Comment on Bikes Same as Shouting 'Fire!'

RECEIVED Mon., July 21, 2008

Dear Editor,
    In his July 18 column [“Page Two”], Louis Black makes the classic grammar school mistake of assuming that free speech means saying anything you damn well please. Sorry, but this is not correct: It has long been established that shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre is not acceptable free speech, and Stephen Moser's comments [“After a Fashion,” June 27] advocating running over bicyclists falls squarely into this category. The average soccer mom driving a minivan is in possession of a weapon far more deadly than anything I could possibly carry on a bicycle. They demonstrate this to us every year by killing or injuring more than 70,000 pedestrians (www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/nhtsa_static_file_downloader.jsp?file=/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NCSA/Content/Reports/2008/810968.pdf).
    How many people died on 9/11? Motorists kill more than 10 times that many every single year – where's the outrage? A drunken driver in Arizona who ran over and killed a bicyclist laughs it all off and is told by her friends that "she should get a medal" (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22818852), while in Texas the aforementioned soccer moms are gleefully running over bicyclists on the flimsiest of pretexts: www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/07/02/0702cyclist.html. Frequently, these incidents can't even remotely be called accidents: www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1216094102198390.xml&coll=7.
    Car-culture addicts like Black and Moser, perhaps driven to madness by high fuel prices, are looking for a scapegoat, and certainly bicyclists offer a ready and easily accessible outlet for their road rage. However understandable their anger might be, fomenting chaos and violence is not an example of free speech.
Patrick Goetz
   [Louis Black responds: The letter writer makes the classic mistake of assuming that in defending speech I'm making some kind of classic free speech argument. If you really believe that shouting "fire" in a theatre and making a joke about running over bicyclists are exactly the same, it boggles my mind. With standards that strict, what are the topics we can and cannot use for jokes? How will we vet them?]
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle