So when does Peaceful Assembly become Unlawful Assembly?

Carlos Miller

So when does Peaceful Assembly become Unlawful Assembly?

As John McCain touted the virtues of freedom during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week, hundreds of citizens, including a significant number of journalists, were getting arrested for the crime of “unlawful assembly.”

They were rounded up like cattle by indistinguishable police officers clad in riot gear and gas masks. They were doused with pepper spray and suffocated with smoke bombs. And they were stripped of their rights and dignity and in many cases, their journalistic credentials and cameras.

By the time McCain had finished his speech, more than 300 people had been arrested. And so far, not a single account that any had been acting out in violence.

By the end of the week, more than 800 people had been arrested, including more than 40 journalists. Here is partial list of journalists that have been arrested so far.

Thomas Jefferson, the Father of Democracy, would have been disgusted, judging by his following comment.

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”

Jefferson would have been especially peeved at the arrests of the journalists.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Unlike the protests that took place earlier in the week which were marred with violence, Thursday’s demonstration was peaceful, which is why police resorted to charging them with “unlawful assembly” instead of “conspiracy to riot” (a shaky charge in itself considering almost half of those arrests were thrown out by the County Attorney’s Office the following day).

In other words, their only crime was continuing to protest after their permit had expired. Some protesters even claim that their permit was originally scheduled to expire at 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.

The fact that you even need a permit to protest in the first place is about as unconstitutional as getting arrested for photographing police in public. Even more so considering that the right to peacefully assemble is specifically stated in the First Amendment.

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

According to Lectric Law Library, unlawful assembly means the following:

UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY – A disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons who meet together with an intent mutually to assist each other in the execution of some unlawful enterprise of a private nature, with force and violence; if they move forward towards its execution, it is then a rout and if they actually execute their design, it amounts to a riot.

And the First Amendment Center describes peaceful assembly in the following:

According to the Supreme Court, it is imperative to protect the right to peaceful assembly, even for those with whose speech we disagree, “in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means.”

Last Thursday’s disregard for the Constitution shouldn’t be surprising considering that earlier in the week, Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama for wanting to give Guantanamo suspects basic Constitutional rights.

“Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights,” Palin said

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court does not agree with Palin because it ruled in June that Guantanamo inmates do have fundamental legal rights, including habeas corpus, which gives inmates the right to challenge their detention.

If they are, in fact, Al Qaida terrorists, then let it be proven in court, not in the Oval Office. And not by some governor of Alaska, which is as far as you can get from Guantanamo without leaving the continental United States

Because if they’re allowed to strip the Guantanamo inmates of their Constitutional rights, then what’s going to stop them from throwing away the key the next time they lock you up for unlawful assembly?


Citizen Journalism