Friday, August 11, 2017

31.2 - Outrage of the Week: threats to the rights of assembly and free press

Outrage of the Week: threats to the rights of assembly and free press

The Good News, unhappily, leads directly to the Outrage of the Week.

Our First Amendment rights, our rights to protest, are under attack. As protests increased and continued, so too did the efforts to shut them down entirely or at least scare people off from taking part.

This spring's state legislative sessions have seen at least 30 bills introduced across 20 states either to limit the right of public protest, to increase punishments for civil disobedience, or both, doing so by measures such as, for example, banning wearing of masks, by declaring some areas "critical infrastructure" forever off-limits to protest, or by changing a charge of blocking a highway from a misdemeanor to a felony. Bills in two states - South Dakota and Tennessee - even proposed to protect drivers who run over protesters blocking streets.

A particular danger lies in use of mass arrests and charges without probable cause.

Back on October 1, 2011, during the Occupy protests, 700 people were peacefully marching across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Police had closed the bridge to vehicular traffic and began walking in the roadway. Protesters, reasonably assuming the police were trying to have the march get over the bridge as quickly and efficiently as possible, followed them into the street - only to have the police stop the march, trap the group from behind, and arrest all 700.

Police claim they told the marchers to stay out of the roadway but there is no way anyone other than those at the very front of the crowd could even have heard them; even assuming police did make such an announcement, those further back could not possibly have known about it. No matter - mass arrest, all guilty of "blocking traffic" - even though there was, again, no traffic to block.

A suit arose, Garcia v. Bloomberg. The Supreme Court recently refused to hear the protestors' appeal of their loss at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. By doing so, the courts have legitimized mass arrests without proper warning and without giving people an opportunity to disperse.

It gets worse:

On January 20, Inauguration Day, police in Washington, DC followed, by their own account, a group of about a couple hundred protesters for about one-half hour. During that time, there were a few people in the group who broke windows. Instead of going in and arresting the people they had probable cause to arrest (because they had observed those people committing a crime), the police waited and then trapped 200 people with police netting, sweeping up demonstrators, journalists covering the event, and even some passers-by, anyone who happened to be there at that moment. Again, a mass arrest without warning, without an opportunity to disperse, and without probable cause to believe most of those arrested had committed any crime.

But those people - all 214 of them - were charged with a crime: felony rioting, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In April, additional charges of property destruction, inciting or urging to riot, and conspiracy to riot, with penalties of up to 75 years in prison, were added.

While some of those arrested have cut plea bargains, many of the cases are still pending, including against at least one of the journalists - who, remember were there doing their job as reporters.

But here is the point: To indict and try someone, it takes, or at least is supposed to take, probable cause directed to that individual, not some unnamed someone. If these arrests are allowed to stand, if this is accepted by the courts, it means that if you are are at a demonstration, no matter how peaceful and legal, and someone in that group commits some illegal act - breaks a window, say - you and everyone else there could be charged with that crime or, even more likely, conspiracy to commit that crime with no need on the part of police or prosecutors to be able to say you did anything wrongful at all. Guilt - criminal guilt - by association in the purest form, a tool to suppress public protest at its most blatant..

The potential chilling effect on the right to protest is hard to overstate. The potential chilling effect on the right of a free press to cover such protests, when journalists may be held to be participants simply by being present, may be less immediately obvious but just as serious.

Because there is more: On July 25, a group of about 95 disabled people disrupted the vote in the Senate on the motion to proceed to debate about a health insurance bill - the debate that came to nothing - by shouting "Kill the Bill, Don't kill us" and "Shame!"

Capitol police dragged them from the gallery into the hall - the Senate chambers being a First-Amendment-free zone - and then blocked the media from covering the arrests, demanding there be no photographs and no videos and in fact ordering reporters present to delete those they had taken. Why? Because, get this now, "It's a crime scene." And if that makes you go "So what." it should.

In the eyes of the Capitol police, they have the power to say "You will not cover this protest. You will make no record of the protesters. You will make no record of their arrest." Which bluntly is one short step away from being able to say "This event did not happen."

Meanwhile, Jeff "I'm not a racist, really, really!" Sessions darkly intones about press subpoenas and how press freedom "is not unlimited."

No one ever said it was, of course, although it is also true that Thomas Jefferson said - and this is a real quote, not one of those fake ones that keep circulating - "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

The truth is, we are much more threatened by the power of the government to restrict and conceal than we are by the power of protesters and the press to resist and reveal. And as those threats to our rights increase, so does the outrage.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');