Braille Monitor November 1985
by Scott H. Lewis
(The National Federation of the Blind is constantly vigilant to protect the rights of the blind. The Federation observes, analyzes, and acts. This is true not only at the national level but also at the state and local levels. Scott Lewis is a past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington.)
Last March 9 Jackie Galloway, a blind grandmother living in Port Townsend, had never even heard of the National Federation of the Blind. She had never thought much about civil rights and blind persons. But then, again, Jackie had never had need to. Blindness was still fairly new to her, and she had only been using a guide dog for a few months.
But on the afternoon of March 9 Jackie took her two daughters and two grandchildren to a theater to see a matinee performance of "Pinocchio," and events took place that quite literally changed her life.
The theater's owner, Richard Wiley, met Jackie in the theater lobby and told her that dogs were not allowed in the theater--and that there was no exception for guide dogs. He told her that her guide dog would have to go, but that she could stay. When Jackie tried to show him a copy of Washington's White Cane Law, Wiley grew impatient and angry. He lost his temper, yelled that there would be no dogs in his theater, and that he didn't much care what the law said. Jackie Galloway stood up for her rights. She would not agree to be separated from her guide dog to satisfy the arbitrary whim of a man who didn't care what the law said. She decided, tearfully, to leave. But she decided also to fight for her rights. Jackie contacted the Port Townsend police, who cited Wiley for violation of the White Cane Law. Then, she contacted the state Human Rights Commission, and made a complaint pursuant to the state's law against discrimination.
These two actions generated some attention in the press, and alerted members of the National Federation of the Blind to Jackie Galloway's plight. Federation representatives contacted Jackie and offered assistance, which she accepted.
In addition to the police citation and the Human Rights complaint, the Federation helped Jackie file a citizen's complaint charging Wiley with assault and reckless endangerment. NFB found her an attorney, and a civil lawsuit was filed against Wiley asking money damages for the discrimination suffered at the hands of Richard Wiley.
The time came for prosecution. Early in May Jackie and her supporters gathered at the Jefferson County courthouse as city attorney Keith Harper was prepared to argue the case against Wiley, and Wiley's attorney, Harry Holloway, III, was ready to argue for his client. But just before the trial was to begin the judge refused to hear the case, claiming that the charges brought against Wiley were violations of state law and that a city attorney cannot prosecute such violations in a municipal court. The case would have to be brought again, the judge said. The case would have to be prosecuted by the county prosecuting attorney, and they would have to be brought in district court.
Now we faced a new challenge: The city attorney said that the judge was wrong, but that he wouldn't appeal. The county prosecutor said he didn't think he could prosecute the case, but that he'd think about it.
On July 20 prosecuting attorney John Raymond was still "thinking," but he was telling newspaper reporters that he probably wouldn't do anything to bring Wiley to trial. So members of NFB from Washington and Oregon, along with a number of Jackie's friends and neighbors, gathered again at the courthouse to stage what was termed an "old fashioned civil rights march" through downtown Port Townsend, to the prosecutors office, and then to the "scene of the crime--the Uptown Theater. About sixty persons marched through Port Townsend's tourist-packed streets that Saturday afternoon waving placards and chanting slogans: "Justice for Jackie!" "Hey Prosecutor, Don't Be a Disgrace. We Want Justice in the Galloway Case!" "Ban the Bigot!" "Guide Dogs Can Be Trained. Wiley Can't!"
It was a serious demonstration, conducted in support of a cause, even more than simply in support of an individual. Yet, it was also festive and joyful. It was a day for solidarity, of the blind of the region joining together to tell the people of Jefferson County (and through Seattle television news, the people of Western Washington) that the blind have fought hard to secure their rights by way of laws, and that we would not passively sit and watch those rights be diluted.
Wiley and the prosecutor were invited, publicly, to come and speak to the group. Prosecutor Raymond chose to go sailing. Wiley spoke to the press briefly from his theater, then fled as the marchers drew near.
Two weeks after the march the prosecuting attorney wrote Bill Knebes, a Port Angeles attorney NFB helped Jackie retain to fight her legal battle, and said that he would not prosecute the case against Wiley. His reasons were appalling. Too much time had passed between the incident and early August, Raymond said. Secondly, he said that if the law was broken, it was a minor violation only and there would likely only be a suspended sentence and no fine imposed. Thirdly, Raymond said that Jackie could have her day in court when her civil suit was heard.
Look carefully at what the prosecutor said. He had sat on the case too long, but the case was not to be prosecuted because too much time had passed. His concern was for the people in the theater, and if Jackie Galloway's civil rights had been violated, this was too small a matter to concern him. Finally, he takes the absurd position that criminal prosecution is unnecessary because Jackie can file a civil suit.
In short, the county prosecuting attorney placed a civil rights violation on a level lower than a traffic ticket. Even the smallest traffic ticket is prosecuted. If a person shoplifts a $2 item from a drugstore, the state prosecutes the offense, and then the merchant can file a civil suit. But discriminate against the blind in Jefferson County, and you can expect no help from the prosecutor.
A message has been sent out, and we cannot ignore that message. You can bet that our opponents won't ignore it either. Discrimination may be illegal, but it is okay, they 'll say. Laws that aren't enforced are useless.
The battle isn't over. But instead of fighting one theater owner, we have been forced now to also fight the one man whose job it is to enforce the law. Discrimination takes many forms and often is found in the most unlikely places.
The civil trial will not likely be heard until December, 1985, or early 1986. NFB has assured Jackie Galloway that she will have everything her attorney needs to insure that her case is successful. We will stand with her, united, because her cause is truly ours. Nor do we intend to let the prosecutor have the final word. NFB of Oregon has contributed funds to help support Supreme Court litigation that would force the prosecutor to bring criminal charges against Richard Wiley. We are consulting with attorneys who specialize in civil rights appeals, and will take such action as is appropriate to protect the rights of the blind.
It is important to emphasize that the actions we take in support of Jackie Galloway are most valuable in a broader sense. What we do to protect Jackie, we do to protect ourselves. Our legal system is based upon precedent. As a result, how the courts treat discrimination cases in the future is predicated upon how similar cases were treated in the past.
The justice demanded by the marchers has not yet been dealt. But the battle is far from over. We have the law on our side, and Jackie Galloway has a stout heart. She is becoming a true Federationist, and she recognizes the importance of the struggle she is helping to lead.
And in the end there will not only be "Justice for Jackie," but also for all of the blind of the state.