Robert Groden, in Dealey Plaza, on Dec. 7, 2012. Photo by Rodger Jones
Recall that City Hall and Mayor Mike Rawlings’ special committee on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination plan to restrict access to Dealey Plaza next Nov. 22 for a short commemoration ceremony.
It may not be all that neat and tidy.
Expect a lawsuit, says prominent JFK assassination expert Robert Groden, a regular at Dealey Plaza, who will insist on his right to be there that day.
“We’ve been here for 49 years, and for 49 years the city didn’t care. Now all of a sudden, the city cares,” he said.I chatted with Groden today during a walk over to Dealey Plaza to look at the restoration work being done on the structures there. Groden was set up at a table with his books and recordings, as he often is. Groden is steeped in JFK-ology like few others. He was a consultant to the Stokes commission, which re-opened the investigation in the 1970s. He testified before the commission. He was a consultant to Oliver Stone’s film JFK. You can look up his website, at jfkmurder.com.
For his troubles, Groden has become a frequent target of city cops for his presence at Dealey Plaza. By his count, he’s been ticketed/charged 81 times, including two stays in jail. After the last one, he said, he got a restraining order from a federal judge for the cops to lay off, but that case is pending. Meanwhile, the city appealed its last loss before a muny judge. Odd, that one.
So now Groden vows another federal case to press his right to be at Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 2013. The city plans to cordon off the area and, for a ceremony lasting less than an hour, admit only people who have some kind of ticket. Details have yet to be worked out.
Groden maintains it’s really not officially a city park. If that’s true, and if that’s an impediment to City Hall’s plans, maybe council will wave its magic wand and — poof! — it’s a park.
Groden is not one of the aggressive peddlers you might come across — those who insinuate themselves with people minding their own business, then stick out their hand for money. If you amble over to Groden’s table, you can buy some of his material and have a conversation. He doesn’t pursue people.
Groden says there is no license required to sell written materials, which is why he finally prevailed in what he calls his First Amendment right to sell books and recordings.
Me, I’m OK with the city’s plan to ensure a manageable-sized crowd at 12:30 p.m. next Nov. 22. I’ve been at Dealey Plaza on big anniversaries before, and it’s been crazy with people, film crews from all over the world, etc. The crowd swells and then spills out into the street, if on cue, shortly before 12:30 p.m. The cops are there, but it’s a scene to reckon with. Spooky. Ethereal. No hint of reverence in the air.
If the city wants to stage a brief ceremony with a few speakers next year, there’s logic behind making sure the crowd isn’t dangerously large. Organizers don’t have it worked out yet just how tickets, or permits, or whatever will be handed out to the public. A lottery has been mentioned.
Does that mean Groden would need to have his name in the hopper just like anyone else? Maybe so. A federal judge may have the final word.