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The First Amendment in Action

I think our Founding Fathers would be thrilled to see tens of thousands of Americans (remember they were the first to call themselves “Americans” as British Colonists) protesting with protection. The last I counted there were some 196 occupy movements going on throughout the nation covering East to West Coast and in our nations Heartland. I’m sure the self identified “99%’ers” would argue with me saying they were unjustly beaten by the police, hit with tear gas and falsely arrested so how is that protection? My response would be; they are alive to tell about their experiences, either in minutes or the next day after bonding out of jail. They have not been thrown in prison without Due Process and hanged as being a traitor, which is what our U.S. Constitutional Framers would have experienced. The cost of demonstrating then is completely different now thanks to the bravery and efforts of men like John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, et al.

Violence Looks Bad

Watching the media capture cops swinging their batons, pushing protestors back, and seeing five or six cops on top of a college student looks bad, even if those using force are allowed to use force. We live in the U.S. and are spoiled. Mouth off to a cop in Egypt, Russia, Germany, and a host of other places around the world and see what happens. It won’t take a full blown civil demonstration to see your blood all over the ground, just a few disrespectful words. Americans have grown up in this protective bubble (laws, policies, and regulations) that prevent the police from responding just as one of their foreign counter-parts would. U.S. police are very restrained, comparatively speaking, but still violence looks bad.

MESSAGE TO THE DEMONSTRATORS:

You have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech…peacefully assemble, etc. However, there are rules to this game. There has to be. How would you like 5,000 campers in your front yard for the last month with no hint of leaving? I have split emotions on this “movement” overall. I believe our elected officials have long failed us, sold us out for their personal gain and “Yes”, the rich get filthy rich while the masses continue to downgrade at historical speed. Big money from the financial industry owns Capitol Hill and every other federal location within the D.C. Beltway. As the late-Ray Lavery, my father, said just last week; the “99%’ers are in the wrong place spread out all over. They need to organize and park in front of Congress and scare the hell out of them.”

As a policeman, having participated in large demonstrations such as what made national headlines at UC Davis when a California State University Police Officer Pepper Sprayed a line of protestors I understand the police perspective too. From personal experience I can tell you that it probably wasn’t a UC Davis Officer just acting on his own. He was following orders and the law will protect him too. My point is that a seemingly simply worded statement in the First Amendment has evolved in the legal arena through out our court system to be interpreted many different ways, which either does or does not give a protestor the right to demonstrate. Is a shopping mall the same as a college campus? Does is make a difference if the college campus is public or private? Are the protestors interfering with rights and liberties of others who just want to go to work or drive down the street? The courts have ruled on all these different questions, and more, but before you occupy someone else’s turf you better know what you can or cannot do.

MESSAGE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT:

Act proactively for once will ya? I’m not taking about cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or the other top 100 agencies across the nation which are typically prepared with policies, procedures, equipment and training, but rather the average police department comprising the other 15,000+ agencies spanning our country. This movement is growing and its grassroots support network (which nobody knows how many are involved there) is too. Don’t wait for a group of protestors to arrive in a high school parking lot and then send two cruisers over and try to remove them. The executive leadership in your agency needs to be speaking with your law director to see what is legal for your locality and what is not in terms of demonstrations and how you handle them. Those protesting seem to like using technology to communicate. You should too. It’s their generation, learn to speak to them their way. Set up Facebook, Twitter, whatever you use, that in the event intelligence suggests a protest is headed your way you can script out legally defensible directives to provide guidance, not orders. Identify areas of protest ahead of time, counter protest areas, etc. Finally, and most importantly, recognize that this isn’t some foreign country and that the protestors are not your enemy. If you weren’t a cop you just might find yourself on the other side of the skirmish line. These people could be neighbors you never met, or friends of friends of yours, but at a minimum they are Americans.

Oh, one other thing. Are these “kids” doing the protesting really just lazy, don’t want to work and seek to have someone else pay off their student loans so they don’t have to? Before you answer that question watch the 60 minutes segment below and understand that the person standing before you is mad as hell that he or she has lost a lot due to our failed government with it’s marriage to big business corrupt influence. As a cop do you remember when your pension took a dive, and now you have to work 5-10 years longer on the street with a loss in medical insurance for you and your family when you finally do retire? Before you take a swing at that kid with your nightstick just give thought that you may have more in common with that person than you think.

 

In loving memory of Raymond John Lavery (1932-2011)

 

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About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.

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