The law must remain neutral to every individual’s opinion or ideology
Editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life
No doubt the year 2020 will be remembered as one of tremendous political and social seismic events. Triggered by the murder of George Floyd, protests have taken place across the country against systemic racism and police brutality against Black people. The Black Lives Matter movement brings together people of all heritages to stand up against injustice and stand for achieving a society where everyone is treated equally as fellow human beings.
In recent months in the South Valley, we have seen a number of organized protests and marches in the downtowns of Gilroy and Morgan Hill. The men and women in the police departments in both communities have done an excellent job in making sure these events are safe for all while respecting all participants’ First Amendment rights of expression. These nonviolent protests have sought to draw attention to causes including ending racial injustice, a promotion of American patriotism, an appeal to end human trafficking, and limiting the operations of the government agency ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). There have also been peaceful protests throughout the South Valley by demonstrators upset by the county and state’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, which some believed resulted in the loss of their liberties and the damaging of the economy.
Overall, local demonstrations have been peaceful. We witnessed small flare-ups of heated verbal arguments (but not physical confrontation) between those marching on the streets and sidewalks and those standing on the sidelines. Despite the strong emotions generated during the turbulence of our times, the vast majority of those participating in the protests showed civil behavior.
The framers of the Constitution understood the need for the people of America to gather to put a spotlight on any injustices they fear their government officials might impose on them. Among the five freedoms in the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment are the freedoms to express our thoughts through the process of speaking, assembling and the petitioning of our grievances. These rights are given to all citizens regardless of their opinion. Those who marched in Charlottesville with tiki-torches chanting messages of hate and bigotry in 2017 hold the same constitutional right to nonviolently demonstrate as those activists of the civil rights era marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The law must remain neutral to every individual’s opinion or ideology. The freedoms of expression do not mandate any specific viewpoint be held. It does, however, require a responsibility to not harm other persons or damage property during a demonstration.
We have seen with the Black Lives Matter protests certain cities where violence, destruction of property, and even deaths have resulted. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a 17-year-old teenager armed with an assault rifle fired at protesters and killed two people and left one person severely injured. He faces multiple homicide charges.
The sensational incidents during demonstrations receive ample media attention through video coverage. But the stream of news on our screens of the businesses on fire and the agitation between protesters and counter-protesters also presents a misleading portrait of the protests. According to a report released Sept. 3 from the U.S. Crisis Project, which collects and analyzes data about demonstrations and political violence in American society, 93 percent of the demonstrations following the death of Floyd have been peaceful and nondestructive.
Despite the nonviolent nature of a majority of the Black Lives Matter protests, the report found authorities intervened in 9 percent of them — nearly one in 10. In comparison, only 3 percent of all other demonstrations were met with government intervention. According to the report, more than 5 percent of protests connected to the Black Lives Matter movement were met with force by authorities, compared to 1 percent of other demonstrations (which include protests over shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic). This use of force included tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray. In some instances, the use of force from federal agents escalated tensions and increased the potential of violence during the protests, such as what has occurred in Portland.
Non-government actors engaged in more than 100 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, resulting in an increase of tensions and risk of violence, the report states. These included militant opposition from the political left-wing, such as Antifa, as well as the political far right, such as the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois.
Our nation faces a crisis of a severely polarized population. Increasing our feuding will only fuel more the potential for violence in many American cities in the days leading to the Nov. 3 election. Here in South Valley, as our residents practice their rights under the First Amendment when they gather to protest, whether you share their opinion or not, let us respect our fellow Americans’ freedom to express their opinions in a civil style.
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