by Arthur Delaney
June 20, 2007
The city of Washington has joined the ranks of municipalities and personalities like Youngstown “Noise Hell” Ohio and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the “Boom Car Congressman.” Noise Free America (NFA), an advocacy group based in Madison, Wis., hands out a “Noisy Dozen” award each month to a person, place or entity that NFA deems in need of shushing. In June, NFA named the District “The Capital of Noise.”
Youngstown has “blaring music, incessant barking dogs, junky cars without mufflers, thunderous backyard fireworks shows, rumbling motorcycles, and loud gunshots.” Issa, founder of Directed Electronics and voice of the “Viper” car alarm, won in 2003 for promoting “useless and annoying car alarms,” among other things.
D.C. takes the prize for mega-amplified street preachers, or rather what some call a loophole in the city’s noise law that allows them to blast their message on H Street NE for hours on Saturdays. The group generating most of the hoopla calls itself the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK).
If you haven’t seen them in person, here is one of their teachings pulled from a blog:
“God is a racist and only loves the Nation of Israel.”
But it’s not the content generating complaints; it’s the volume. H Street resident David Klavitter has waged a courteous crusade against the preachers’ use of excessive amplification for the past two years. Discussion with the preachers is difficult (they drown you out) and they have failed to show up at mediation sessions with District officials and community members. So on April 3 Ward 6 D.C. Council member Tommy Wells introduced legislation to make excessive volume illegal.
Wells’s bill presents a free-speech quandary, as labor and civil rights groups oppose anything that might infringe on the First Amendment. There is a hearing in July.
Even if the bill is such an infringement, this is better treatment than the ISUPK might expect if they brayed where elite whites live, in Georgetown. Imagine how fast the business community there would chase them away. (Klavitter staged a how-do-you-like-it protest at N Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW last year and encountered fierce opposition and a tomato-projectile from Georgetowners.) All the H Street community wants is for the ISUPK to turn it down a notch.
NFA Director Ted Rueter sees “The Capital of Noise” as part of an emerging crisis of loudness in America. He says that when Klavitter contacted him about recognizing the District, “It was a pretty easy sell.”