Dark for Dark Business
(Names replaced to avoid any breaches of confidentiality.)
It was fairly cold out around 1 AM Friday Morning. A few hours ago I had been at a Latin Holy Thursday Mass with some friends, muddling through a wonderful Sacrament that I knew well in a language that I did not. My friend Perry and I were sitting on the inside of the giant metal modern art sculpture, hiding far back in the cleft facing the NKU University Center, keeping to the shadows and keeping nearly silent. Last night had been easier, as me and my two other friends, Jackson and Mark, had been blessed with more shadow to hide in. The nearly full moon had been covered by clouds then. It had also been warmer and the wind had not bitten half so harshly. Earlier Perry, Jessa, Sally and I had been hiding among roughly broken rocks underneath the UC/BEP walkway. The wind had knifed through the support pillars, howling and chilling us to the bone as it went.
It is entirely reasonable to ask why on earth we were hiding out like this, and why myself and other compatriots had been hiding out the previous night until 3 AM.
The answer is simple. We were hiding near the Northern Kentucky University Right to Life Onesie Display, to protect it from vandals. You see, a simple sign with a properly researched and cited fact on it, coupled with a few clotheslines that had baby clothes hung on them, is apparently enough to warrant the destruction of property under the cover of darkness. Did I mention that the display was approved by the University, or else it would have never been put up in the first place? Or that once used, the baby clothes, of which every fourth article had a red X in tape that was easily removable, were to be donated to babies in sore need of help? Yet, of course, because our stance is not the most popular, on Monday and Tuesday night our display was torn down, with all the onesies picked from their clothespins like cherries and dropped to the dirt. We do not know what time this happened on Monday, but, Tuesday, we know it happened before 1AM, as Perry, Jackson, and I, along with several of our friends, had gone to check on it and found the onesies taken down again. We also know the deed was done after 11 PM, thanks to a passerby who remarked that she had been out smoking around then, and the display had been just fine at that time.
Being very tired of this sort of guerilla trampling of our Right to Free Speech, we called the Campus Police, and various measures were taken to ensure that if it happened again, the perpetrators would be identified and caught. However, we decided that we would do what we could ourselves, after making sure our methods were legal by checking with the proper Authorities. You see, this is not the first year this sort of thing has happened. When our club was founded, one of NKU’s Professors took her class outside to tear up the crosses in our Cemetery of Innocents. Each cross represents a varying number of children slain daily by abortion in the USA, depending on the space available. She was let go and soundly chastized. Year after year, semester after semester, despite constant recriminations and condemnations from the University, displays have been damaged, and flyers torn down. With the flyers at least, some of our members have caught those responsible in the act. They were almost always unrepentant and hostile.
To that end, on Wednesday and Thursday night, several of us stayed out of sight and in the cold, watching our display to make sure that this would not happen again and that the vandals would be caught. We were lucky Wednesday, nothing eventful occurred. It originally seemed to Perry and I that the same would hold true for Thursday, and up until around one we waited, wedged in a cramped, freezing, steel hideout, whispering back and forth to pass the time. Then, he motioned for me to be silent. He had heard the distinct snip of scissors when I had not. I saw one of the clotheslines jerk, and it half fell. I was calling the police that instant, and Perry was readying his camera. I saw a short man steal up and cut down the remaining end. Then, I was busy trying to whisper into the Police Operator’s ear. My voice came out so hushed and garbled that they originally thought I was telling them that someone had pulled a gun. While I was sorting that out, Perry stepped from our hiding place and began snapping pictures. He saw four men rushing to stuff the clotheslines and baby clothes into the trash cans outside of the Art Building. By the time I had exited the art and found my bearings, after I was sure I had gotten the situation through to the Operator, I saw them running hard and fast towards the Natural Science Center. Perry was already in hot pursuit. I followed, but being slower and fatter and more out of shape than my speedy friend, remained far behind. I was roaring into the phone by that point, having figured that any noise could only help our cause. My own voice and heavy breathing, combined with my pounding footsteps, drowned out Perry’s yelling. Afterwards, he explained that in the rush, what he had meant to say got mixed up in his head, and he had bellowed “RUN, YOU COWAAARDS!!!!” instead. I sincerely wish I could have heard that.
