"Hands up, don't shoot" — the rallying cry of police protesters 250 miles away in Ferguson, Mo. — has become an unlikely symbol of free speech in Indianapolis.
The City-County Council on Monday soundly defeated a proposal that would have banned signs from the council dais, with opponents characterizing the sign ban as a unwarranted attack on the First Amendment.
Republican Councilman Jack Sandlin authored the ordinance in response to placards that five council members displayed at their seats during the Aug. 18 council meeting. The signs depicted a black man with his arms raised beneath the slogan "hands up... don't shoot!"
The phrase has become a symbol of the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, where a police officer shot a black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, while some witnesses said his hands were raised in surrender. A grand jury last month voted not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who said he acted in self-defense against a charging Brown.
The council's vote Monday was 20-8 in opposition, after emerging from committee with a recommendation against passage.
Sandlin said the sign was disrespectful to police, saying that some residents and city employees complained that they found the signs offensive.
His colleagues, though, scoffed at the explanation. Democratic Councilman William Oliver asked the council's attorney for a legal opinion on what is "offensive." Councilman Monroe Gray, a Democrat who displayed one of the signs in August, countered that he didn't find the signs "to be any more offensive" than some of the votes Sandlin had taken that evening.
Sandlin, though, insisted that he wasn't trying to stifle free speech. His colleagues would still be free to speak their mind, he said, but the council should have guidelines for how they express themselves.
"I still think it's important for us to have some sort of rules of decorum," Sandlin said. "This proposal in no way attempted to restrict someone's First Amendment rights."
At the end of the day, free speech concerns won out.
"Our country was founded by a bunch of crazy people standing up on soap boxes," said Republican Councilman Robert Lutz. "I don't think we should approve anything that limits our thoughts."