusco oversees the operations of the company founded by her grandfather in 1924. Headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut, the Fusco Corporation is a third-generation family-owned business that has built many of the region's landmarks, including the Shubert Theatre, the Yale Baseball Stadium, Goodwin Square/Hartford, Time Warner Cable/Stamford, the Long Wharf Maritime Center, the Connecticut Tennis Center and the newly renovated Payne Whitney Gymnasium. In addition, Fusco is the president of the Fusco Management Company, a property management firm that manages over five million square feet throughout the state of Connecticut.
Hmmm.... I wonder what would happen if I showed up with my little camera and decided to take a few pictures of the company buildings. Would the corporate police detain me? And if they did, would the local police follow their direction and haul me in on bogus charges? (Much of the harassment of photographers involves not actual police harassment, but harassment by corporate security, with police arriving almost as if they are meant to be "backup.")

Why should a large corporation have more say-so over the First Amendment rights of citizens than you or I? I don't mean to sound like a Communist, but it does seem that they have unfair leverage.

And there is something unseemly about a bogus arrest like this taking place at a company run by the Chair of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, Connecticut Public Television, and Connecticut Public Radio.

You'd think they'd display a little more First Amendment, um, sensitivity.

posted by Eric on 08.07.10 at 09:59 AM


Well, the real reason the Company had him arrested is because if anything "happened" later, someone would sue them within an inch of bankrupcy. My employer is downright paranoid about this sort of thing for this reason. We get yearly training in identifying potential dangerous persons, etc.... Yeah, I know it a "Nanny" Company coercing me into being fearful of my fellow workers, but still, we're losing money, and a training class is a lot cheaper than if the worst would happen. "Well, we gave the employees training on this issue..."

rolls eyes, Susan Lee

Susan Lee   ·  August 7, 2010 9:03 PM

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