A few moments later, both he and the fleeing vandals had vanished around the front end of the Science Center, and I was beginning to catch up, having finally found strength in my tightly-cramped legs. I kept talking to the Operator, and realized that it was very likely my good friend was alone with four criminals who had at least one cutting blade between them. I had no knowledge of whether they carried scissors or buck knives, and so when I caught sight of one of them doubling back, possibly to see if I was still on the chase, I was ready to charge in, fighting like a madman, in the event that they had turned back upon him. Praise God that such evil did not take place. When I rounded the corner, I could not find the man I had seen before, and saw two of them standing by Perry and a squad car with its lights flashing away in the parking lot behind the Norse Commons Cafeteria. Still relating everything to the Operator, as best as I could between breaths, I stopped running and shakily walked up to the Officer who was now questioning the two that had been stopped. The Operator left me in his capable hands. Officer Serious demanded that they call their fellows, and the man I had seen by the Science Center did not abandon them and reappeared in a few minutes. Their fourth man, I found out from Perry, had ducked into a building somewhere along the way, and could not be reached.
While they were standing there, I asked Officer Serious if I might say some polite words to them. He allowed it, and I asked them why they had done this, when none of us had ever torn down any Pro-Choice Display at this school. Their response was unified, instantaneous, and loud. The three began leaning forward, angry and belligerent, speaking about how horribly offensive and vile our simple baby clothes had been. One barked that the information of the sign had been a lie, that the phrase “1 out of four babies die from Abortion” was untruthful. I explained that the Guttmacher Institute, which was where we had gotten that fact, was founded by a man who had once been the President of Planned Parenthood. I was shouted down and told that Mr. Alan Frank Guttmacher, an obstetrician and gynecologist as well as a member of the Association for Voluntary Sterilization, had no idea what it was like to be a woman. As if womanhood had anything to do with the ability to report valid statistics. Perry coolly remarked, “Yes, and it seems that the three of you have much experience with knowing what it’s like to be a woman.” During these few sentences, which had originally begun as an innocent request for an explanation, they had moved forward several steps, and Officer Serious found in necessary to step in front of me and tell them to shut it because there would be no debating here. To be frank…I am six foot three, two-hundred and twenty pounds. The biggest one of them was probably two-thirds my size, at the greatest. One of them could not have been more than ninety pounds. If you are willing to be that aggressive to a man that much larger than you, WITH an Officer of the Law present, to the point where he has to literally move in front of you to block your path, and YOU are the one who has committed the crime, you might want to seriously reconsider your position.
They were already trying to downplay what they had just done, and had begun apologizing like children caught with their hands in the candy jar. I was more than somewhat amused when they declared that “surely, we can work something out, come to some sort of resolution”, considering what had happened minutes before. Perry and I accepted their apologies personally, but I warned them that I was not the President of NRTL, and that if my Club Officers asked my opinion of the situation, I would advise them to do whatever the University Code and the Law required, without any thought for pleas for leniency. Given the history of actions like theirs, a strong and clear example needed to be made that this sort of behavior was intolerable. Their faces darkened then, but they remained silent, probably because they had learned overt aggression would not be looked kindly on by the Lawmen present. I gave them a brief lesson on all that had taken place before that night, starting with the first destruction of our displays and going all the way to the present moment. Now, by their own admission, they were not the ones who had taken down the onesies earlier in the week. It does bother me that the vandals were not contained in one isolated group, but, we at least caught somebody. During this, two other Officers, Jogger and Comedian, pulled up and took over the parking lot situation, while Officer Serious took Perry back up to the display. Officer Comedian took over further questioning, from which we all learned several things. It turns out that they had planned to do this earlier in the day during classes, and that all three were Theater Majors at NKU. They also had been drinking beforehand, even though one of them was only 18. The other two were 21. It turned out later that the 18-year-old tried to tell my President that he was actually Pro-life and that he had been a lookout. His behavior towards me on this night proves that statement an outright lie. I saw no disapproving look in his eyes when the three of them began shouting at me in unison. They had used scissors, thankfully, so my fears of having to face knives had been unnecessary, though not entirely unfounded. They repeatedly gave their reason for vandalism as the terrible offensive nature of our display. Officer Comedian, who has my undying applause for his handling of the situation, detained them, made them wait on their knees in the cold, and then took them off under arrest to jail. While he was doing this, he kept up an impressive stream of humorous and educational banter. When the underage man remarked that he had relatives in the military, he asked him how those relatives would feel when he told them that he had violated the very Constitutional Rights they had been fighting for. His weak response was a mumbled ‘Disappointed”. He also managed to sum up the stupidity of what those three had done by explaining that if he saw a sign declaring “Kill the police!” in someone’s yard, he did not have the right to go tear it down, break their windows, raid their fridge, and eat their food in their easy chair.
