A cop tried to keep him from recording a traffic stop, but now he’s fighting back to change the law

The battle over the right to record police is far from over. That’s because a case pending over a routine traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado, where police interfered with a citizen journalist recording, could have a huge impact on a controversial legal precedent which shields cops from legal liability.

End Qulified Immunity Protections, & Civil Asset Forfeiture. Hold Cops Accountable.

Cops who break the law must be held accountable for their illegal actions !!!

This is also why you need to tell the cop that he is about to violate your rights and will lose his qualified immunity. Otherwise he can claim he didn’t know that law or right and use the qualified immunity as a defense.

Get it right in your heads people. “To protect and serve” means themselves.

Qualified immunity isn’t a matter that will be addressed by police reform. It’s part of the holding accountable of elected officials.

If cops didn’t break the law. These people who record them would not need to record the cops

In “this day and age…” Why do cops NOT know the law?

That cop who try to obstruct them from recording definitely has more issues under the radar and he’s a ticking bomb.

this is America cops should lose their pensions three strikes and they’re out!!😎

That would be three justice systems.
One for police, one for the wealthy, one for the rest of us.

And PlEASE leave a comment for copwatcher Abade aka Liberty Freak, his law suit may become case law that protects your right to record the police! So make sure to give him some kindness and support as he will be turning himself into law enforcement and will be incarcerated for a few months. So this is your chance to share your thoughts with him before he goes inside. Thank you! -taya

What an incredible episode!!!​​ I especially love it when you break things down and illustrate clearly​ how our system has “run amuck” and been abused to undermine & sabotage itself.

“Qualified Impunity” is such a clever, creative and accurate play on words. I would love to see that term widely adopted because I would hope that this shift might become a catalyst for reform by bringing a better understanding of just how broken our system is; and how close we may be to losing our democracy itself! It is being attacked and undermined in so many ways right now from so many sides…

If ignorance of the law is no excuse for civilians ignorance of our rights should be no excuse for the law!

Since this video was from Colorado it would make sense to mention that, at the time of this report, a new police accountability law was about to go into effect. Since then several cops, notably Loveland PD, have been held accountable with this law. As for my opinion I would like to say, no one has done more to end qualified immunity than corrupt cops all over the US.

If cleaning up neighborhoods changes the culture by changing the way people feel, then cities have an interest in leaving them neglected to justify dumping more money into police presence. It’s business as usual.

There are three types of versions of laws, the one for the poor aka the “criminal class” and then the one for government officials/LEOs, and finally the one for the elites/the rich who line the pockets of said govt officials & LEOs

I think we now know why the police are no longer required to learn the law before claiming to “enforce the law”.
Not knowing the law lets the police officers claim “I didn’t know the law” and the courts say it was an “honest mistake” and let them off with a warning to do better.

Oh and…….”qualified immunity” sounds like a “Jim Crow” law. It’s sickening that such a perversion of our Constitutional Rights is allowed!

Something to keep in mind. Until privatized, for profit, publicly traded prisons are done away with none of this tyranny will end.

I’ve always said that one of the main goals of 1st Amendment auditor’s is to remove the sovereign from the state 👍💯👍

Driver: I’m just defending myself here. You really have nothing to fear from me. I’m not out to get you. So can you kindly just cite or warn me and we can go on our way?

Wait, qualified immunity gets it’s power by proving that the law enforcement officer was ignorant of the law? Make it make sense somebody please.

Police Scatter After They Realize they Violated Cameraman’s Rights

That escalated quickly, just because of some hearsay that there’s a suspicious person in the area.

Those cops scattered like roaches…once they realized they had been caught violating his rights. But NOT before trying to explain away their reasoning for their blatant rights violations. Imagine how this would have went down had the cops not been videoed. Makes one wonder how cops treat people who are NOT videoing. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Police answer to his question about if he was detained for committing a crime was “no”. They then proceeded to remove everything from his pockets after determining there were no weapons while this victim was restrained with handcuffs. There was no probable cause of a crime! In frame 6:10 you can see the victim’s cash thrown on the patrol car hood with the other belongings. That is the last time anyone saw that cash. After violating the victim’s 1st and 4th amendment rights apparently everything grabbed by this armed gang was returned EXCEPT THE CASH! Remember that there was no search or seizure consent so all that was allowed was a pat down for weapons, the 4th amendment bars the police from going into the pockets. I suspect that along with the money which went away the “qualified immunity” should also be gone!

