In recent months, US cities have seen widespread protests denouncing police brutality against unarmed Black people. Local and national law enforcement agencies, responding to crowds of unprecedented size and scale, relied on methods that were equally unprecedented. For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has failed to take up a freedom-of-assembly case. As a result, this fundamental constitutional right is in sore need of an update, such as a ruling that would protect protesters from the unduly harsh police response that has become all too common as a response to demonstrations in recent years. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly describes the right of the people to peaceably assemble. This right is recognized separately from the right to freedom of speech because the founders believed that the act of organizing a large crowd for a demonstration, parade or protest could be more powerful than individual speech, and was therefore even more susceptible to government encroachment. Like the right to religious expression, the founders gave the right to protest its own listing intending for the courts to give it special treatment and fashion unique legal standards that would ensure its protection.
Freedom of Speech and Assembly
By Peter Dolack for Systemic Disorder. You could not devise a worse health care system than that of the United States if you tried. By far the most expensive, with among the worst results. Perhaps saying “among” the worst results is being too kind. That is an accurate statement if we are simply measuring metrics such as mortality rates and other medical outcomes. But if we consider that tens of millions of United Statesians go without health insurance while none do in any advanced capitalist country (or most any other) — and that tens of thousands annually die because of that lack — then we must reasonably assess the U.S. health care system as the worst. This is the high cost of private profit in health care. How much? The United States spends more than $1.4 trillion per year than it would otherwise if it had a single-payer system.
By Cecily McMillan in Al Jazeera - Yet, from Lower Manhattan to Ferguson, Missouri, and from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, such nonviolent movements continue to be met with paramilitary tactics and military-grade weaponry meant to maintain “law and order” at any cost. Targeted for arrest, assault and detention, young activists have been equated with criminals, dissidents with domestic terrorists. This equation has not made us any safer. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that such tactics lead to more violence, not less, in our streets. A forthcoming study of 192 Occupy protests by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Data Science finds that protest violence tends to be provoked by aggressive police tactics — not the other way around. By contrast, when police stand down, protests tend to persist, but with lower rates of arrest and a lower incidence of violence.
By Ethan M. Long for Rebel News - There is a battle brewing in Denver, CO. between the City, the Second Judicial District Court, and protesters. The problem: a controversial court order issued on August 14 that makes protesting of any kind prohibited both inside and outside the courthouse. “Apparently a minor turf war has erupted between Denver and the Second Judicial District over control of the Courthouse grounds,” writes Federal Judge William J. Martinez in his decision of a lawsuit brought against the City and the Second Judicial District by protesters planning on handing out pamphlets outside of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse. This decision was handed down on August 25. It was the same two pamphlets, “Fresh Air for Justice,” and “Your Jury Rights: True or False?”, which spurred the court order, CJO 15-1 (a.k.a the “Plaza Order”) in the first place.
It is time to declare independence again, this time not from a king, but from ruling Forces of Greed (FOG). This column is a blueprint for a citizen revolution. We have more individual wealth than any other nation, with the most billionaires and the most millionaires. At the same time we have the most hunger and homelessness among major industrialized nations, the most without health care among industrialized nations, and the most people in prison by any measure. It takes a massive prison system to make American capitalism work as it does on behalf of the ruling FOG. And as the rich get richer, average wages have fallen, since 1973, for those who work for a living. Although our corrupt Congress keeps increasing its own pay to keep up with inflation, the working poor have lost about a third of their buying power since 1968 as the minimum wage has fallen far short of both inflation and a living wage.
After more than 12 years of class-action litigation, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has reached an unprecedented settlement with the Justice Department and the Department of the Interior that will significantly change the handling of mass protests. Presiding Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has issued preliminary approval for the settlement. This settlement is a major victory for First Amendment rights. As part of the Settlement Agreement, the U.S. Park Police, which is responsible for the areas directly in front of the White House among other key security sites, has agreed to significant and substantive reforms in its policies and procedures in handling First Amendment activities. The new policies include: generally prohibiting the use of police lines to encircle protesters and demonstrations; requiring particularized probable cause for any protester to be arrested; providing fair notice and at least three warnings to disperse assembled groups prior to any lawful arrests rather than engaging in group sweeps; identifying avenues of exit for protesters to comply with dispersal orders and ensuring that such warnings are clocked at least two minutes apart, and are audible throughout the crowd.
Students and free speech defenders hit the streets of Madrid last week to protest two controversial new laws — one targeting students and the other dissent. Spain’s “3+2” law, which shortens undergraduate degrees from four to three years and extends masters degrees from one to two years, was passed by the Spanish government in January — angering much of Spain’s students. In response, students and professors in Spain began a three-day strike on March 24 accompanied with protests attended by 85 percent of the Spanish education sector, according to the unions that organized the protests. The actions included blockades of highways and campus entrances in Madrid. While students marched through the streets on March 26, the Spanish parliament, largely controlled by the ruling conservative Popular Party, was busy passing the controversial Citizens’ Security Law, known as “la ley mordaza” or the “gag law,” which would make that very protest illegal and punishable by fine. Despite this climate of political repression, Spaniards have continued hitting the streets and have also protested against the anti-protest law.
