Margaret Sanger, "A Law Breaking Policeman," Nov 1919.
Published article. Source: Birth Control Review, Nov. 1919, 17 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S70:828 .
It is the legal function of the police to prevent disorder, preserve the peace and protect citizens in the exercise of their lawful rights. It is not their legal function to censor educational movements. They have neither the privilege under the law nor the educational qualifications to act as censors. They are neither legally nor mentally trained to pass judgment upon what the public shall think, what it shall read or what shall be offered to it as educational propaganda. Under the laws which create the police departments, all these matters are excluded from their duties. Their sole duty, under the law, is to enforce the law. When they step beyond this duty, they become law-breakers, pure and simple.
It is a difficult task for any group, advocating a new ideal, to reach the public ear. The difficulties are multiplied when such a group must at the same time educate the members of the police department as to how we may lawfully do this. Nevertheless, these difficulties like all others, must be met and overcome. And the time seems to have arrived when advocates of Birth Control must devote themselves seriously to the work of educating the police as to our legal rights.
Ever since the Birth Control Review has been published, individuals wearing police uniforms have assumed at once upon seeing its name that it is something they must prohibit. They have attempted to suppress its circulation and have from time to time arrested men and women who were selling it upon the streets. When Kitty Marion and myself were arrested last December by a police sergeant who said that he wished to make a test case to get a court decision, it was hoped that the decision would set at rest all questions as to the legal right of the publication. The Post Office Department had already decided that The Birth Control Review was a lawful publication and it was enjoying second class mailing privileges. The magistrate who passed upon the case of Miss Marion and myself found that the material contained in the magazine did not warrant police interference. These rulings from the Federal Government and from a magistrate of the City of New York should have settled the matter for all time are concerned, they did not.
Police annoyance merely took another form. Policemen who did not happen to agree with the principles of Birth Control have sought by arrogant and unlawful methods to prevent the sale of this magazine in this city. Typical of the expedients used are those used against Kitty Marion on September 27 of last month.
A patrolman from the 1st Precinct station came to Miss Marion and told her that she could not offer the magazine for sale in the street. She showed him a letter from her attorney and a statement from Police Commissioner Enright in which it was declared that there was no restricted districts in New York City in which The Birth Control Review cannot be sold. The patrolman sneered at the police commissioner's authority and asserted that he was running police affairs in the particular district. He next proceeded to create a situation which might have brought about disorder or arrest. Going into the store in front of which Miss Marion was standing, he brought the manager out and told Miss Marion that the manager had objected to her offering the magazine for sale in front of his place of business, and told her to go away. The manager made no such statement in Miss Marion's hearing. She then took up another position at some distance from the first, but the policeman followed her, again went into another store and brought forth a manager and told Miss Marion that another objection had been made. Rather than go through this process indefinitely, she decided to go home for the day. Later, however, she returned and inquired of one of the managers what his objection had been. The manager said that he had made no complaint. Store managers, naturally are not inclined to disregard the wishes of even lawless policemen.
Birth Control advocates have accepted without complaint both arrest and punishment for violation of the law. When such violations have occurred we naturally expect a policemen to be a policeman and not a censor or disturber. We do not propose, however, to tolerate expressions of personal prejudice cloaked in the uniform of legal authority. We are not going to submit to petty tyranny exercised by a paid public servant armed with a gun and a club. We are not going to be subjected to a censorship created and enforced by ignorant individuals who abide neither by the law, which uniforms and arms them, nor the rulings of superiors whom they have voluntarily obligated themselves to obey. The Birth Control Review did not come into existence to be interfered with by ignorant hate, no matter how clothed or armed.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project