 

“When we get a call….” Yeah, when you get a call, why not ask the caller what, exactly, he has seen and what crime he thinks he is reporting. “Hello 911? Like, there’s this guy and he’s walking down the sidewalk and he’s BREATHING and holding a phone and stuff. ” “Don’t worry, a SWAT team is on the way.”

Can we define Hypocrisy?
Police officers, who handcuff and detain a man because someone made a phone complaint, later tell the person they handcuffed to not accuse people of things they didn’t do!?!
The purpose of these videos is so that cops realize to stop responding to Karens and crybabies calling them for nothing and they can educate the public too.
FOR MY SAFETY I LOOKED INTO YOUR POCKETS” -> let’s take a second to analyze this. THE POLICEMAN went BAREHANDED into his pockets WITHOUT asking if he had something that can puncture him or needles that can INFECT him. COMPLETE FABRICATION. They were looking for his ID
They searched his pockets,stuck their hands all over him without the use of gloves. At least one had his mask on. This guy could have had dirty needles on him and they just said they were concerned about their safety? Stupid cops.
This is what Qualified Immunity has done to the Constitution of the United States. Police do not fear violating anyone’s rights now. Police can legally perform a Terry frisk on anyone they encounter, which is a simple pat down for weapons, they CAN NOT do any kind of search. That IS a violation of his 4th Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. But notice, these cops don’t even blink, they regularly violate people’s rights so they think it is normal for them to do it.
A man with a camera is treated like the most dangerous criminal today. Very scarey for cops who’ve never had true accountability.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, this is the quality of officer you end up with when you do away with standards. These officers actually think what they did is perfectly legal, because they were scared. Wow, bring back minimum standards, please.

 

The auditor fails. He kept talking. He spoke to the cops. He failed.

 

Yeah do your job and investigate first then detain. Why don’t these cops understand they need a crime to detain someone not a call about a suspicious person! Watch the person and investigate before going for your gun and violating his rights because you “ thought” or “assumed” he was a criminal. Absolutely no proof but a hearsay phone call about acting suspicious which is not a crime.

You need to give the cops a break. They are doing what they have been trained to do and how they were trained to do it. Every police officer involved in a shooting is told to (even after the shots are fired) yell the command drop the weapon or show me your hands repeatedly. That way they can testify under oath that they gave the command multiple times. In some cases witnesses said the officer made the command 11 times AFTER the shooting and then when asked in court if he gave the victim commands he said he told him eleven times to show me your hands. They are trained to lie and violate rights. What do you need to be a cop? A driver’s license and a GED. Until we raise the bar we will continue to get total crap for cops.

so if someone is just “suspicious” how about walking up to them and asking them politely what they are doing.. not surrounding them, guns drawn, screaming.

You don’t go threw there pockets unless you feel a weapon which I’m sure you didn’t plus you had him handcuffed
When your Police Department is SO CROOKED that you can’t leave them a google review… Its time to shut them down, fire and strip away the police license of EVERYONE THERE, and Start over from scratch.
Easy lawsuit. They searched and pulled stuff out of your pockets that couldn’t be mistaken for a weapon. Tell them they will get your ID on the intent to sue letter you send them. For them to demand you get on the ground first proves that that woman is too weak and scared to be a law enforcement officer.

Officer safety, for your safety and mine. Red herrings! Cops do not say these things because their afraid, they say them as a pretence for them to violate your rights to assault you with legal standing. Same with “Get your hands out of your Pockets”. They don’t care if your hands are in your pockets or not. It’s a power play. They tell you to take your hands out of your pockets, you do, now your conditioned to follow their further directions. Suspicious is just an official sounding word that cops use to impress you when they don’t really have a reason, little own a good reason to stop and question you and in the hope that you will be intimidated enough to play by their rules and not the law nor the constitution. As seen here! When to really worry though is when cops say “stop resisting, relax or he’s going for my gun”. That’s when the cops are really going to hurt you or worse. Another nicely completed social experiment that these cops failed miserably at Floyd. Armchair Auditor out.