On April 1, 2015 in the DeWitt Town Court, after hearing about 90 minutes of motions, Judge Robert Jokl dismissed all charges against four defendants charged following protests at Hancock Air National Guard Base “in the interest of justice.” Attorneys Jonathan Wallace, Kathy Manley and Kim Zimmer presented motions on behalf of John Honeck of Hamlin, NY, Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse, NY, Andrew Schoerke of Shaftsbury, Vermont and Mary Snyder of Vestal, NY, who were charged with trespass, two counts of disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration, a misdemeanor. The four defendants were among 31 arrested in a nonviolent die-in at the front gate of Hancock Base on April 28, 2013 following a weekend drone conference in Syracuse. Seventy nine year old Jack Gilroy, who was charged in the same protest, served three months in jail following a jury trial last summer. Other protesters will be tried on charges stemming from this same event in June. This dismissal follows our march 19 “big books” action at Hancock’s main gate in which seven protesters were arrested with similar charges. They will be arraigned in late April.
For the first time, a New York judge gave judicial notice to the realities of climate change as he exonerated ten protesters on freedom of speech grounds. Judge Robert Mandelbaum found the Flood Wall Street Ten not guilty, commending the climate activists’ protest as “honorable.” This landmark decision could not only have resounding implications for the growing environmental justice movement — it could also potentially thaw the iron-fisted policing that has come to be routine in the United States, especially in New York. “The importance of judicial notice is that the judge accepted climate change and the need to do something about it as a fact without the necessity of any evidentiary support or proof at trial,” Martin Stolar, an attorney for the defense, told MintPress News. “To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented and has significance for future litigation involving climate change.” The legal recognition of man-made climate change as an indisputable fact sent shockwaves through the environmentalist movement both on the streets and in the courts, allowing the Flood Wall Street case to be cited by protesters, academics and lawyers alike.
“We understand now that we have mass power,” said Jordan, who pointed to the indictment Tuesday of Officer Peter Liang for the November shooting death of Akui Gurley in a Brooklyn housing development as an example of what Black Lives Matter has been able to accomplish since its inception. Even the NYPD’s recent promotional efforts for the film “Selma” are a testament to the power of the movement, she said. “They have to show they are not the bad guys, because they pretty much look like the bad guys.” Still, going forward, Jordan and others are proceeding with caution. “It is really important that we understand our strength is in numbers, that our narrative and our actions are very clear so that we cannot be misconstrued,” said Jordan. “We’re training people really heavily in militant nonviolent action and de-escalation. They are waiting for any opportunity to vilify us. But you can expect to see a stronger, more coordinated movement going forward. It’s about maximizing and taking control of the energy we have shown in the streets.”
On Monday NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced a new heavily armed, machine gun carrying special force that would be used to fight civil disturbances and protests as part of an anti-terrorism unit. The article below reports they have backed off from the machine guns, no doubt because there was a lot of protest, but are still planning a new task force to respond to protests. According to the NYPD the task force will “handle the demonstrations and protests... respond to any sort of civil disorder. They'll also be able to respond to citywide mobilizations.” The announcement of the task forces was vague in how they would handle protests and what their special training would involve. Mayor di Blasio and Commissioner Bratton need to be forthright about the tactics they will be using. What kind of special training will this special task force have? How will they be armed? What role will infiltrators and disruptors play? Will police instigate violence and property damage? How will they protect the constitutional rights of protesters? The terrible record of the NYPD demands transparency. Take action to demand transparency and that your constitutional rights be protected...
Over 50 Cities Nationwide Rally Against Police Abuse and For Racial Justice on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Thousands of people across the country took to the streets to reclaim the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a radical who sought national transformation, not just voting rights for all but an end to militarism, challenged capitalism and an end to racism. Ferguson Action wrote “From here on, MLK weekend will be known as a time of national resistance to injustice.” Thousands of people took to the streets on Monday rebuking what they say is the "sanitized" version of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and calling to restore the legacy of a man whose protests, like their own, were never "convenient." The nationwide actions marked the birthday of the civil rights leader in a year that saw renewed calls for racial justice in the face of persistent inequality, discrimination, and police targeting of communities of color. Capping off almost a week of demonstrations, organizational meetings, and other pledges of resistance—all done with the intent to "Reclaim MLK"—grassroots coalition Ferguson Action issued a specific call for Monday: "Do as Martin Luther King would have done and resist the war on Black Lives with civil disobedience and direct action. Take the streets, shut it down, walk, march, and whatever you do, take action."
The Burglary tells the story of how, on March 8, 1971, in the midst of the Vietnam War, eight peace activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, in an effort to discover whether the FBI was working, illegally, to suppress American dissent. Spiriting away all the records in the FBI office, these daring men and women soon learned that this federal crime-fighting bureau was, indeed, engaging in a broad range of unlawful activities. They photocopied some of the most revealing documents and mailed them, in the name of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, to members of congress and the press. After receipt of these materials, Betty Medsger, a journalist at the Washington Post, wrote an article published in that newspaper that sparked a public outcry.