What do you mean ‘we’ Kemosabe?

This is a small item, but I found it interesting none-the-less. I wonder what you think.

Today the Washington Post has an update on an important First Amendment issue (important for a few different First Amendment reasons).

Rives Grogan is  a former pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church in Los Angeles. He climbed a tree during the inauguration of President Obama this year and shouted religious messages about abortion. By all accounts, including his own, the protester was zealous and was a distraction.

He was arrested and — no joke — exiled from Washington, D.C. Honest.

Now for the update:

Rives Grogan is allowed back into the District.

The protester who took to a tree to shout antiabortion comments during President Obama’s inauguration in January had been banned by a D.C. judge from setting foot in the city.

But that order was amended during a hearing Monday. The revised order says the tenacious Grogan may roam widely among us while awaiting trial but must avoid a clearly defined area on Capitol Hill that encompasses the Capitol grounds, the House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

The barring of Grogan from the city after his five hours in the tree touched off a vigorous debate over free speech and political dissent in the nation’s capital.

Emphasis mine.

Now, does anyone else find the “us vs. him” approach of that third paragraph to be odd? I can’t stand how political reporters suspect “othering” in, for example, every single pronouncement a Republican makes about President Obama but there’s something about this construction here that I find odd.

Part of it is that I have no idea why the reporter is using the first person plural in a news story. But more than that, “we” are just as much those people who get arrested and annoy people with our political pronouncements and religious views as “we” are the people who don’t, right?

I’m not sure I like the idea that “we” are better or set apart from the people who find themselves in court or otherwise in the crosshairs of government.

Couldn’t this just be avoided by avoiding the first person? Particularly on hot topics like free speech, religious expression, abortion rights, etc.?

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  • Sean

    I read it as “we” meaning Washingtonians, with “them” meaning non-Washingtonians, like, say, people from Las Angeles, as Mr. Grogan is. This is, after all, the Washington Post. While Mr. Grogan was banned from the district, he could not walk among the readership of the Post (“us”), but now he can. (Though of course the Post undoubtedly has a wide readership in NoVa and Md, where presumably Mr. Grogan has always been allowed to roam, but the paper’s called the Washington Post, not the Greater DC Metro Area Post). Anyway, that’s how I read it.

    • Phil

      The article is also in the Post’s “Local” Section. That seems to explain it to me.

    • Phil

      Also, this article is in the Post’s “Local” section. I think they are playing up the “local” thing, and that seems like a good explanation to me.

  • Steve Bauer

    The word is ambiguous enough that you certainly can take it that way. Or it can be taken just as legitimately as an expression of tribalism. That’s the problem with using a personal pronoun rather than a more precise term or phrase.

  • sari

    I agree with Sean, though the “among us” article missed the judge’s point when she banned him from the district. Her ruling seemed less about his right to free speech and more about his being an habitual offender with a complete and total disregard for the laws everyone else is expected to follow. The articles also failed to provide quotes of what he said during the inauguration, which left the reader wondering why the guy was such a big deal. Plenty of people publicly decry abortion in D.C. and are not arrested.

    • The Old Bill

      Yeah, it appears he was a repeat PITA and the judge said what the cops in the old movies used to say: “Get outta town, Grogan. I see yer mug here again and I’ll take ya downtown.” Is running someone out of town illegal? Is it better way to deal with the problem than the whole arrest and release routine? Is it the equivalent of a restraining order? Or is it abridging his First Amendment rights?

      I agree with Jerry about the “us versus the nut” bias, although “nuts” is often a politically charged term.

  • Jerry

    That does seem to be a clear example of us versus “the nut” bias.

    But the article does deserve plaudits by putting this incident in the context of all the other times Grogan has deliberately acted that way.

  • Phil

    He was arrested and — no joke — exiled from Washington, D.C.

    I think this blog post is missing some important context for what happened, both in terms of why he was “exiled,” and possibly why the authors of the article used the word “we.” (And yes, it may appear to be a part of some sort-of DC ‘tribalism.’”)

    1) He was arrested 3 times in January, 2013 for disruptive conduct on the Capitol grounds.
    2) He was arrested in June, 2012 for shouting remarks against Planned Parenthood in the Senate.
    2) He was arrested in February 2010 in DC for disorderly conduct and failure to obey an officer.
    3) He was arrested 3 times in DC in December 2009 for similar reasons.
    4) He was arrested in 2007 in DC for assaulting a police officer.

    http://www.rollcall.com/issues/56_94/-204014-1.html

    And that’s only the stuff I could find fairly easily. One article said that “by Grogan’s own account he has been arrested over 30 times.”

  • Phil

    [Is there some reason why my comments are still awaiting moderation, while other comments have been posted after mine were submitted? My assumption is that this is probably related to my being a "first time" commenter here (at least I think I am). I looked on the "policies" page, but didn't see anything that would seem to answer this question.]

    [Editor: Sorry -- was just delayed in my comment moderating duties! We have pretty aggressive spam filters but I think you're right that this was just a "first-timer" thing.]

    • Phil

      Thanks.

  • Kristen inDallas

    “Us” is uncommon, for sure… but it’s the “roam widely among” part of that sentence (making it sound as if a Grogan is some variety of buffalo) that I find most odd.

  • Julia

    Just this morning I received an e-mail from a friend with the latest edition of something headlined “They Walk Among Us” that relates the dumbest recent stories in the papers of truly stupid people. They are usually ranked #10 to the #1 most stupid. These are usually dumb criminals and people who injure themselves doing stupid things.
    The finniest example was the guy who appeared with a gun at a fast food place, said he wanted all the cash in the drawer, the clerk said he can’t open the cash drawer unless he sells some food, the thief threw down a $20 bill for some onions rings, the clerk gave him all the money in the drawer, the thief ran off leaving the $20 bill on the counter – counted the take – $15. Query: Is it a crime if you give somebody $5.
    The reporter’s words were definitely indicating he thinks the subject of the story is a very strange, ignorant person.
    There are very few people who have an e-mail address who have not seen this annual “They Walk Among Us” feature. It flies around the internet like lightening.


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