There's something Zen-like about Hull Street traffic on Richmond's South Side. Laws about right-of-way, parking, yielding to pedestrians and obeying traffic lights certainly are the same in Manchester as anywhere else in the city, but there's something almost European in the way drivers commonly ignore a statute if, when the light turns green, they happen to be deep in conversation with friends on nearby sidewalks.
It was in this same spirit of laissez-faire that Hull Street's most infamous son, August Moon, pulled his unmistakable and well-worn GMC Safari minivan to the curb on Oct. 16 to allow a passenger to hop out and grab a newspaper from a blue curbside newspaper stand.
These sorts of brief errands can take time on the South Side, and in this case, Moon's van — with Moon, semi-legendary blues singer, musical producer, entrepreneur and self-styled city political don, still inside — remained curbside long enough to catch the eagle eye of one Richmond Police Officer O. Alexander.
“Here goes the man giving me a ticket for getting a [Richmond] Free Press out of the box,” August Moon told listeners of “Richmond is Talking,” his occasionally weekly radio talk show on WCLM 1450 AM, on Nov. 24 during an interview with new Richmond Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood. “That don't make no sense, and at 4:30 in the afternoon!”
Norwood, shifting uncomfortably after conversation veered from the comparatively safe topic of how he plans to emerge from the shadow of former Chief Rodney Monroe while maintaining Richmond's miraculously lowered crime rate, suggested it was simply a case of a beat cop not yet knowing everyone on his beat.
“He's going to know [Moon] after this evening,” cracks the show's regular host, Preston Brown.
As the October altercation accelerated, Moon acknowledged suggesting to Officer Alexander that “Not everyone that's black is black,” and that “if I smell it, I'm gonna tell it.” For fans of Moon's old TV and radio shows, both were patented on-air Moonisms.
The officer did not take them in that spirit, instead writing Moon a ticket for what's known as abusive language to another, which is a class-3 misdemeanor.
The day after his radio show interview with Norwood, Moon was in Richmond's Manchester traffic court to face the music. Turns out Moon's courtroom accompaniment, David Hicks (attorney and transition chairman to Mayor-elect Dwight C. Jones, whose church Moon's wife and daughter attend), to face the music, knew something of the abusive language statute and the case was dismissed.
“The First Amendment is alive and well,” says the perennially jovial Hicks. “You have the constitutional right to express your displeasure at your government.”
That's what Moon had done — without resorting to any particularly abusive language, at least nothing the criminal statute might be concerned with: “To be criminal the [offending] words have to have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom the remark is addressed. In Virginia, those are called fighting words. [Such protected speech] might not be polite, but it's legal.”
To hear Moon tell it, there's a time to be polite, but “if I smell it, I'm going to tell it.” S