So the officers can go up to anyone in public and say you look suspicious and start digging in your pockets??
Auditors need to start saying I don’t care you got a call I’m not doing anything illegal. Go the F away and leave me alone. Continue to say only this until they go away.

They didn’t do a pat down for weapons, they emptied his pockets hoping to find drugs. These thugs need to all be suspended and re-educated. Bring this to court.

She gets a call that you were acting suspicious and so she detained you because acting suspicious is lethal

You don’t have to go in his pockets to check for weapons , anyways your only allowed to Pat him down .

The fact that the Police claim “they got a call” or claim to be “investigating”, still gives the Houston Police no authority to order someone on the ground, or illegally search and detain a citizen. No crime was committed and both the 1st and 4th amendments were violated. When they want to get rid of a camera operator, the safety they refer to is their job safety. Not the personal or public safety.

The fact that the Police claim “they got a call” or claim to be “investigating”, still gives the Houston Police no authority to order someone on the ground, or illegally search and detain a citizen. No crime was committed and both the 1st and 4th amendments were violated. When they want to get rid of a camera operator, the safety they refer to is their job safety. Not the personal or public safety.

Oh my crap… an anonymous caller can ruin someone else’s life! Cops can use “ call” as an excuse to violate every amendment of the constitution. And this is duplicated from town to town!!!

Cameras saves lives. The police changed as soon as he started talking about it rights

It’s hilarious how they always want to violate your rights “FOR YOUR SAFETY”

I never knew that I had the power to have someone assaulted just by making a suspicious person call.

I keep watching, trying to find the exact moment the cop knew he screwed up! I think it was definitely while illegally emptying his pockets!

LOL the cop at the end, before you start accusing someone…….so they literally accused him of ‘acting suspicious’ and hand cuffed him……wtf……then they searched him without a warrant or any reasonable explanation as to what law he had broken

The way they approached him I thought he was open carrying an AR-clear over reaction.

That woman has no business being a cop if she is THAT AFRAID of a man walking down the sidewalk.

“Officer safety” is cop slang for “Officer cowardice”.

As soon as their fingers went into the pocket, it was no longer a pat down. So clearly it is a 4th Amendment infringement. Especially after saying that you don’t consent to being searched.

We don’t have any rights. That’s what they don’t tell you. It’s call qualified immunity, which is an absolute immunity. Cops can twist you up in a pretzel for no reason at all and the judges protect them.

“For our safety”!!! You cops are the ones armed!!! Those thugs in uniform will never honour the first or fourth amendement. I hope the guy lodges a complaint and files a lawsuit against the cops. I hope they loose their qualified immunity, this is ridiculous.

The female cop keeps saying someing about ‘we don’t know what kinds of weapons you have on you’. So that is a legal reason to violate a persons rights?

Should have stuck to the story of them stealing that money, they can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they didn’t steal his money even if it is in his pocket. At this point they should have to pay even if the money was put back this man is completely within his right to accuse them of stealing even if they put the money back because there’s no proof. Is it the job of the police to put back your stuff nicely the way they found it? That would be a joke within itself.

If a cop rolls up and says they got a call about a suspicious person, just tell them that if you see one, you will give them a call.

They always want to search somebody for weapons when they’re the one that has the weapons. Who should be afraid of who

 

The lady knew they had messed up that’s why she went silent then at the end tried being nice

14:52 What you need to do with your money is: always expect police harrassment and configure your cash for imminent civil rights violations.

I hope that they guy who took this video does NOT consider himself a First Amendment auditor, mainly because he appears to be woefully unprepared for the task. I understand that he has a right to public photography, but that is not the issue. When a cop blocks your path and tells you to stop advancing toward her, then it’s in your own interest to do so. Further, by not complying with her instructions, you have provided them with a pretext to escalate the situation. It’s not right, but it is the reality, and if you don’t know that then you should not put yourself in these situations. If you’re going to do something, then do it right.

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If Private Platforms Use Government Guidelines to Police Content, is that State Censorship?

