Discourse / Editorials / October 19, 2011

Thoughts from the Embers: Protecting our right to protest

The current group of protests assembling under the banner of Occupy Wall Street has spread throughout the country and stretched abroad. While there are a wide variety of opinions about the protests, they have brought up an issue that spans political beliefs.

Many different protests have seen a destruction of the freedom of assembly over the past few weeks. From New York to Arizona—even in Galesburg—there have been many different moments over the past few weeks in which protestors have been arrested, disbursed and where the officers have clearly overstepped their bounds.

The most egregious moment likely came out of New York on Sept. 24. The now infamous pepper-spray incident, where peaceful protestors were maced by a police official, has given the protest a jolt of support. Whether or not you agree with the protestors, one can clearly see that the police officer was out of line during the incident.

Certainly the New York Police Department has done their job in other respects: maintaining the flow of traffic during the protests and insuring citizen safety, but the actions by one officer point to the necessity of rethinking where our freedom of assembly stands.

These recent actions as well as current laws of assembly across the country have become a sad realization that our freedoms have been eroding and that change is needed.

This week, members of the Galesburg Police Department dispersed the protestors in Galesburg after peacefully protesting in the Public Square on Monday. While the officers were not out of line at any point, the true issue in Galesburg comes down to the 30-day waiting period for a permit to protest.

While the city is trying to provide protection for the protestors as well as the members of the community, the 30-day waiting period is more of a hindrance to our right to assemble than a protection for the protestors. A month ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement was just in its infancy and who knows where it will stand in 30 days. This waiting period is bound to cause issues in the future as well.

In other communities where these protests have sparked, there are likely other laws that have prevented them from flourishing as they should.

Even though this problem arose in Galesburg and during Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests, it is equally valid for all protests.

It doesn’t matter what we believe is morally correct; it is about fundamental rights. The Westboro Baptist Church protests at soldiers’ funerals, and Neo-Nazi protests as well as Occupy Wall Street protests all have their valid rights to assemble and should not be infringed upon by the government.

While these laws do not hinder based on moral standards per se, they do cause a hindrance for quick movements and, as a result, favor movements of lasting duration. It is not the state’s choice to control moral standards.

To do away with the negative parts of the rights set forth in our Constitution would also do away with the positives.

Certainly there need to be some checks with this so that direct harm is not done to others. However, a 30-day waiting period is excessive and needs to be changed.

TKS Staff

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