COPA Reaches Agreement with City of Dallas
to Restore First Amendment Rights on November 22
After months of silence from the Dallas Mayor’s office, the Sixth Floor Museum, the planning committee for “the 50th” event in Dealey Plaza and other city officials, COPA has reached an agreement with the City of Dallas and Police Department that will restore and protect First Amendment rights within and outside Dealey Plaza on November 22. A 49-year tradition of holding a Moment of Silence on the Grassy Knoll at the time of the assassination was prevented in Dealey Plaza by the Sixth Floor Museum’s exclusive permit closing the Plaza for two weeks. When that permit was withdrawn, COPA made a legal application for a permit for the annual event. The City of Dallas Attorney responded that all Dallas parks would be closed for First Amendment activity permits on November 22 save for City Hall Plaza, which was then closed and “reserved for dignitaries” that day.
In our view, Dealey Plaza, a public park and also a designated historical site belongs, especially on November 22 on the 50th anniversary, to the American people, to history and to the world, not to any exclusive event that will not mention the assassination. The vast majority of Americans question the Warren Commission conclusions and agree with us. We are the mainstream, not the dissent. We should not need a ticket to get to our own history on this significant anniversary. Free speech and debate is essential to democracy.
COPA made the issue visible in the national press, with coverage in the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Texas Monthly, Dallas Observer, and more recently in the National Journal. COPA met with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in February and got no response until August. COPA had prepared for a lawsuit, an injunction to protect First Amendment rights that had been violated by a content based denial of permit intentionally because Dallas officials did not want “conspiracy theory” on the Grassy Knoll on the 50th anniversary when the world press would be present at the assassination site. Instead, an exclusive, ticketed public relations event was planned to restore Dallas’s reputation as a City of Hate, and to honor the life and legacy of President Kennedy instead. The public was to be excluded and inside the event “signs, banners, bullhorns and megaphones” were to be banned. A Moment of Silence was planned by Dallas that would effectively be a Perpetuity of Silence about the assassination and the unresolved evidence in the case.
COPA proposed many reasonable alternatives to accommodate both events and purposes that day, including moving the location of the Mayor’s event to a better venue, moving the time back to our event and the public into Dealey Plaza by noon, and even moving the barricades to the north side of Elm Street so we could be present simultaneously. All these were rejected.
A written Memoranda of Agreement has been drafted that will restore many of our rights and meet our purposes, but our hope to hold our traditional Moment of Silence on the Grassy Knoll at 12:30 pm has not been granted. Here are the gains we have won:
COPA will be allowed to hold our Moment of Silence at a nearby location at 12:30 pm. We will gather at the southeast corner of Main and Market Street at 11:00 am on November 22 and hold our event simultaneous with the Mayor’s. Signs, banners and speech will not be prohibited at this site.
COPA will be allowed to leaflet crowds coming to the Mayor’s event at designated locations where they will enter Dealey Plaza, starting at 8:00 am. We intend to inform them about our events and conference.
COPA members and others gathered at the alternative site will be escorted by the Dallas police to Dealey Plaza once the Mayor’s event ends, around 2:30 pm, allowing the public back in, and we will hold another Moment of Silence there on the Grassy Knoll as we have for the last 49 years.
COPA members and supporters who have secured a ticket to the Mayor’s event will be allowed to wear our conference t-shirt inside Dealey Plaza on November 22, but signs, banners, noise or outbursts and disruptions are prohibited. This will allow us to be visible to both the press and the public at the event.
First Amendment rights both inside and outside Dealey Plaza are somewhat restored by this agreement and we plan to exercise them that day, to speak truth to power, and to continue to be visible and to speak for full disclosure of all government records on assassinations, for reopening these unsolved homicides, and for restoration of democracy and the rule of law in this country.