One of the vandals complained that the pavement was really hurting his knees. I remarked that the large chunks of rock and cold wind under the walkway by the University Center had hurt while we were waiting for them earlier. They responded that that took dedication. “Well, we’re tired of you tearing our shit down.” I said.
In summation, all three planned this ahead of time, got themselves a little drunk, and came up to campus to cut this display down and throw it in the trash. They seemed unphased when I explained that the clothes were to be donated to needy children. So much for their love for those in need. All of their behavior was admitted to Campus Police Officers, who promptly processed them, including the fourth man, who turned himself in later that night. In addition to various alcohol related charges, the have been charged with Criminal Mischief. the University, while unable to tell us what punishment they would receive due to confidentiality rules, made it clear that they would handle the situation, and I have full confidence in their ability to do so.
There is something about waiting in silence in the dark of the night which tests the soul. Even laying in wait with a group of people can be a trying experience. As the time wears on, and you become accustomed to your surroundings, the initial nervousness and shock wears off, only to be replaced by a feeling more pervasive and paranoid. At the start of things, every skitter of leaves across the ground, every bit of movement, every stray person walking past your field of vision, they all spook you a little bit. You get jumpy and your head darts around, trying to investigate anything that seems like a possible threat. Late at night, everything does. Once that period subsides, you can relax a bit, and let yourself breathe a little more easily. The tension never leaves the depths of your mind, though. It is the background melody to your evening symphony, playing throughout the whole piece, and rising to a thunderous crescendo every time thereafter that you hear something that might be amiss. I do not recommend doing this for an hour, let alone five of them at a time.
There is a kind of madness in being forced by necessity to stand guard over your own Freedom of Expression at a University dedicated to helping you develop your ability to use it. The madness is trebled when at that University, which for you has become a place where you come to learn and grow, a place where your friends and loved ones reside, a place that stands for something good and wholesome in your life, you are made to feel, even for an instant, that you are about to fight for the life and limb of one of your friends simply because someone disagreed with what you said. The full weight of this outrage did not sink home until recently, as in the moment, I was actually too full of adrenaline and get-at-them to be afraid of much of anything, or give any thought to the issue beyond resolving to knock some heads together should it come to that. But now, with the anger and rush of the chase gone, I look at those brief five seconds of time in shock and horror. For in those five seconds I was forced by the unknowns of the situation to prepare myself for something almost unthinkable: I had steeled myself to come snarling around a corner and begin unleashing my wrath upon four armed men, with my bare fists, in an effort to preserve the well-being of my friend and myself. Because someone had decided that the way were talking was offensive. This may sound silly or paranoid to you, but you try chasing down four strange men who, by any stretch of reasoning, have to have some sort of blades on them. Then imagine losing sight of your friend and your marks, and having all sounds but your own voice and the wind vanish with the suddeness of the Big Bang. Do I sound overly concerned to you now? Again, I thank God that the men we hunted down were too frightened initially to turn on us instead of flee, and that they were not armed, but we had no way of gauging their intent or equipment. This point is especially poignant, for after hearing of the events I have just described, some of my friends and relatives have noted that their behavior indicated that were the police not present, we may very well have had a fight on our hands. I am inclined to agree with their assessment of things.
What kind of mongrel do you have to be to decide that another’s voice should be silenced merely because it makes you angry? This is even lower than silencing a voice for the “greater good”, for at least that requires that the silencer gag their victim in a badly executed attempt to save or protect society. But simple disgust with another’s opinion? Please, the Propaganda machines of Red China and North Korea have more honor than you. They at least have an ideological reason to eliminate Free Speech, you are just a cantankerous child complaining because somebody said something you find ugly. Your reaction to opposing opinions is akin to a man punching another in the nose because he just stated that he did not like rutabagas.
Folks, I sincerely ask that if you know men or women like the ones my friend and I dealt with, you counsel them on a better way to get out their frustrations. There was one such man who did so, with this very display. He calmly sat in front of it, for two days, with his own homemade sign, answering questions when asked. At no time was he offensive or impolite. He staunchly disagreed with our ideals, but handled that disagreement the appropriate way. I thank that lone man, for those like him remind me that not all those I face when it comes to standing up for what I believe will be dogs and swine, regardless of the evils I have seen done for the sake of trying to tear myself and those like me down.
Oh, and of course, if you know anyone preparing to vandalize something, call the Police. And get yourself an ice cold beer afterwards.