YouTube’s decision to demonetize podcaster Bret Weinstein raises serious questions, both about the First Amendment and regulatory capture

 

Just under three years ago, Infowars anchor Alex Jones was tossed off Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify, marking the unofficial launch of the “content moderation” era. The censorship envelope has since widened dramatically via a series of high-profile incidents: Facebook and Twitter

This week’s decision by YouTube to demonetize podcaster Bret Weinstein belongs on that list, and has a case to be put at or near the top, representing a different and perhaps more unnerving speech conundrum than those other episodes.

Profiled in this space two weeks ago, Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying — both biologists — host the podcast DarkHorse, which by any measure is among the more successful independent media operations in the country. They have two YouTube channels, a main channel featuring whole episodes and livestreams, and a “clips” channel featuring excerpts from those shows.

Between the two channels, they’ve been flagged 11 times in the last month or so. Specifically, YouTube has honed in on two areas of discussion it believes promote “medical misinformation.” The first is the potential efficacy of the repurposed drug ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment. The second is the third rail of third rails, i.e. the possible shortcomings of the mRNA vaccines produced by companies like Moderna and Pfizer.

Weinstein, who was also criticized for arguing the lab-leak theory before conventional wisdom shifted on that topic, says YouTube’s decision will result in the loss of “half” of his and Heying’s income. However, he says, YouTube told him he can reapply after a month.

YouTube’s notice put it as follows: “Edit your channel and reapply for monetization… Make changes to your channel based on our feedback. Changes can include editing or deleting videos and updating video details.”

They want me to self-censor,” he says. “Unless I stop broadcasting information that runs afoul of their CDC-approved talking points, I’ll remain demonetized.”

Weinstein’s travails with YouTube sound like something out of a Star Trek episode, in which the Enterprise crew tries and fails to communicate with a malevolent AI attacking the ship. In the last two weeks, he emailed back and forth with the firm, at one point receiving an email from someone who identified himself only as “Christopher,” indicating a desire to set up a discussion between Weinstein and various parties at YouTube.

Over the course of these communications, Weinstein asked if he could nail down the name and contact number of the person with whom he was interacting. “I said, ‘Look, I need to know who you are first, whether you’re real, what your real first and last names are, what your phone number is, and so on,” Weinstein recounts. “But on asking what ‘Christopher’s’ real name and email was, they wouldn’t even go that far.” After this demand of his, instead of giving him an actual contact, YouTube sent him a pair of less personalized demonetization notices.

As has been noted in this space multiple times, this is a common theme in nearly all of these stories, but Weinstein’s tale is at once weirder and more involved, as most people in these dilemmas never get past the form-letter response stage. YouTube has responded throughout to media queries about Weinstein’s case, suggesting they take it seriously.

YouTube’s decision with regard to Weinstein and Heying seems part of an overall butterfly effect, as numerous other figures either connected to the topic or to DarkHorse have been censured by various platforms. Weinstein guest Dr. Robert Malone, a former Salk Institute researcher often credited with helping develop mRNA vaccine technology, has been suspended from LinkedIn, and Weinstein guest Dr. Pierre Kory of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) has had his appearances removed by YouTube. Even Satoshi Ōmura, who won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for his work on ivermectin, reportedly had a video removed by YouTube this week.

There are several factors that make the DarkHorse incident different from other major Silicon Valley moderation decisions, including the fact that the content in question doesn’t involve electoral politics, foreign intervention, or incitement. The main issue is the possible blurring of lines between public and private censorship.

When I contacted YouTube about Weinstein two weeks ago, I was told, “In general, we rely on guidance from local and global health authorities (FDA, CDC, WHO, NHS, etc) in developing our COVID-19 misinformation policies.”

The question is, how active is that “guidance”? Is YouTube acting in consultation with those bodies in developing those moderation policies? As Weinstein notes, an answer in the affirmative would likely make theirs a true First Amendment problem, with an agency like the CDC not only setting public health policy but also effectively setting guidelines for private discussion about those policies. “If it is in consultation with the government,” he says, “it’s an entirely different issue.”

Asked specifically after Weinstein’s demonetization if the “guidance” included consultation with authorities, YouTube essentially said yes, pointing to previous announcements that they consult other authorities, and adding, “When we develop our policies we consult outside experts and YouTube creators. In the case of our COVID-19 misinformation policies, it would be guidance from local and global health authorities.”

