Police Violations of the Right to Assembly
It’s time for another editorial. I should be working on my current story, but I am becoming increasingly incensed at the police response to the Occupy movement in many US cities. This has involved using an amount of force and crowd control methods which are in direct violation of department policy (in some cases), as well as clear violations of protestors’ constitutional rights.
Now, before you right me off as just another dirty hippy trying to stick it to the man, take a moment to hear where I’m coming from. Certainly, I wouldn’t classify myself as any form of hippy. I am a 9-year veteran of the US Army, with 4 years of active duty service and 5 years of reserve service. I was a non-commissioned officer who worked in Military Intelligence. In my reserve unit, I trained counter-intelligence soldiers in basic combat tactics, the majority of whom were police officers in their civilian jobs. So I’ve worked with the police, and fully understand their side of things, and the fact that many are just people like you and me trying to do their job.
That said, it seems many police officers have lost sight of what exactly their job is. The motto of many a police department in the United States it “To Serve and Protect.” Now, while this might be a good start for examining exactly what the duty of a police officer is, the oath is somewhat vague, as it does not state exactly who or what is to be served and/or protected. So, let’s try to look at something a bit more specific. How about the Oath of Enlistment?
The Oath of Enlistment’s wording does vary somewhat from organization to organization within the State and Federal governments, but they all have a commonality and similar wording. This wording, in all of them, is quite similar to that of the U.S. Uniformed Services Oath of Enlistment or the U.S. Uniformed Services Oath of Office, with a provision added for State organizations referencing their respective State Constitutions:
“I, , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
In this oath, it is quite clear that the duties, first and foremost, of the oath taker, is to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. This means to protect EVERY article, statement, and amendment within the Constitution. And *that* means to not only enforce the law as set forth by their respective State and Federal governments, but to actively disobey any laws which are unconstitutional. For, if you have taken this oath, and you enforce a law which is itself unconstitutional, you are in direct violation of the oath.
This is where the police of many cities have taken the first steps away from fulfilling their duties as set upon them by the people they are sworn to protect.
How, you might ask? Why, the very act of dispersing a peaceful protest, one wherein the participants have committed no crime, is itself an unconstitutional act on the part of any law enforcement organization. While a police chief or mayor, or other authority figure, for that matter, may have taken it upon themselves to believe they have the authority to deem an assembly unlawful, this is simply not possible within the United States of America.
There is no such thing as an unlawful assembly in the United States. One cannot be guilty of the “crime” of unlawful assembly, for it is not, and cannot be, a crime, to assemble within our nation. This is set forth in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
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.
The key wording here (emphasis mine) is: “Congress shall make no law respecting… the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This means, quite clearly, that no law can deem any peaceful assembly unlawful. So long as those gathered do not violate any other law – so long as they cause no violence and do not destroy property, they can gather anywhere and anywhen they so choose. This means that if protestors wish to camp out in a public park overnight, their right to do so is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Some may argue that the laws violated are curfew or trespassing laws. Let me be clear. It is a public place. Trespassing is impossible, as public land is owned BY THE PEOPLE, and since, as a citizen of the U.S. the protestor is one of the people, they are part owner of that land, and therefore cannot be found to be trespassing. Additionally, curfew laws are clearly established to prevent assembly, and are therefore unconstitutional.
This fact, combined with the Oath of Office, means that a police officer participating in an action to disperse a peaceful assembly, or to arrest the participants thereof, is not only in violation of the U.S. Constitution, but of his sworn duties. He has, in effect, become a liar and an oathbreaker. To properly fulfill the oath he or she took upon become an Officer of the Peace, they must not only disobey any order to disperse said crowd, they must actively ensure that same order is not carried out – they must step across the barrier and protect the assembly.
This very fact is why so part of why so many veterans are flocking to the Occupy protests – we have all sworn that oath to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, which is so clearly being trod upon by authorities attempting to quell peaceful assemblies.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
The First Amendment is the First for a reason.