Jan 3, 2006

Mike Ferner Talks Back

Left: Peace activist and author Mike Ferner in his Point Place home; photo by historymike

(Toledo, OH) Mike Ferner, arrested over the weekend with his brother John for spray painting peace messages on area freeway overpasses, readily acknowledged that his actions were illegal.

“Yes, it is a violation of the law to spray paint an overpass, but who’s the real criminal here?” he asked. “This war, and how it’s being waged, and the laws that are being broken, and the suffering that is being created and borne by hundreds of thousands of people is really the highest act of criminality that one can imagine.”

Ferner also pointed out that public property extends far beyond concrete freeway structures.

“As far as the people who might point out that it was public property, the Constitution belongs to the public, and our federal laws, like the War Crimes Act of 1996 belong to the people,” he said. “The international treaties that our government has signed over the years - like the Geneva Convention - belong to the people, and yet they are being violated every day by the Bush administration.”

The former Toledo mayoral candidate and two-term city council representative said that he was not surprised by the severity of the police and judicial response.

“When you confront the government and say what you are doing is wrong, immoral, and needs to stop, that’s when they decide to play hardball,” he said. “If you go down I-75 or US-23 between here and Columbus any day of the week you will see graffiti saying “Go Titans,” “Go Tigers,” or “Debbie Loves Mark.” I don’t think any of those folks – even if they would have been caught in broad daylight - would have been pulled over by four patrol cars and charged with two felonies.”

Ferner, who spends most of his time these days writing articles and working on a book he hopes to publish, took issue with the priorities of the judicial system.

“This is an example of selective enforcement and selective prosecution,” he said. “In a normal graffiti case, the judge would have likely released us on our own recognizance. In our case there was no O/R, and we had to post a $3,000 bond with no percentage; our attorney asked for the typical 10% and the judge said no.”

Ferner, who faces up to a year in prison if convicted of the felony charges, asked those who might condemn his actions to consider those of the American government.

“What’s the charge for killing 100,000 dead Iraqis and 2,000 dead US troops, not to mention the thousands of soldiers coming home in pieces and the families destroyed?” he asked. “Technically I broke the law. But let’s compare that with the law-breaking that I am protesting and trying to do something to stop; there’s not much of a comparison between graffiti and the wholesale slaughter of human beings.”

This interview also appears in the Toledo Free Press, one of my favorite periodicals.


Lisa Renee said...

sigh...Actually he's wrong, graffiti being treated as a felony issue is increasing as well as arrests for it. Not just in Ohio.

No Graffiti one of the many sites out there listing information on this issue. Infact in some areas you can't even buy spray paint if you are under 18, some under 21.

Then of course the opposite a Pro-Graffiti website.

Dr. George Kelling in his book Fixing Broken Windows and by Dr. Catherine E. Ross, Ohio State University state the following; Residents of neighborhoods do not like graffiti, and they often rank it above drug problems as a crime they would like to see emphasized more by law enforcement.

That's why it is a felony, not just because of those like Mr. Ferner who seem to think their message is such that the law should not be important. It's about respect. If "Debbie" had been caught? She would have been treated the same way as Mr. Ferner, and given the lack of adventure many of our suburban police departments have at night? I'd be willing to bet that many police cars would have shown up for her arrest as well. It's not anything new for that many cars to show up even for a traffic stop in the burbs.

So my intial advice to Mr. Ferner stands, next time? Try a banner, or a sign, most times depending on how you place them they are not illegal.

Anonymous said...

Ferner is engaging in civil disobedience. Thoreau, King, and Gandhi would be proud of him. This war is a travesty and must be oppposed.

Lisa Renee said...

I doubt either one of those three would cheer the spray painting of graffiti as some type of civil disobedience that had an appreciable effect.

Especially not Gandhi....

historymike said...

I'll take your word on the 'burbs, Lisa, but I am not convinced that other graffiti artists get the same treatment.

I think the type of graffiti affects peoples' perceptions. Certainly gang tagging on my garage would get me a bit more up in arms than a "War Is Hell" message on a freeway overpass.

Lisa Renee said...

About two hours ago - 5:00 p.m. I took a quick run down to the carry out. A simple fender bender had happened at that time no police presence. On my way back? Three cars...Once I was pulled over on McCord, four patrol cars needed to all join in the fun. Megan's recent car crash? Five patrol cars, two sheriff patrols, one Holland and two highway patrol for a two car non-injury accident. It's so common that seeing only one patrol car at any kind of an accident or a stop is unusual.

It's why I've suggested that the Lucas County Sheriff offer to help out the Toledo police department in the past, they def have more than enough coverage for our small little area. It takes between two or three of them to do the "safety check stops" that they do often out here. So while I understand Mr. Ferner's feeling of having that many cars for something as simple as a his arrest? It happens. Heck a call to report stolen bikes in the Trailer park got three Sheriff patrol's back in the day, and they didn't even find the bikes. I did by following the bike tracks in the wet dirt.

Emily was in a car accident two years ago, Miguel was worried that she would get hassled for the car not having a headlight. The Toledo police officer (only one) at the scene looked at him in disbelief when he asked if it was okay to drive it home. She told him they didn't have time to deal with things like that. He told her where we lived and she said if they pull her over to tell them that we have 30 days to fix it.

Back to the graffiti, unless someone "narked" on Mike Ferner, they had no idea it was him when they pulled up. So the idea that he is somehow being treated differently I don't accept from the original arrest point of view. From a court point of view given his past arrests? It's very well possible they were not willing to work with him on reducing his bond.

Either way, the person responsible for the laws being broken is Mr. Ferner. As stated earlier, there are other ways, legal ways....

historymike said...

