The events at the West Los Angeles VA on February 27

by Harry Tischler

I am an 80-year-old US Navy veteran who takes his medical care at the West Los Angeles VA medical center. I use a Go-Go scooter, issueed to me by the VA, when ever I’m at the VA or have to walk very far to get around because I don’t walk too well anymore. I have been distributing the Change Links at the West Los Angeles VA since at least 2014.

On February 27, 2017 I was distributing Change Links in the lobby of the West Los Angeles VA. I had almost completed the lobby area when I was accosted by a West Los Angeles VA police officer named Arthur Wotruba. He stated, “I am confiscating these newspapers.” I replied, “Like Hell you are.”

I put my hand over the front basket of my scooter and the Change Links and said I have been distributing these papers for years and I have permission from the sixth floor to distribute them, and under the Constitution, freedom of speech and freedom of the press I have every right to distribute them here or anywhere else. He said, “Well, I was told to take them from you.”

I asked him who told him to take them from me. He said, “I can’t say.” I said, “I want your card and a code section to justify you taking them.” At that point he stepped away a few yards and took the Change Links out of the hands of two people who were already reading them.

When he returned I repeated that I wanted his card and a code section to justify taking them. Meanwhile I was still in possession of the Change Links. He gave me his card and said.  “I don’t know a code section; I’ll have to get it.” He left and I continued distributing Change Links throughout the lobby, the Primary Care area, the Pharmacy and another clinic and arrived back in the lobby just in time for Officer Arthur Wotruba to be coming through the front door with his little black book.

We met in the middle of the lobby. He stood in front of my scooter, and I said, “Well, do you have a code section?” He said, “Just a minute, I’m looking it up.” We stood there in the middle of the lobby for about 5 min. At that point I said,  “You look it up and I’ll be back.”  He said, “NO, YOU’RE DETAINED.” I said, “I’m DETAINED?!” I said in a very loud voice, “I’M DETAINED FOLKS, FOR DISTRIBUTING NEWS PAPERS.” At that point a couple of people kind of gathered around, and one person wrote down the officer’s name and badge number off his nameplate and badge.

So we continued to stand there in the middle of the lobby, while he continued to try to find a suitable code section, and I continued to pass out Change Links everybody walking by. I have to admit I was beginning to have fun.

Finally after about 15 min. he said, “Well, in the future you get permission from the Community Relations.” I said, “Okay, I’ll look into it,” and I went on my way and distributed Change Links to all the rest of the departments.

Later that day I went up to the Community Relations Department and tried to see Christine Pons, head of Community Relations department. As I approached the door to the Community Relations Department I was greeted by a nice young woman who was standing in the hall and held the door for me and followed me in to the office area. She asked me if she could help me. I asked her if she was Christine Pons. She said she was not and asked if I wanted to see Christine Pons. I said yes. She said her secretary was not here right then but she would see if I can see her. She opened a locked door and went inside.

After a few minutes Charles Green, Chief Communications Officer, came out carrying a copy of the Change Links. He ordered me to leave in a very threatening and abusive manner. I never did get see Christine Pons.

The next day I called her on the phone from my home. I said,  “Good morning, Ms. Pons. This is Harry Tischler, I attempted to speak to you yesterday at your office but I was refused and turned away in a very rude and abusive manner.”

She said, “That’s not true, I was very busy and didn’t have time to talk to you and you were not treated abusively. You’re very rude and nasty and I know because I observed you from afar.”

I have to admit I was really taken back by her remark. She watched me from afar but did not have time to see me? I was very rude and nasty? But I plowed ahead, I said, “Okay, but I need to get your permission to…” But before I could say anything more, she said, “You can’t distribute those papers here.” I said, “Under what code section are you prohibiting me from distributing the Change Links?” She said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up I’ll call you later.”

I said, “Okay, I’ll be here all day.” She said, “No, I’m busy, I have meetings, I will get back to you sometime.” I saw this was going nowhere. I tried to meet the VA requirements and do this simply but there was no hope of that. I said thank you and hung up.

This is not a situation that can be accepted. We live in the USA and veterans who fought and died to preserve our rights under the Constitution of the United States swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Even the President, Office Arthur Wotruba, Christine Pons, Charles Green and every other VA employee swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That oath is life long and does not stop at the VA door.

Even with Trump in the White House Article ONE of the Constitution of the United States still says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR OF THE PRESS; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. That guarantee as I said does not stop at the VA door.

The political views of the few do not outweigh the rights of the many. If they ban Change Links today because they don’t like what it has to say today, are they going to ban the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Daily Mail, The Guardian or how about USA Today, tomorrow? Next thing you know we’ll have to be whispering to keep them from hearing what we have to say or they’ll ban speech.

No! Now is the time to put a stop to it right here and now. Officer Arthur Wotruba said he was only following orders. The Nazis on trial at Nuremberg said they were only following orders and look where it took the world.

No! Office Arthur Wotruba, you cannot confiscate my Change Links. I will give you one to read and learn, but you cannot confiscate my papers anytime.

C-L Note: I accompanied Harry in March to the WLA-VA, where he again distributed C-L and copies of the First Amendment. Only one clinic objected, and when I pointed out they displayed other non-government publications, the nurse in charge said, “I was only told to call the police about him,” pointing at Harry. We have consulted with the NLG and are considering legal action against the VA to defend freedom of the press, as well as defending Harry if necessary should any charges be brought against him. Harry says, “Even with Trump in the White House, the Bill of Rights still applies to freedom of the press, speech and assembly, at the VA, too.” –MN

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