Dismantling Your First Amendment Rights … for Your Own “Protection”

By Lee Bellinger / August 28, 2014

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri sparked events that clearly show how fragile our society is.

The facts surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown are still coming in. Unlike grandstanding politicians and agenda-driven media types, I’m not going to comment on that case just now. I’ll wait until a more complete picture of the evidence is available.

But what has happened since the shooting is fair game.

First there was looting. There will always be opportunistic thugs willing to take advantage of a bad situation.

But the police are using the looters to justify a completely inappropriate response to legitimate protests.

They’ve been treating peaceful protesters as the enemy. Not looters. Average people exercising one of their first amendment rights.

The police are harassing the press. Also not acceptable.

And they’ve made a chain of bizarre decisions. So bizarre, they have me wondering how exactly the police in America view themselves these days.

The Breakdown of a Constitutional Society

Our nation was founded on a single idea above all others. That citizens from every walk of life should be able to safely and freely criticize, challenge, and protest against the decisions of elected officials and against the actions of those given the legal right to use force.

But those with the legal right to use force are now focusing that force against internal dissent. They are trying to shut down protest.

If you don’t like what they’re doing, they want you to be too afraid to speak up.

This isn’t about quashing violence and looting. If it were, police actions would be focused on those committing violence and looting.

It’s about silencing the dissent. The police action is focused almost entirely on intimidating those who are protesting peacefully.

This same abuse of power could easily happen where you live.

Police Treat Protesters as the Enemy

When it comes to angry protests, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about crowd control.

According to Boise, Idaho Police Chief, Mike Masterson, police should be deployed with the mission of safeguarding the free speech rights of the protesters. They should not don riot gear. Names and badge numbers should be clearly visible. They should treat citizens as customers. Law enforcement agencies should willingly videotape events. They should not challenge citizens who are making their own recordings.

Protesters-even when they are angry-tend to follow the laws if they see the police force acting in a measured and fair manner.

Contrast this to what has happened in Ferguson.

Police officers came out, not in riot gear, but in military-style camouflage BDUs. They rolled down the streets in armored vehicles. They used tear-gas and rubber bullets. They brandished semi-automatic rifles-often pointing them at the crowd rather than at the ground. Any trained soldier knows you don’t point your rifle at a person you don’t intend to shoot.

They detained members of the press. They confined all members of the press to certain areas, for their “protection.” When Wesley Lowery, one of the journalists who was detained, asked for a badge number, the officer holding him refused.

Officials issued a curfew. Another attempt to silence and curb dissent. The FAA has even gone so far as to make Ferguson a no-fly zone, to “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.From afar this looks more like an effort to protect police from being accountable for their actions since its most obvious effect is to limit aerial footage of the riots, the peaceful protests, and the police response to both.

This kind of militarized response is completely inappropriate. It turns the police into something they are not. And our communities—we the people—are the ones who pay the price.

Expect to Be Tear-Gassed

From the position of an outside observer, it all adds up to a desire for silence.

You want to take to the streets to march in protest of something the police have done. Expect to be tear-gassed.

You want to gather peacefully to make your opinions known about local policies. Expect to be arrested if you’re out after curfew.

If you’re in the media attempting to report on abuses of power or violence between police officers and protesters … you may be arrested for your efforts.

It’s time for our police forces to return to their original purpose. To serve and protect. Not to intimidate, dominate, and silence. Write to your local, state, and federal representatives and call them to action: End the militarization of local law enforcement. The cost to our communities is just too high.

P.S. The militarization of our police has grown out of hand. SWAT teams are routinely used – tens of thousands of times a year – to serve no-knock warrants … where they kick your door in and ask questions later. Small towns have armored vehicles and worse. And when the rubber meets the road, police are proving all-too-ready to adopt a them-vs-you mentality.

How long will it be before you find yourself staring down the barrel of a rifle simply for speaking out against government abuse?

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