China protester says he will not appeal suspended sentence on Rose Parade arrest
The more than eight hours that Andrew Koenig spent detained in a Pasadena jail cell on New Year’s Day for briefly walking in front of a controversial China-themed Rose Parade float was punishment enough for his act of civil disobedience, a Pasadena Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Koenig — best known for his childhood role as Richard “Boner” Stabone on TV’s “Growing Pains” and as the son of Walter Koenig, “Star Trek’s” Lt. Pavel Checkov — was convicted earlier that week of violating a city ordinance against disrupting public events drafted in 1992 to prevent tortilla-throwing and the spraying of Silly String at the Rose and Doo Dah parades.
The ordinance was introduced at the time by former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian, who served pro bono (or pro Boner, one might say) as Koenig’s attorney and argued that the law was designed specifically not to inhibit constitutional free speech rights. “In all my years in public life,” said Paparian, “I never thought I’d find myself in court arguing the merits of an ordinance I introduced.”
Judge Suzette Clover instead ruled that Koenig’s act of walking in front of the float designed to celebrate the upcoming Summer Games in Beijing constituted a potential threat to the welfare of parade participants.
Koenig held a sign reading “China: Free Burma” to draw attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s support for and arms sales to that nation’s despotic regime.
Renamed Myanmar by its government, the East Asian nation was recently hit by a devastating cyclone that according to reports killed more than 100,000 people and has left more than a million struggling to survive without food or shelter. Authorities have prevented international aid workers from helping victims and have seized humanitarian aid such as food and medicine.
Koenig was initially charged with a misdemeanor, which carried up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. By the time the case reached trial, city prosecutors filed their charge as an infraction that carried a fine of up to $100. Clover ordered a $50 fine but suspended that sentence after Paparian argued Koenig had already been punished enough for spending so much time behind bars.
Although Paparian had asked for the case to be dismissed on First Amendment grounds and questioned why Koenig was held for so long after the conclusion of the parade, Clover ruled that Pasadena Superior Court was not the venue to settle such questions.
Koenig, however, said he’s taken the case as far as he’s going to and has opted not to appeal.
“The whole point of this trial was to bring attention to what’s going on in Burma. The cyclone that devastated the country shines a bigger light on Burma than I possibly could,” said Koenig, 39 and a Venice resident, outside the courtroom with his father.
Walter Koenig has supported his son’s actions and traveled with him to visit a Burmese refugee camp last year.
“Even in these darkest of skies, the silver lining — and I don’t use that expression frivolously — might be that we see even more clearly just what a despotic, ruthless administration they have there and how badly the people are suffering. Perhaps this finally will be the instigation to bring some real political reform to that country,” said Walter Koenig.
Both urged readers to learn more at www.uscampaignforburma.org and www.humanrightsactioncenter.org.
“I’m going to continue working to help the Burmese — just not by jumping in front of floats,” Andrew Koenig said.