Weinstein and Heying might be the most prominent non-conservative media operation to fall this far afoul of a platform like YouTube. Unlike the case of, say, Alex Jones, the moves against the show’s content have not been roundly cheered. In fact, they’ve inspired blowback from across the media spectrum, with everyone from Bill Maher to Joe Rogan to Tucker Carlson taking notice.

“They threw Bret Weinstein off YouTube, or almost,” Maher said on Real Time last week. “YouTube should not be telling me what I can see about ivermectin. Ivermectin isn’t a registered Republican. It’s a drug!”

From YouTube’s perspective, the argument for “medical misinformation” in the DarkHorse videos probably comes down to a few themes in Weinstein’s shows. Take, for example, an exchange between Weinstein and Malone in a video about the mRNA vaccines produced by companies like Moderna and Pfizer:

Weinstein: The other problem is that what these vaccines do is they encode spike protein… but the spike protein itself we now know is very dangerous, it’s cytotoxic, is that a fair description?

Malone: More than fair, and I alerted the FDA about this risk months and months and months ago.

In another moment, entrepreneur and funder of fluvoxamine studies Steve Kirsch mentioned that his carpet cleaner had a heart attack minutes after taking the Pfizer vaccine, and cited Canadian viral immunologist Byram Bridle in saying that that the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t stay localized at point of injection, but “goes throughout your entire body, it goes to your brain to your heart.” 

Politifact rated the claim that spike protein is cytotoxic “false,” citing the CDC to describe the spike protein as “harmless.” As to the idea that the protein does damage to other parts of the body, including the heart, they quoted an FDA spokesperson who said there’s no evidence the spike protein “lingers at any toxic level in the body.”

Would many doctors argue that the 226 identified cases of myocarditis so far is tiny in the context of 130 million vaccine doses administered, and overall the danger of myocarditis associated with vaccine is far lower than the dangers of myocarditis in Covid-19 patients?

Absolutely. It’s also true that the CDC itself had a meeting on June 18th to discuss cases of heart inflammation reported among people who’d received the vaccine. The CDC, in other words, is simultaneously telling news outlets like Politifact that spike protein is “harmless,” and also having ad-hoc meetings to discuss the possibility, however remote from their point of view, that it is not harmless. Are only CDC officials allowed to discuss these matters?

The larger problem with YouTube’s action is that it relies upon those government guidelines, which in turn are significantly dependent upon information provided to them by pharmaceutical companies, which have long track records of being less than forthright with the public.

In the last decade, for instance, the U.S. government spent over $1.5 billion to stockpile Tamiflu, a drug produced by the Swiss pharma firm Roche. It later came out — thanks to the efforts of a Japanese pediatrician who left a comment on an online forum — that Roche had withheld crucial testing information from British and American buyers, leading to a massive fraud suit. Similar controversies involving the arthritis drug Vioxx and the diabetes drug Avandia were prompted by investigations by independent doctors and academics.

As with financial services, military contracting, environmental protection, and other fields, the phenomenon of regulatory capture is demonstrably real in the pharmaceutical world. This makes basing any moderation policy on official guidelines problematic. If the proper vaccine policy is X, but the actual policy ends up being plus unknown commercial consideration Ya policy like YouTube’s more or less automatically preempts discussion of Y.

Some of Weinstein’s broadcasts involve exactly such questions about whether or not it’s necessary to give Covid-19 vaccines to children, to pregnant women, and to people who’ve already had Covid-19, and whether or not the official stance on those matters is colored by profit considerations. Other issues, like whether or not boosters are going to be necessary, need a hard look in light of the commercial incentives.

These are legitimate discussions, as the WHOs own behavior shows. On April 8th, the WHO website said flatly: “Children should not be vaccinated for the moment.” A month and a half later, the WHO issued a new guidance, saying the Pfizer vaccine was “suitable for use by people aged 12 years and above.”

