You can voice your 1st Amendment rights in D.C., just as long as you’re QUIET!!!!

In the wonderful wisdom that is the D.C. Council taking their lead from the President in trying to *hush* dissent in the Capitol, preliminary approval was given to quiet noisy demonstrations within the city. As WTOP reports, that the measure is aimed at getting demonstrators away from residential neighborhoods and limit “non-commercial public speech” to 80 dB at a distance of 50 feet. The initial ordinance was proposed by Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and supported by Mary Cheh, Kwame Brown and David Catania in 2007, but was now just voted upon for enactment.

So what you’re saying, is that, while folks who decide to at least exercise their right to be heard in a public forum, “non-commercially”, must do so at a whisper, but some “commercial” entity, blaring music and using a loudspeaker, can do so wherever and whenever they want in D.C.? Let’s take a glance at what 80dB’s really gets you. [Note: Contrary to the “quick facts” posted on Councilmemeber Wells’ site, and increase in decibels is not a simple “doubling” but a logarithmic scale increase… which is a much different mathematical consideration… so much for politicians fact checking before trying to enact laws.]

original photo by rev_bri
10dBA – Normal Breathing
20dBA – Mosquito or Rustling Leaves
30dBA – A Whisper
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refrigerator
50dBA – Normal Conversation
60dBA – Laugher
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA – City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA – Motorcycle or Lawnmower

So, what they are proposing, is that you can protest in D.C., as long as we can’t hear you above the din of the traffic in D.C.. WTF?! Ice Cream trucks are louder than that… granted other cities are cracking down on those too. Granted, I always wanted the ice cream truck in my neighborhood to play “Helter Skelter” or come around like L.A.’s ice cream truck of satan.

D.C. readers, what’s your view on this… pleasant relief or curb to your Constitutional rights to be a pain in the ass?

DSC_5644.jpg — Originally uploaded by rev_bri

8 Comments so far

  1. Monica (monica) on May 7th, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    I live in Dupont Circle and can appreciate where this is coming from.

    I can’t tell you how often I’m kept awake by weekend protesters yelling, banging and generally making a lot of noise — either early in the morning or late at night.

    I might want to sleep in on a Saturday and not have to listen to the boom boom boom of drums and the "wah wah wah" of a speech complete with feedback from a subpar sound system at 8am. At that point someone’s freedom of speech is clearly wrestling with my freedom to rest.

    I’m all for freedom of speech — so long as it occurs on the National Mall or some other nonresidential area and/or between the hours of 10 – 6:00pm.

  2. Don (dc_don) on May 7th, 2008 @ 11:22 am

    80db at 50 feet ain’t terribly unreasonable, though I’d be curious to know how they define ‘residential.’ How close does there have to be a residence before it’s residential? What about mixed-use properties (which are all the rage) where the ground level is all commercial but floors 2+ have living space?

  3. » chilling effects (pingback) on May 7th, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

    […] I wrote a MetBlog post this morning detailing a noise ordinance being passed to limit protests in D.C., I see this from one of of the […]

  4. mikelicht on May 7th, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

    I believe the latest version of the bill allows sound to be 10dB greater than ambient noise. Of course the bill doesn’t specify the frequency or frequencies to be sampled, the time frame or type of measurement — peak, averaging? DC Council staff tell me the bill conforms to language of other DC noise laws; now you know why they aren’t being enforced.

  5. amandaa on May 7th, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

    i have feeling this might be about an issue around the area of H street (ward 6). i read an article recently that new homeowners in that neighborhood were going nuts b/c of street preachers on H street, who would go on and on with bullhorns at every hour of the day, sometimes directly insulting the new, mostly white, arrivals. local officials/city council members said they were powerless to do anything about it at that time. this may well be a response.

  6. dcguy on May 8th, 2008 @ 9:19 am

    While the H Street situation may have spurred this legislation, there are other cases throughout the city where this has become a nuisance.

    Kudos to the Councilmembers who have suipported the taxpaying residents of the city.

  7. ljames on May 8th, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

    30dBA = Rice Krispies popping and crackling … and snapping….though not in that order.

  8. RumorsDaily (doorframe) on May 9th, 2008 @ 8:46 am

    In general if the law specifies between commercial and non-commercial speech, favoring commercial speech, it will be struck down in court.

    Laws that limit first amendment protected speech (and political protest speech most certainly falls into that category) must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest. While there may be a compelling government interest in not having people screaming outside your bedroom window at 4am, it certainly isn’t narrowly tailored if it allows your friendly neighborhood liquor dealer to do it but not your political protesters.

    Go, go legal system!

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