LETTER- Damn that public swearing law!

Reading about the Silva/Austin arrest ["Show of force: Couple arrested, allege police brutality," October 11], I was reminded how Charlottesville, for all its supposed liberalism, limits its citizens' right to free speech. 

The public swearing ordinance that dictates arrest for offensive language, is blatantly unconstitutional. It's doubly ironic in a city that has erected a chalk-board monument to free speech. If a passing police officer spotted an individual chalking the finishing touches on a four-letter expletive, an arrest would have to be made. After all, isn't a written public swear still a public swear?

If Live Arts were to stage Damn Yankees, the full title couldn't appear on the marquee. If I'm blaring expletive-laced music, and my car crosses the Downtown Mall, then I'm in violation of the law.

More frightening, if I'm sitting in my apartment watching a Sopranos DVD with the volume a bit loud, shouldn't I get arrested? Technically, the swearing is public if it can be heard or viewed from the street.

Conversely, if I hear a police officer shooting the breeze with his buddies, and he lets one fly to explain why his favorite NFL team lost, could I insist he be arrested?

I would be mocked for the suggestion. And yet if I yell, "Slow down, damn it!" to a cop who has almost run me over, then those same officers who wouldn't arrest one of their own may turn around and arrest me on the same charge.

Where does it end? It doesn't. Each public swearing arrest is, metaphorically, a new cancer cell in a mass that will metastasize and eventually consume our right to free speech. This ordinance is a mark of shame for our city, and I hope it will be struck down either voluntarily or by a court challenge– perhaps by Mr. Silva or Ms. Austin.

Clayton Kinnelon Greiman
[email protected]