The WHO was clear that its early recommendation was based on a lack of data, and on uncertainty about whether or not children with a low likelihood of infection should be a “priority,” and not on any definite conviction that the vaccine was unsafe. And, again, a Politifact check on the notion that the WHO “reversed its stance” on children rated the claim false, saying that the WHO merely “updated” its guidance on children. Still, the whole drama over the WHO recommendation suggested it should at least be an allowable topic of discussion.

Certainly there are critics of Weinstein’s who blanch at the use of sci-fi terms like “red pill” (derived from worldview-altering truth pill in The Matrix), employing language like “very dangerous” to describe the mRNA vaccines, and descriptions of ivermectin as a drug that would “almost certainly make you better.”

Even to those critics, however, the larger issue Weinstein’s case highlights should be clear. If platforms like YouTube are basing speech regulation policies on government guidelines, and government agencies demonstrably can be captured by industry, the potential exists for a new brand of capture — intellectual capture, where corporate money can theoretically buy not just regulatory relief but the broader preemption of public criticism. It’s vaccines today, and that issue is important enough, but what if in the future the questions involve the performance of an expensive weapons program, or a finance company contracted to administer bailout funds, or health risks posed by a private polluter?

Weinstein believes capture plays a role in his case at some level. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” he says. He hopes the pressure from the public and from the media will push platforms like YouTube to reveal exactly how, and with whom, they settle upon their speech guidelines. “There’s something industrial strength about the censorship,” he says, adding. “There needs to be a public campaign to reject it.”

I watched Weinstein’s Youtube discussion of the mRNA vaccine with Robert Malone. As a physician, I didn’t find his discussion particularly convincing, nor that of Dr. Malone. Three or four hundred million people have now been vaccinated and we are not seeing a lot of serious side effects, which we would almost have certainly seen by now if there really was a problem. The issue, as I see it, is that Weinstein is making a living with his Youtube channel and obviously, he is motivated to increase his income by generating controversy. There’s a heck of a lot of content on Youtube and careful, well-reasoned discussion probably would generate less income than outlandish claims. As a physician, I’m used to reading medical journals and I have enough statistical training to evaluate the evidence. That’s not true for the majority of people exposed to this kind of programming. I’d have found Weinstein’s program a lot more interesting if he had brought on an active mRNA researcher to debate Dr. Malone. (I don’t think Dr. Malone is “in his dotage” at age 60, but he’s clearly not involved with this kind of work anymore.) Weinstein is a smart guy, but he’s not a physician, and not a virologist. His show needs to be a little more balanced if he wants to be taken seriously.

Check out Dr John Campbell , https://youtube.com/c/Campbellteaching he has over 1 million subs, talks about ivermectin all the time and is not demonetized. Why? Because of how he frames it, he is also a believer in vaccines.

Bret on the other hand has gone full Alex Jones with a messiah complex to boot! He has lost the fucking plot completely. Nothing he says makes sense anymore, it’s full on global conspiracy shit. He takes ivermectin live on air.. says he is not getting vaccinated but using ivermectin prophylacticly?.. it’s just totally over the top for a public channel and asking to be demonetized.

I think the reason there’s very little effort going into figuring out if ivermectin works is because we have vaccines that work so well and the fact that so many people got burned promoting early alternative treatments that turned out to be bullshit like hydroxychloroquine…. But I’m sure I’m wrong and Bret is the savior of humanity battling against big tech and the globalists behind the great reset! Maybe he should try and build back betterer his channel.

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DOJ Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Trump & Barr for Clearing Protestors from Lafayette Square

Protesters gathered on May 29 – June 7 to protest the killing of George Floyd

Last year, Bill Barr and others directed that Lafayette Square be cleared of protestors who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights so then-President Donald Trump could walk across the street to stand in front of a church for a political photo-op. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of protestors and journalists that were assaulted by law enforcement officers while they cleared the way for Trump’s political stunt.

In a troubling move, the Department of Justice has now urged the judge to dismiss the case, claiming that Trump, Barr and other government officials have immunity from this particular lawsuit. This video presents an argument for why the suit should not be dismissed but instead should proceed to the discovery phase to, at a minimum, determine if Trump and Barr were acting within the scope of their official governmental duties when they ordered the area cleared – shutting down the protestors’ exercise of their 1st Amendment rights, for a presidential photo op.

