The Florida Halloween costume debacle

Associated Press

In Hollywood, Florida, plans are progressing to construct a new condominium project on some taxpayer-owned land near the beach. The site currently features a public park and a community center. Not everyone is happy about another tall building blocking the view of the beach and public access to it, however. Local resident Cat Uden came up with a plan to get the word out about the condo proposal in an unusual way. Uden is a paddleboarding champion and local business owner. She created a Halloween costume to wear to a party this weekend out of a large cardboard box painted to look like a condominium. She then posted pictures of it to Facebook and encouraged her followers to create similar costumes and attend.

That’s when things got weird. She was contacted by the local police and told that she couldn’t wear the costume to the party unless she obtained a permit from the city. If not, it would be considered an “organized protest” without the proper permit and she could be arrested. And no, I’m not even kidding. (Associated Press)

A Florida activist said she was warned by a police officer to not wear a boxy condominium Halloween costume to a local party without a permit because it’s considered a protest of a planned development on a taxpayer-funded beach, according to a report.

Nevertheless, Cat Uden, a vocal critic of the project, said she plans to wear the costume to a block party in downtown Hollywood, Florida, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

A week ago, Uden invited people on Facebook to come to the Hollyweird Halloween party dressed up and with anti-condo signs to which the police responded that she would need a permit for an organized protest.

Here’s a brief bit of coverage of the story from Fox News so you can see the costume for yourself and get some of the background.

After a bit of a debate, the police officer partially relented and told Cat that she could wear the costume, but only if she didn’t tell anyone what it was or why she was wearing it. If she did, she would be back in “illegal protest” territory.

How insane is this? It’s a Halloween costume. It clearly not revealing enough to run afoul of any public decency laws. It also doesn’t have any sort of a protest sign on it, not that it should matter. What business is it of the police what sort of costume she wears to a party or what significance it holds for her?

Another question that immediately came to my mind was how the police knew to contact her about the costume to begin with. She posted a picture to Facebook. The only thing that makes any sense is that the municipal government is searching social media for mentions of the condo and tracking activists who oppose it. Once they saw her costume idea, a police officer was dispatched to try to threaten her and stop her from “protesting” in this fashion.

What would happen if people in non-condominium costumes at the party began talking about the condo project? Would they be engaging in an “illegal protest” and be arrested also? And does the City Council really believe they have the power to use the police to suppress political speech at a party?

As of this morning, I haven’t seen any updates to this story indicating that Uden was arrested over the weekend, so perhaps the cops thought better of it and abandoned the plan. That’s sort of a shame. Not that I’m wishing Cat Uden any bad fortune, but that would have been one heck of a lawsuit in the making if she had been. This was such a blatant attempt at violating someone’s right to free speech that it’s difficult to describe. But now that Halloween is over, perhaps Cat can come up with some new and creative way to test the limit of the local government’s control over her speech.