Dick Sciaroni: Simplistic solutions won’t work
A recent column in The Union (Gerald Doane: “Our assembly and petition rights have been hijacked”) purports to present “research” on the First Amendment to support a claim that “timid and negligent political leaders” have neglected their authority by redefining what the phrase “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
That “research” is nothing of the sort and the solution espoused by the writer — “[v]ote out the timid and negligent political leaders” — is uninformed and flawed.
Reading between the lines, Mr. Doane’s complaint is with the elected leaders of so-called “Democratic cities” for not cracking down on recent protests. His solution is to elect “strong” leaders (like President Trump) who will have no qualms dispatching militarized federal agents to confront — and oftentimes to provoke — political protesters.
I join Mr. Doane in condemning the violence we have seen of late. Looting, burning buildings and destroying property, or attacking police is deplorable and cannot be condoned. But meeting violence with still more violence is not the answer.
I likewise join him is opposing the skewed notion that defunding police is a viable solution. Parenthetically, Joe Biden agrees with us, notwithstanding claims to the contrary.
To begin, Mr. Doane’s “research” into the law emanating from the First Amendment does not pass muster. The Law Library of Congress is not where one turns to understand the First Amendment. Only the courts interpret and decide the law. Research into the First Amendment begins and ends not with a librarian’s summary, but with statutes and case law — the court decisions that declare the law. American courts have over some 250 years established rules and procedures for interpreting statutes, and through case law, developed doctrines and tests that are then applied to a specific fact situation. One can rest assured that the courts do not look to summaries prepared by the Law Library of Congress; the courts look to case law, the prior decisions of courts — not librarians.
True enough, we have seen “riot, disorder, interference with traffic on public streets, and other immediate threats to public safety and order” around the country in recent days, weeks and months. Again, I join with Mr. Doane in condemning such senseless, indeed unproductive behavior. But are all protests, as he would have us believe, unlawful assemblies? I was not in Minneapolis, or Portland, or Kenosha. I do not know who “threw the first punch” that precipitated violence. I doubt that Mr. Doane knows. But I have seen enough to question Mr. Doane’s view: a retired Navy officer and Naval Academy graduate pepper-sprayed and beaten with batons by federal officers simply because he stood in front of them and attempted to engage peacefully with them.
There is more. One must ask oneself whether police should be allowed to shoot an unarmed man seven times in the back because he failed to comply with their directives? Should a drunken man found asleep in his car at a fast-food store be shot and killed because he ran away? Should a black teenager high on drugs be shot while walking away from police?
In those cases, I blame the police. True enough, the victims were not saints. Indeed, they may well have broken the law. But that does not mean that police are justified in shooting them, much less that we should elect leaders who would condone such egregious misuse of police power.
We all know of the recent protest here in Nevada City. Was that protest peaceful, or was it yet another unlawful assembly that Mr. Doane condemns? A fair assessment of the facts on the ground discloses that the only immediate threat to public safety and good order came not from the protestors but from a small group of counter-protestors who took it upon themselves to use physical force and intimidation to confront and intimidate citizens who were simply exercising the right “peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Should the voters of Nevada City throw out their council members? Hardly. The solution is simpler yet far more demanding. Until America achieves some semblance of equality — when all Americans regardless of color, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other category have ready access to a meaningful share of the American dream — we will continue to see riots, disorder in the streets, and burning buildings. We can fix this mess. But not with simple solutions that will not work.
Dick Sciaroni lives in Grass Valley.
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