New Anti-Protest Laws Cast A Long Shadow On First Amendment Rights

Tiffany Crutcher was worried.

Oklahoma lawmakers had passed a new measure stiffening penalties for protesters who block roadways and granting immunity to drivers who unintentionally hit them. The state NAACP, saying the law was passed in response to racial justice demonstrations and could chill the exercising of First Amendment rights, filed a federal lawsuit challenging portions of it. But the new law was only weeks from taking effect.

Crutcher, an advocate for police reform and racial justice, was moderating a virtual town hall about it, featuring panelists who brought the lawsuit. At the end, she asked a question that went directly to the stakes.

Under the new law, “is it safe for the citizens of Oklahoma to go and do a protest?”

The three men on the panel were silent.

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Over 100 Anti-Protest Bills Have Been Introduced Since George Floyd Rebellion

This June, a dangerously low-flying helicopter operated by the Department of Homeland Security descended on the largest civil disobedience action yet against the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. In an attempt to disperse the crowd, hundreds of demonstrators were pummeled with debris — and misdemeanor trespassing charges. If Minnesota Republican House Members Shane Mekeland and Eric Lucero had their way, demonstrators and anyone involved in the organizing process would have been hit with serious felony charges, a $5,000 fine, and liability for any damages incurred by the multibillion-dollar company Enbridge.

Mekeland and Lucero, who introduced these measures in a bill in late February, aren’t alone in their repressive ambitions.

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Demands To Drop The Charges On The 646 Mass Arrested

Minneapolis, MN – Three months after six hundred forty-six people were mass arrested on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis, calls to drop the charges are continuing. A February 5 rally at the Hennepin County Government Center demanded specifically that a felony charge on college student Amina McCaskill be dropped, along with the charges and citations given to the other 645. Dozens braved single-digit temperatures for the Friday rally that featured Amina and numerous speakers that were also part of the 646. Unicorn Riot live streamed the rally and spoke with Amina afterwards. Civil rights lawyer, Nekima Levy Armstrong, expressed outrage that Amina is facing “worse charges than most of these cops out here in the street” that are doing harm to the community.

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People Are Losing Their Jobs Over The Assault On The Capitol

Seattle’s police department is investigating two of its officers after finding out they were in Washington, DC, as public and private employees face scrutiny for partaking in the pro-Trump rally-turned-riot at the US Capitol.

“The department fully supports all lawful expressions of First Amendment freedom of speech, but the violent mob and events that unfolded at the US Capitol were unlawful and resulted in the death of another police officer,”Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said on Friday night in astatement.

The two officers were placed on administrative leave during the investigation. Any officers who were “directly involved” in the “insurrection”at the Capitol will be fired right away, Diaz said.

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Feds Leverage Civil Disorder Charge Against George Floyd Protester

Saint Paul, MN – Charges against an Illinois man facing federal felonies from this summer’s uprising in Minneapolis showcase the tactics, techniques and procedures applied by the U.S. government against some of the more enthusiastic participants in the George Floyd rebellion.

Repressive responses by the federal government to anti-police protests illustrate the ease with which they can charge and indict people who document their own activities on social media. The case also shows how federal agencies are using their deep access to both physical and technical surveillance to nab targets associated with George Floyd protests.

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Denver: Anti-Racist Organizers Released After A Week In Jail

Three organizers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) – Lillian House, Eliza Lucero and Joel Northam – who were arrested on trumped up charges in connection with anti-racist protests in the US State of Colorado were released on Thursday, September 24. They were arrested last Thursday in Denver and spent a week in jail in unsafe and inhumane conditions and were denied their right to due process. One of their fellow organizers, Russel Ruch, was released earlier.

On Thursday, the judiciary in Colorado set the bonds of the three activists which once paid means that they can no longer be held in preventive detention.

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Expert Tells Court, Charges Against Assange Are Unconstitutional

It is immaterial whether one considers Julian Assange to be a reporter because he was engaged in “journalistic activity” when obtaining and publishing classified US documents, the director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation told the court on day three of the WikiLeaks publisher’s extradition hearing.

The US indictment against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange represents an “unconstitutional” threat to the First Amendment of the United States constitution and to press freedom more generally, Professor Trevor Timm told the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

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Over 100 Protesters, Legal Observers To Sue NYPD Over Violent Arrests

More than 100 protesters and legal observers trapped by police in the NYPD’s violent ambush of a peaceful march in the Bronx earlier this summer are now planning to sue the city, after Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to discipline any of the officers involved in the mass arrest.

