New Hampshire police face off with topless protestors

New Hampshire police arrest a topless woman

In New Hampshire, there is a strong and determined movement of young people protesting the state's "conservative" public drinking laws. They are part of the Free Keene movement, which seeks to make ours "the voluntary society." They say they "are going to accomplish this using peaceful, market-based actions. This is not a revolution. We are not revolving, or going back to the beginning. This is evolution."

One of their goals is to eradicate public drinking laws entirely -- if we can drink lemonade and water in public, why not a beer?

On Sunday, they put this to a test in the town's Central Square -- and threw in a little God-given nudity to raise the stakes a bit. The results were sadly predictable:

In the streets of Keene: Bare bosoms, yes; breast painting and booze, no.

Several people were arrested Sunday shortly after 6 p.m. when a bystander reported people were drinking alcohol and taking off their clothes in Central Square downtown, police said.

Keene Police Lt. Darryl Madden said no one was arrested for nakedness, which is not illegal in Keene.

"One woman was topless ... and she was getting her breasts painted by another woman," he said. "There's no law against being naked, but you can't be lewd or lascivious. And one person groping someone's breasts and saying lewd things certainly qualifies." [Union-Leader]

"Saying lewd things" qualifies? Yes, it qualifies -- as free speech, stupid.


Above photo from this video of an arrest.

Commentarium (9 Comments)

Jul 20 10 - 2:45pm

Wait, why is it against free speech to disallow breast painting in public? I'm pretty sure public interest overrides someone's right to paint their breasts in public. Obviously women should be allowed to go topless in public, and I'm glad Keene, NH allows them to do so, but overt displays of sexuality are not necessarily covered by free speech. Even on this blog ABOUT SEX, there have been feelings of discomfort about PDA--imagine the American Everyman seeing women painting each other's breasts in public. There are far more reasons to disallow this than to allow it. It's a minor restriction of free speech (just paint your breasts in private) against public interest. I hope these charges stand up in court, and I hope these protesters find something more worthwhile to protest about. With two wars, DADT, Citizens United, health care, outdated social services, etc., there are way more significant social changes these people can help effect.

Jul 20 10 - 2:52pm

Hypocritical, puritanical American culture strikes again.

Jul 20 10 - 3:08pm

That question in my first comment isn't rhetorical. Can someone actually explain why this is against the First Amendment? How's America being hypocritical? Brian, you're one of my favorite writers on the site, but this post is somewhat vague and chooses to bash Keene police instead of supporting your ideas. Unlike most topless protesters, these people aren't protesting nudity. This has nothing to do with inequality between men and women. It's a question about individual rights against public decency. It's asking how far we should take the First Amendment. This protest is way more nuanced than most, and this blog post could use some more meat.

Jul 20 10 - 3:22pm

My remark about free speech is specifically referring to the "saying lewd things," which is extremely vague to begin with and made all the more questionable once you see the video. (In it, the cop seems to make the arrest without hearing anything lewd.) I didn't say nude body painting is protected free speech. Maybe it is, but I'm not going to assume that. It's certainly a tad strange to have legal toplessness but a woman's neck and boobies apparently can't be painted. Wonder if a man's naked chest would cause him to be arrested...

Aug 16 12 - 8:42pm

Brian, the fact that the woman was holding/grabbing another womans breasts to paint them is the lewd part. So painting specifically is not banned but anything that could be construed as lewd is. So me and you could be naked while downtown which is fine. If you were to however paint my balls we would get arrested. The womans bare chest is not the reason she was arrested and you can't honestly think there is no difference between a man and womans chest.

Jul 20 10 - 3:24pm

You could paint a man's chest all day long. This is just antiquated puritanical thinking that we need to keep pushing like this to evolve. Cheers to these brave bare-titted ladies.

Jul 20 10 - 3:36pm
G Unit

Keene is a town of stoned losers. This is not surprising at all.

Jul 20 10 - 3:57pm

I haven't watched the video yet, so I'll reserve final judgment for when I get home; however, the article linked to suggests to me that the police may have been in the right. The Free Keene movement has been gathering daily for a year in the park to publicly smoke marijuana to protest drug laws (by the way, kind of a stupid way to protest) and has more recently started drinking on Sundays to protest public drunkenness laws (again, not the greatest protest). Despite openly breaking the law, the article says there have only been a handful of arrests. The KPD could have shut down the whole thing from Day 1. The fact that they didn't suggests that they have respect for public protest and the FKM, possibly suggesting that today's arrests were perfectly valid. Since the KPD has shown restraint so far, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt that there were lewd things being said and done, but I still should see the video.

It's a more interesting debate to see whether painting women's breasts is lascivious or lewd or whatever. (Earlier I said it was women painting each other's breasts, but it was actually a man, and an artist, painting them. Not sure whether that's more or less lascivious in the eyes of the law--for me, no difference because of the sex and way less so because he's an artist.) I think it's important to note that there are differences between men's and women's upper torsos. Louis C.K. pointed out last week on his show that our culture has completely separated sex and reproduction. The fact is that women's breasts have way more to do with reproduction, and therefore sex, than men's pecs do. It takes less to sexualize breasts than to sexualize pecs, which means that there will always be a lower threshold for public lewdness for women. I don't know where the threshold is, and I don't even know how "lewd" the woman was being, so I'll wait to see the video.

It certainly seems like the other arrests for disorderly conduct, open containers of alcohol, resisting arrest and others were valid.

Jul 20 10 - 8:24pm

OK, I've seen most of it now. (Sorry about posting on this too much. Sadly, it's the most interesting thing that's happened to me all day.) The video was really hard to hear, so I don't know how we can tell for sure whether or not the woman was lewd. Courts tend to side with the cops in he said she said cases, especially when the cops have shown a pretty high degree of restraint. Whether or not she was lewd, she was definitely resisting arrest and had an open container of alcohol. Several other protesters were clearly interfering with the police and causing a public disturbance.

Unrelated to criminal stuff: I don't think these protesters truly understand the concept. Smoking weed every day is not a good protest. People will see that and think, "Gee, what a lazy bunch of potheads." It's just reinforcing the stereotypes which make marijuana illegal. If you want to protest weed being illegal, try smoking it and living a productive life. Throw in some picket lines and letters to Congressmen and women for good measure. This debacle will do nothing but set back their cause.