Activist Arrested In Dispute Over Hot-Button Sales At Public Market

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

The 74-year-old retired mathematician who is fighting Kensington officials over his right to sell buttons urging President Bush's impeachment was arrested yesterday at a farmers market and charged with trespassing.

Alan McConnell, who had been selling his "Impeach Him" buttons at the Howard Avenue market for about a half-hour without a permit, lay down on the pavement after Montgomery County police asked him to come with them. After McConnell failed to respond to a request that he "please stand up," four officers each grabbed one of his limbs and carried him to the front seat of a squad car.

Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman said previously that he would order McConnell's arrest if he showed up yesterday at the market. Fosselman could not be reached for comment yesterday. Montgomery County police Lt. Frank Stone said he didn't know who tipped off police that McConnell was at the market. Stone said McConnell could face a maximum 90 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted.

A crowd of about 40 McConnell supporters chanted "free speech" and booed the arrest. But others said their objections to McConnell's activities had nothing to do with granting him his political voice -- they simply think that he bothers customers by aggressively selling non-farmers-market products.

"They keep trying to make it about their political position, and it's not about that," said Kim Kaplan, who began selling plants at the market in June. "It's about the fact that he wants to sell his buttons and get in people's faces when he's doing it."

Three weeks ago, McConnell was issued a trespassing warning after being asked to leave the market. McConnell has said that he sold the buttons at the market for months without a license. Last week, Fosselman canceled the market because he was concerned that McConnell's "potentially aggressive" supporters might endanger the safety of customers. On Thursday, two Montgomery County police officers issued McConnell an updated trespassing warning, while a Kensington official gave him a citation for selling at the market without a permit. That ticket carries a possible $500 fine.

McConnell got another of those citations yesterday before his arrest, but he continued to sell his buttons for $1 apiece even as Kensington code enforcement officer Louise Hamilton filled out the ticket. Hamilton said the mayor requested that she come to the market to see whether McConnell was selling his buttons without a license.

Most of those who were at the market yesterday were there to support McConnell, and some vendors said the hype surrounding him has helped drum up business.

"The excitement has certainly brought a lot more people here, but not all of them are buying," said Keith Voight, who sells olive oil at the market. "Hopefully, the protesters today will come tomorrow to buy."

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