At least 107 people have filed notices of claim with the city indicating their intent to sue over the police department’s actions in Mott Haven on June 4th, Gothamist has learned. The bulk of the notices were delivered this week, which marked 90 days since the night of the incident, the cutoff for initiating legal action.

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Teen Who Organized BLM Rally Billed $2500 For Police Overtime

A teen who organized a Black Lives Matter rally in her northern New Jersey town said she has been sent a $2500 bill from officials for police overtime.

NJ Advance Media reported Friday Emily Gil, 18, of Englewood Cliffs received a letter earlier this month from Mayor Mario M. Kranjac looking for payment of $2,499.26 “for the police overtime caused by your protest.”

A civil liberties advocate called the move “shocking.”

Gil, a recent high school graduate, had organized a protest on July 25 in the town, just across the river from the uppermost parts of Manhattan. She said she called for action like increasing affordable housing in the town, and chastised Engelwood Cliffs for not implementing it over the years.

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The Two Parties Have Failed Us, But The People Can Succeed

The Republican and Democratic Party conventions showed that both major parties are failing to control the pandemic and protect people, address the climate crisis and clean up the environment, support families and businesses during the economic collapse, prevent police violence or deal with any of the other major problems we face.

These were two substance-less conventions. The Democrats focused on criticizing Trump without putting forward an agenda while the Republicans claimed Biden was a front for socialism when he is a deeply embedded corporate Democrat.

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Calls To Drop ‘Absurd’ Charges Against Journalists Covering Protests

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called for authorities to drop charges against members of the news media who were arrested while covering Black Lives Matter protests across the United States. More than 600 attacks against the press during the protests, ongoing since the end of May, have been reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, and many detained journalists were released without charges, according to CPJ.

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Tennessee To Strip Right To Vote From Protesters

Tennessee protesters will face harsh penalties, including losing the right to vote, as punishment for participating in protests under a law enacted by the Tennessee  GOP-dominant General Assembly.  Right-wing Governor Bill Lee quietly signed off on the bill Thursday, AP reports.

Under the new law, demonstrators who camp on state property can now be charged with a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, rather than a misdemeanor it was previously.

Since George Floyd’s killing earlier this year, protesters have camped outside the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, demanding a meeting with the governor to discuss racial inequality and police brutality. The protesters set up camp in War Memorial Plaza near the Capitol, naming it the “People’s Plaza” and “Ida B. Wells Plaza,” after the civil rights leader. They stayed there 24 hours a day for more than two months.

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The Supreme Court Dropped The Ball On The Right To Protest

In recent months, US cities have seen widespread protests denouncing police brutality against unarmed Black people. Local and national law enforcement agencies, responding to crowds of unprecedented size and scale, relied on methods that were equally unprecedented. For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has failed to take up a freedom-of-assembly case. As a result, this fundamental constitutional right is in sore need of an update, such as a ruling that would protect protesters from the unduly harsh police response that has become all too common as a response to demonstrations in recent years.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly describes the right of the people to peaceably assemble. This right is recognized separately from the right to freedom of speech because the founders believed that the act of organizing a large crowd for a demonstration, parade or protest could be more powerful than individual speech, and was therefore even more susceptible to government encroachment. Like the right to religious expression, the founders gave the right to protest its own listing intending for the courts to give it special treatment and fashion unique legal standards that would ensure its protection.

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Portland Mayor Condemns Masked Federal Agents Abducting Protesters

Anonymous masked federal agents in military uniforms jump out of unmarked minivans, abducting seemingly random people on the street in Portland, frightening new viral videos show. Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC have been sent to the city to tamp down of 49 days of continuous demonstrations against racist police brutality. The move appears to be the Trump administration’s latest tactic to crush the nationwide protests that erupted in late May over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.

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We Reviewed Police Tactics Seen In Nearly 400 Protest Videos

As protests denouncing police brutality against unarmed Black people spread to thousands of cities, it was videos of police violence — this time, directed at protesters — that went viral. Clips showed officers launching tear gas canisters at protesters’ heads, shooting pepper spray from moving vehicles and firing foam bullets into crowds.

ProPublica looked at nearly 400 social media posts showing police responses to protesters and found troubling conduct by officers in at least 184 of them. In 59 videos, pepper spray and tear gas were used improperly; in a dozen others, officers used batons to strike noncombative demonstrators; and in 87 videos, officers punched, pushed and kicked retreating protesters, including a few instances in which they used an arm or knee to exert pressure on a protester’s neck.

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