Wilmington City Council president faces pushback over citizen arrest
Wilmington City Council president Hanifa Shabazz faces pushback after pressing charges against an outspoken citizen she says threatened her physical well-being.
At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Sam Guy worried the recent arrest of Dion Wilson at Shabazz’s request had a chilling effect on free speech.
“If you notice, at the public comment period today, a lot of the people who come speak didn’t speak because the police have been put into this, as we’ll have you arrested if we don’t like what you said,” said Guy.
Councilman Vash Turner expressed concern that Shabazz’s move reflected on all of Council.
Wilson, a longtime resident of the city and vocal critic of city government, was barred from making public comments before a meeting of City Council last month by Shabazz, who cited his past “disrespect” and “violation of FCC regulations.” Wilson had used profanity at the previous meeting.
He was arrested Wednesday after Shabazz pressed charges against him of harassment and disorderly conduct.
John Flaherty of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government sees Wilson as the victim of harassment in this case. “Once a public body like Wilmington City Council opens it up for public comment, they have an obligation to allow all the citizens who want to speak the right to speak,” he said. “They cannot censor the content of their speech, which seems to be what happened here at the Wilmington City Council meeting.”
But Shabazz says she sought protection because her “physical well-being was threatened.”
According to court documents, Wilson allegedly yelled and said “You better get your girl” after Shabazz told him he could not comment before the meeting.
Court documents show Shabazz’s complaint was also based on another incident relating to public comment that occurred last fall. Wilson allegedly “began shouting” after he was not allowed to speak before a City Council meeting as a result of time constraints last September. He allegedly called Shabazz a profane name after being escorted from the meeting and said that if Shabazz were a man, he would have punched her.
Shabazz disagrees that her actions toward Wilson will negatively impact free speech at City Council meetings. “It’s free, proper speech,” said Shabazz. “It’s free speech per the regulations.”
“People can come and say what they want, but when they start giving personal threats of physical harm, that’s not free speech,” she added. “That’s terroristic threat. And that’s what I was responding to.”
Wilson says he filed a complaint with the State Attorney General’s office after the meeting on Sept. 19, but has not received a response.
“I should have at least the courtesy of being able to talk about, in public forum, the things that bother me in this city— whether she agrees or disagrees,” said Wilson. “It’s about my first amendment rights and nothing else.”