The Whole Concept of ‘Unlawful Assembly’ Is a Mess

“Unlawful assembly” is like “illegal writing” or “forbidden religious exercise”: There surely may be such a thing, but what qualifies?

Recent weeks have produced a lifetime’s worth of haunting images. Some of them everyone has seen: black-clad “agents” hustling citizens into unmarked vans, “counterdemonstrators” with automatic weapons dogging Black Lives Matter protests. Others I have seen in person: on a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, groups of mothers marching in front of a federal courthouse to protect protesters who had been gassed and beaten during previous demonstrations; on a stroll through a neighborhood park in my small hometown of Eugene, Oregon, a dozen masked “security guards” with assault rifles offering protection to anti-police-violence protesters.

And the backdrop to all these sights is the indelible image of a flag-draped coffin bearing the body of Representative John Lewis on his final trip—this one over a path strewn with rose petals—across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama.

Lewis’s cortege recalled a scene from half a century ago—one that echoed strangely amid the alarms and cries of this haunted July.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, Lewis and Hosea Williams led a peaceful crowd of some 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a march for voting rights—but it also was a protest against police violence, in particular the police killing of a 26-year-old man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was beaten and then shot twice in the back during a voting-rights march on February 18 of that year.

That March day, on the other side of the bridge stood hundreds of Alabama state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and mounted “possemen” (white locals “deputized” by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark). They were armed with rifles, tear gas, batons, and cattle prods. “It would be detrimental to your safety to continue this march,” Alabama State Police Major John Cloud announced. “And I’m saying this is an unlawful assembly. You are to disperse.”

The subsequent violence became known as “Bloody Sunday,” and the shock waves it sent across the country transformed the national debate about voting rights for Black Americans.

The words that echo in 2020 are “This is an unlawful assembly.” This summer, police in Oregon have been “declaring riots” almost every night. And Oregon is not even on the cutting edge: The mayor of one southern hamlet, Graham, North Carolina, recently “suspended” all protests, out of a professed fear that demonstrations against Confederate monuments would lead to violence.  Similarly, the troopers who brutalized the crowd of unarmed men, women, and children on Bloody Sunday saw themselves as enforcers of the law. But, textually, the words unlawful assembly embody a tension, even a contradiction—because the First Amendment, in its very terms, protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” So “unlawful assembly” is like “illegal writing” or “forbidden religious exercise”: There surely may be such a thing, but, in each case, the burden has to be on the authorities to explain why this assembly, this writing, this religious exercise is an exception to the broad protection afforded to these important political rights.

By the logic of unlawful assembly, John Lewis had it coming. He and the marchers had gathered without permission. They had blocked a highway. Told to go home, they stayed. And violence followed. If you want to get technical, the marchers didn’t commit the violence—it was committed by the police and the local white toughs who hung around the fringes of the march. But the marchers had gathered in a place where the police didn’t want them. As one local white official explained to Martin Luther King Jr. in the aftermath of the march, “Everywhere you have been, there has been violence.”

Police and demonstrators during the march on the courthouse in Selma, Ala. on March 13, 1965. (AP)

Some scholars have argued recently that Americans have lost sight of “peaceable assembly” as an important constitutional right. One of them is Tabatha Abu El-Haj, a professor at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, whom I spoke with last week. Abu El-Haj has written extensively about the First Amendment and the right to assemble in particular, including a 2009 article called “The Neglected Right of Assembly.” Abu El-Haj explained to me that while England maintained a relatively tight leash on popular assemblies, the experience of the American Revolution convinced early Americans of the importance of “the people out of doors” as part of citizenship and political participation. Marches, open-air meetings, and protests were routinely held on public property during the 18th and 19th centuries. Not until 1914, in fact, did New York, by then a city of 2 million, even begin to require permits for these marches.

Abu El-Haj said that contemporary First Amendment doctrine has concentrated on freedom of speech, treating the right of groups to assemble as merely a subset of the right of individuals to speak. That’s not in accordance with the words of the Constitution, she pointed out. “Courts should take a textual approach and thus disaggregate peaceable assembly from freedom of speech,” she said.

