Seamus Goes to Jail

By Merle Harton, Jr.

A strange thing happened to my friend Seamus the other day. He went to the mall to buy some new shorts for the summer and ended up wandering the mall doing window shopping. He isn't the political type, so what happened to him really can't be attributed to anything sinister on his part; he also isn't one to involve himself in moral issues, or social issues, despite my many attempts to get him to attend some of the functions I frequent. They are too divisive, he says, and prefers to surf, ride his bike, and try to figure out how to get women to date him.

Anyway, he goes to the mall in Daytona Beach and he's wearing a hunter-green T-shirt with no writing on it. I mean there was nothing on it: no writing, no messages, no pictures, no flowers or animals or beach scenes, no advertisements for products or services or places, and no embroidery to indicate, maybe, some status, as in Izod, Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. It was just a plain T-shirt. It wasn't a cheap T-shirt, like Hanes or Fruit of the Loom undershirts which come bagged together in plastic, but rather a well-made T-shirt designed to be worn out and with casual attire. It even had a small pocket. It wasn't a worn-out shirt, either. So when the mall police accosted him near the food court, it was a huge surprise to Seamus.

As he stood looking in the window at a GNC, two mall security guards approached him and one of them said, "Excuse me, sir, I'm Officer Rick and we need to speak with you." The other officer distanced himself about a foot and spoke into a walkie-talkie as he looked around suspiciously. "We have received complaints about your T-shirt. We're going to have to ask you to turn it inside out, or remove it."

"What's wrong with my T-shirt?"

"It contains subversive, offensive language. Obviously it's an anti-war T-shirt. People have complained. You will have to turn it inside out or remove it."

"What difference would it make if I turn it inside out? It's the same on the inside—there's nothing written there."

"Then you'll have to remove the shirt, sir. If you don't, we must ask you to leave the mall area."

"There's nothing on my shirt!" Seamus was getting agitated.

"Oh, yes there is. My partner and I recently completed a two-week 'behavior detection' training session. We know what to be on the lookout for. It's similar to the SPOT program currently deployed in airline passenger facilities."

"SPOT? What is SPOT?"

"Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques."

"And what exactly does my T-shirt say that's so offensive and subversive that it's drawn a complaint from someone here in the mall?"

"Obviously it's an abstract expression of opposition to the US government's policies in the Middle East."

"A public shopping mall is considered a public forum. You can't abridge my federal constitutional rights. Dudes, come on, ever heard of the First Amendment? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble ...."

"Oh, that's just great, so we have a political radical here! Hey, Smits, ask the General if we should just throw this guy out. Criminal trespass."

"I'm not leaving," said Seamus with indignation in his voice.

Smits, the other officer, spoke earnestly into the walkie-talkie, nodding his head as he spoke, occasionally stopping to listen with wide eyes. Finally he spoke: "Okay, the General is sending a Volusia County deputy."

The three waited. A crowd started to assemble. Officer Rick, standing with arms akimbo, kept a steady gaze on Seamus. Officer Smits kept his ear to the walkie-talkie, just in case the General wanted needed to bark out orders. Seamus stood erect, defiant, and folded his arms like a man assured of his integrity.

Four minutes passed. Two Volusia County deputies made their way through the growing crowd. "What's the matter here?" one of them said as he walked up to Officer Rick. The security guard explained that Seamus was wearing an offensive anti-war T-Shirt and someone had complained and now Seamus wouldn't turn his shirt inside out, as they had requested, and refused to leave the mall area.

The deputy asked Seamus if he would leave the mall. Seamus, arms still clasped to his chest, refused. "No," he said, "I won't leave."

The deputy stepped back and talked with his partner and then they both approached Seamus. "If you won't leave the mall, then you'll have to come with us, the second deputy said. Seamus unfolded his arms and held out his fists. "So cuff me," he said. They did. He was driven to the the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach, booked and charged with with trespassing in a structure, a second-degree misdemeanor. The crowd slowly dissipated and the two security guards went about patrolling the mall again.

I got Seamus' telephone call about two hours later. I drove down to the Jail and posted his bond ($250) so he wouldn't have to spend the night in a cell.

"I hope you learned your lesson," I said as we left the parking lot.

"I have," he said. "Never leave it to others to think what you're thinking. I'm going to buy a 'Peace on Earth' shirt and wear it up and down the mall."

"Good luck with that," I said.

"Seamus Goes to Jail"
Copyright © 2008 Merle Harton, Jr.  All rights reserved