True, they did not know who it was when they pulled up, but it was likely that Ferner's name was broadcast, and other cruisers likely appeared given his celebrity status.

Mike admits his culpability, but appeals to the aforementioned (by anonymous) doctrine of civil disobedience.

Rosa Parks broke the law, but had a higher cause in mind. Granted, sitting in a bus seat does not deface the bus (except in the eyes of my Nazi readers), but I think the two are analogous in some respects.

I trust that the judicial system will sort this out and mete out an appropriate penalty. A year in prison for graffiti seems quite severe.

Lisa Renee said...

If you do a quick search on "graffiti felony arrests"

You'll see Mr. Ferner is not the only one, infact there are quite a few who have been charged with the exact same charges including the possession of criminal tools charges.


Political charges dropped after five months of court

Some facts on graffiti

I'd say the chances of Mr. Ferner receiving prison time would be higher if he were a young man with a court appointed attorney. Especially if he had a prior record so I doubt Mr. Ferner will receive any jail time unless of course he does it again, then it's a stronger possibility. I think with the quality of legal representation Mr. Ferner has that he'll end up with a fine a little above the costs to clean up the graffiti. I'm almost sure enough to bet on it.


Anonymous said...

You antiwar freaks and peaceniks make me sick.

Lisa Renee said...

I'm sorry but I hope you understand why I don't compare Mr. Ferner or Cindy Sheehan or any of the numerous others in the anti-war movement that have been compared to Rosa Parks...or Gandhi, Mother Teresa or candidates for Person of the Year.


historymike said...

Gotcha. No need to apologize, Lisa. There are limits to the forms my own protest might take, but there are indeed issues in which I would be willing to engage in civil disobedience.

historymike said...

Anonymous -

Let's engage in intelligent discourse, OK?

Save the name-calling for another site, if you would be so kind.

Hooda Thunkit said...


“Yes, it is a violation of the law to spray paint an overpass, but who’s the real criminal here?” he asked.”

Mr. Ferner,
Umm, that would be YOU, the one whose finger was on the spray nozzle…

”I don’t think any of those folks – even if they would have been caught in broad daylight - would have been pulled over by four patrol cars and charged with two felonies.”

Maybe they wouldn’t have drawn the attention of FOUR patrol cars. But then, they aren’t Mike Ferner either. Face it fella, you are a public figure.

And, if they had been spray painting bridge overpasses and were found in possession of “criminal tools,” they should be charged with two felonies, the same as you were.

“In a normal graffiti case, the judge would have likely released us on our own recognizance. In our case there was no O/R, and we had to post a $3,000 bond with no percentage…”

The significant word here is “normal.”

You sir, are a celebrity, and because of your celebrity your bond was set higher, as it should have been. Unfortunately, this is not always the case; some judges cave to celebrity rather than making a “teaching” moment of it.

Were you treated differently? Why, yes you were.

Were you treated inappropriately? Not in my opinion; especially considering your high profile.

In my opinion, the judge could do better and show you better the error of your ways by sentencing you to some high profile public service, plus an appropriate fine, mitigation costs, and damages.

If I were “judge for a day,” I’d sentence you to 6 months of undoing similar bridge defacing, by cleaning up the damage you and others have done tp our public infrastructure.

I’d further allow you to put/wear any message you wished on the front of your orange coveralls, but wear an appropriately worded message about your circumstances on the back; court approved/written, of course.

I believe that such a penalty would do good for both you and the citizens of Ohio that you chose to thumb your nose at.

I deliberately ignored your politically motivated statements and questions because this is not about your message; it is about the method you chose to express that message.

You’re 54 years old man, get a life. And, express yourself in a less destructive manner, possibly a sign or a banner. If only you had figured that out before, you wouldn’t find yourself in this situation now.

Because of your celebrity, you are to pay more for your thoughtless actions…

Lisa Renee said...

You may have a point HT as to the court aspect but I don't agree the four cars was that unexpected given the time and the location. Now if he would have been caught in Toledo to have four cars there? Now that would have been different.

But I agree with almost all of what you wrote besides that.

Mike, I'm an enabler, I have to apologize...hehehehe


Anonymous said...

I am in favor of the concept of pre-emptive war. I think it is the responsibility of the President and the military to prevent American deaths, not respond to them. I support the war in Iraq.

Having said that, I am reluctant to criticize peaceniks too much. America needs war protestors. We need for people to be against the war. Without the peaceniks, we would be a warrior nation without restraint. They can and do serve as a conscience.

But, I can not endorse what Ferner did and to compare it to Rosa Parks really dishonors her memory. She was a civil disobedient who injured no one and destroyed no property. Ferner committed an act of vandalism. I, as a taxpayer, must pay to repair his damage and I say throw the book at him.

Anonymous said...

Ferner is a taxpayer, too. Perhaps he only vandalized the portion of the overpasses that he paid for.

whose your daddy said...

I find it amusing that your do- nothing brother tagged along for the crime. He's the laughing stock of the Columbus Fire Dept... oh wait... he already was.

Thank you for being in Toledo, Mike. And for dragging your brother up there with you. I'd like to ask the court to keep him. We have no use for him at Columbus FD. And tell his wifey not to call him in sick when he's in jail.

Anonymous said...

whose your daddy- you are a joke. you are obviously someone who doesn't really know John Ferner, or you'd keep your mouth shut. he's done more for this department than you probably ever have!

Anonymous said...

Two wrongs don't make a right. He was obviously in the wrong by spray painting. But even more important... it makes him look like a fringe freak-a-zoid by behaving like a juvenile.