Tax protesters barred from public property

On April 15 — three weeks after Police Chief Will Annarino closed the Vance Monument to anti-war protesters, citing safety issues — Vandy Kent, the supervisor of Asheville’s downtown post office, gave the same justification for forbidding anti-tax protesters to set foot on the property of that public facility.

For years, peace activist Lola LaFey has protested war taxes on the broad sidewalk outside the Coxe Avenue Post Office every April 15 — without official objection. But when she inaugurated this year’s demonstration by unfurling her hand-held anti-war-tax sign, Kent strode across the parking lot to confront her. As this reporter (who’d happened to arrive minutes earlier to mail his own tax returns) looked on, Kent told LaFey — indicating a crack in the sidewalk — that the protesters were forbidden to step over the post office’s property line, threatening them with arrest if they did so (or even set foot in the parking lot).

Asked by phone shortly afterward to explain her legal authority for barring the tax protesters from Postal Service property, Kent refused to comment. (A Web search revealed that the courts have consistently upheld tax protesters’ right to demonstrate and leaflet on post office property, as long as they don’t block public access.)

“Our customers have business to conduct,” Kent first told this reporter, hanging up before he could ask any further questions. But back on the scene — after she’d summoned police officers to warn the half-dozen sign-holders and leafleters who’d gathered by that time — Kent cited “safety issues,” saying that people handing leaflets to drivers dropping off tax forms “could get their arms pinched between the cars and the boxes.”

LaFey said this was the first time an official had tried to ban the tax protesters from the downtown post office. Her main concern, however, was that “the problems with police repression at home [not] make the larger issue get lost. The children in Iraq that have suffered amputated limbs, that have suffered death, that are without water — I’m not paying my taxes for that. … That’s the main issue for me.”

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