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Honk If You Hate Free Speech

Just don't beep for an unpopular cause

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Brenda Glascott laughs at the $10 ticket she got Nov. 11 for beeping in support of an anti-war protester in Squirrel Hill. But she also believes it was just another skirmish in the struggle between local activists and police.

Glascott, a 30-year-old University of Pittsburgh graduate student who lives in Highland Park, has marched in protests before, from the large January 2003 march through Oakland before the Iraq War to a spring women's rights march in Washington, D.C. But on Nov. 11, she was doing her part in the American war effort -- she was headed from Forbes to Murray avenues and then down to the Waterfront Target.

She can't recall any signs exhorting her to honk, but she recalls seeing protesters waving their signs at traffic. She responded with three sets of three short beeps.

As she wrote later in a letter to the local America Civil Liberties Union chapter: "I have a '93 Civic hatchback -- the horn is pretty feeble ..."

Then she noticed a pair of police officers circling her car, which was stopped in traffic. She got out to ask what they were doing. They mentioned a possible citation for "unnecessary noise." Glascott termed it ridiculous. She refused to give her license and asked for their badge numbers.

She got the citation in the mail 20 days later.

"Started laying on her horn repeatedly in support of a protest taking place at that location," it says. "Officer was unable to be heard by officers close by or on the radio due to the loudness of the horn. Horn blowing was offensive and served no purpose, not to mention disruptive."

Glascott plans to appeal the citation at her Jan. 3 municipal court date. "I think I was ticketed because these cops were unhappy with the protest," she says. "I realize it's kind of a small incident" -- and that she may not have been cited if she'd avoided a confrontation -- "but I really feel like it's important because it speaks to a larger problem. I think this is just part of the freezing down of free speech right now."

Have her beeps indeed been chilled?

"I have honked at other people without incident," she says -- even a few bearing John Kerry signs.

Police spokesperson Tammy Ewin says police do not keep track of such citations, so it's uncertain exactly how unique this ticket might be to anti-war protests, as opposed to other occasions. Glascott still believes such petty incidents are important. "It's these tiny things, if they just slip by, that pave the way for larger and larger violations."

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