(ABOVE: image via Facebook)
by Christopher M. Halleron
If we can agree on anything, it’s that things have gotten a bit convoluted these last few months on the national and international stage.
We’ve seen stories that have, on the surface, appeared to be crystal clear—only to devolve into yet another dizzying drama of ifs, buts and “alternative facts.” Just when you think common sense will prevail, stupidity swoops in and wins the day yet again.
Strange days, indeed…
On the local stage here in Hoboken, we now have the issue of the ghastly display of bigoted speech on our main thoroughfare in broad daylight. The actions of the man shown in the video have set social media ablaze, with people demanding we #BanTheVan. Local politicians have taken action in an effort to revoke the business license of the Vape Van. On the surface, many of us think this seems like the noble and reasonable thing to do.
Here’s where it gets tricky…
Hanging the label “Hate Speech” on something doesn’t change the fact that it was, after all, speech. The First Amendment clearly states that there should be no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” That said, it’s illegal to make threats of bodily harm, but in a non-violent altercation such as that shown in the video on Washington Street, that’s just a person revealing his ignorance in public. While there are precedents and arguments that attempt to define “Hate Speech” in a legal sense, the American citizen still has the right to demonstrate to the world that he is as dumb as a box of rocks.
Here in Hoboken, the City Council passed a resolution on December 7, 2016 (pages 53-55) which states that “the City of Hoboken is committed to creating a community that is free of bias and prejudice”—and if you read the specific verbiage of that resolution, you’ll see that the incident on Washington Street ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what this resolution is designed to prevent.
With the escalating rhetoric on display nationwide, and our own history of racial tensions here in town, civic leaders wanted to ensure that Hoboken was taking proactive steps that make it known that, “the City Council of the City of Hoboken on behalf of the City welcomes and supports all people regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin, religious affiliation or belief, sexual orientation, political affiliation or belief, or any other attribute that may make them unique, to live, work, or come visit our City which prides itself on the diversity and unique characteristics of the
people that make our City and country great.”
So on one hand you have the overarching broad interpretations of “the law of the land,” while on the other you have a municipal resolution that aims at protecting individuals from what it defines as bias crimes. This is the part where I admit I’m not prepared to pretend I’m some sort of expert in Constitutional law.
So let’s take a practical look at this specific situation here…
This is a guy who skulks around town peddling paraphernalia while huffing God knows what and blasting Kid Rock tunes in his “Vape Van.” This is also a guy who was FIRED from the Hoboken Parking Utility. Many of us have had interactions with Parking Utility personnel—so now try to imagine just how bad you truly have to be to get fired from that job.
Now take into account the interaction you saw on the video and ask yourself this very serious question—do we really want to make THIS guy the hero here? Do we really want to potentially elevate this man to a position where he could become a champion of civil liberties?
There’s a thought that should be more than mildly disconcerting to local officials and residents alike. This man’s 15 minutes desperately need to come to an end—and that’s not about to happen should he become the “victim” of the capricious revocation of commercial licenses on subjective grounds. Because that’s essentially what’s happening here.
And as vile and ignorant as this man appears to be, seemingly even he is at least aware of that. He already has a lawyer who’s likely salivating at the thought of a protracted First Amendment battle.
Meanwhile, the dust hasn’t even settled on the argument over municipal overreach in terms of subjective interpretations of commercial interests.
You can’t be pro Shake Shack and anti Vape Van…
You can’t be pro Stephen Colbert and anti Joseph Ruggiero…
That’s Freedom—warts and all.
I genuinely applaud our local leaders and residents for their desire to take action. What we all need to do now is take a deep breath and think clearly—otherwise we’re no better than that guy in the video.
As for the ultimate fate of “Vape Van,” it would be interesting to see them even try to re-open on the streets of Hoboken. If one thing is clear, it’s that this particular individual is not particularly well-liked here in town right now. How about we let the market sort this one out?
We’ve got this…
Christopher M. Halleron is the Publisher/Editor of hMAG.
As a columnist and journalist, he has covered various aspects of life here in the ‘greater Hoboken area’ and beyond for the past two decades.
His opinions are his own.