Of course, even in the heyday of the right to assemble, governments had the power to shut down riots. But the threshold for “reading the Riot Act” was the risk of serious violence—something equivalent to today’s Brandenburg test for incitement to crime. That formulation, announced by the Supreme Court in the 1950s, empowers the government to punish speech as incitement only when it is “directed to and likely to cause imminent lawless action.” By general agreement, lawless action means something more serious than jaywalking, peacefully blocking sidewalks and streets, or even cursing and taunting police.

In addition, Abu El-Haj said, crowds should not be declared “unlawful” unless they are violent and they refuse to disperse after a clear warning. She cited as examples the protests in Philadelphia in late May and early June, in which some marchers burned police vehicles and set fire to or looted stores. “That’s a different situation from much of what we have seen in the last few weeks—largely peaceful protests with violent behavior at the fringes,” sometimes by people who “are there to disrupt the protest,” she said.

Abu El-Haj’s words were echoed by John Inazu, a professor at the Washington University at St. Louis School of Law, who recently wrote an article decrying the overuse of unlawful-assembly laws as “social control.” Over time, he argued, local governments have lost sight of the idea that protest is presumptively protected, and have rewritten unlawful-assembly laws to permit the government to shut down even peaceful protests when they find them inconvenientLast year in The Atlantic, Inazu noted:

Local officials too frequently end protests prematurely or move them to distant locations where they will be less effective. Lawmakers overregulate nonviolent groups that resist majoritarian norms. And many Americans cede too easily to the demands of conformity rather than pursuing and protecting alternative visions of society.

In an interview last week, Inazu told me that many local officials also pay no political or legal price for stopping protests prematurely. “The ability to overpolice or shut down the protests when they should be allowed to continue really advances the objectives of local government.”

Courts have done little to intervene in these choices, he said; there is “virtually no [legal] doctrine on the right of assembly.” Courts should require local governments to show that real disorder is imminent, rather than allowing premature shutdowns, he argued. “Local governments have to take some degree of risk” of disorder before eliminating protests, rather than using unlawful assembly as a phrase meaning “inconvenient.”

The withering of the right to assemble may flow from public attitudes, which have not been particularly tolerant of protest and have become far less tolerant recently. That’s the view of Timothy Zick, a professor at the William & Mary Law School, who has been writing for a decade on regional variation in interpretations of the First Amendment, including local regulation of where people may assemble. Zick notes that many localities now levy hefty charges against protesters to pay for the cost of policing them; many people, he says, find that a reasonable idea, even though it may make even the most determinedly nonviolent citizens, faced with potentially ruinous costs, forswear any public activity. And others have suggested that protests at night are suspicious in themselves. Why is that? Zick asks. “The First Amendment applies when the sun goes down. It doesn’t take a nap.”
Last month, the former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele suggested that the Portland protesters should prevent criticism from Donald Trump by moving their protests away from the federal courthouse.
Groups of mothers form a wall to protect protesters in Portland, Ore. in July (Alex Lourie / Redux)

Clever, eh? If the government abuses you, go somewhere you won’t make the government mad. That idea, to my mind, stands the ideals of free speech and assembly on their head. The federal courthouse—where federal power is publicly displayed and exercised—is the kind of place where protests, by logic and history, are supposed to take place. When the people assemble in such a place, the government should not greet them right away with militarized threat of force. It should not ever remove them unless it has first made a serious effort to protect their right to be heard—and to separate the violent from the peaceable. And government officials, such as the president and the attorney general, should not be in the business of slandering and misrepresenting the majority of the peaceable.

Demands that protesters “denounce violence” also miss the point. Emerson Sykes, one of the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys challenging the protest ban in Graham, North Carolina, points out that the protests in America represent “a historic moment”—a challenge to ingrained brutality and racism in our police and justice systems. Protesters who themselves commit no crimes have the right to focus on that aim; ritual self-purification is an inappropriate demand—particularly in 2020. A government that itself cannot denounce neo-Nazis invading state capitals has no standing to demand that others apologize for the sins of third parties.

And that takes me back to Selma. It seems like distant history. Yet today, in America, people are in the street fighting for the very same things that the marchers on Bloody Sunday wanted—an end to police violence and free elections. The real scandal is that these basic values remain under siege more than half a century after blood ran on that Alabama bridge.