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What Does the 1st Amendment to Our US Constitution Say, Specifically?

Burdine & Brown June 9, 2020

What does the 1st Amendment to our US Constitution say, specifically? Here are the words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

For about two weeks now, folks in many cities across the USA have taken to the streets to peaceably protest the murder of George Floyd and other black folks at the hands of the police in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Right up front I will say that watching the video of George Floyd die needlessly by the action of the police breaks my heart. What troubles me equally is that there were 3 other police officers present who could have stopped this needless killing. Yet they did nothing. Now they will all be tried for murder.

But on the other hand when violent anarchists hijack a peaceful protest of honest, law abiding people exercising their 1st Amendment right to peaceably assemble, I draw the line. I want a police presence to arrest the thugs who don't care about George Floyd nor about innocent businesses whose owners' life savings are gone in a moment when bricks and crowbars are launched at the business for the sole purpose of vandalism, hatred and to stir others to violence.

There are changes to police methods and tactics that can and must be done today. For instance, police use choke holds to detain a wrongdoer. Too much force. Police should live in the neighborhood they police. This may be harder to do but would certainly help the police to know those on the streets. This fosters compassion and familiarization with the community they police.

Another change that can take place immediately is the fact that if you see it happen, you own it! Meaning you cannot sit on the sidelines and watch your fellow officer use excessive force without doing anything to stop it. You, too, will be severely punished for what you did not stop from taking place.

Police officers seem to have the mindset that it is an “us against them” on the streets of their beat. This attitude leads to a hair trigger response to any behavior or perceived behavior by a citizen on the street. Confrontation is the next step in the rapid escalation of events.

I suggest that the mindset of the “us against them” police attitude began with the drug wars of the 1980's. All levels of government encouraged the police to become more military-like in their weapons, tactics, and attitudes. This is scary stuff. The police academies continue to focus on a combat-style readiness for their ranks, weapon training and tactics. There is little training in the profession of being a police officer, how to relate to the public or in developing emotional-intelligence skills. Only the “hard-nosed” no nonsense image of a cop is what is taught. Does the police academy train the officers in de-escalation of situations? Very little training is given and that is a huge problem.

Re-training of the police to reduce, if not eliminate, this mindset must start immediately. Citizens on the street are not perpetrators (by and large).

I am concerned that the divide is huge when it comes to viewing young black men on the street. Police officers seem to instinctively suspect evil is about to happen. This is part of the reason for the protests on the street. Is this the racism the protesters speak about?

We are a people who have seen violence spill over into our streets-from the Union busters in the 1890's to the Watts riots of the 1960's to the protests against the war in Vietnam. Did the violence effect change? I say no. But the peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights colleagues got the ear of the people and then of the President of the United States of America, first John F. Kennedy, and the Lyndon Johnson, and legislative change began.

Americans will certainly respect others' right to peacefully assemble but an increasingly large majority of us will not tolerate the lawlessness, the looting, and the destruction of property and in some cases, the killing of innocent people, to assert a cause. We must find ways to change our system of policing, but we will not agree to dismantle the police altogether. If Minneapolis want to try this, I predict there will be a swift migration of the peaceful, law abiding citizens to places far away.

We will find a way to change. We are Americans. The world is watching us.