Last week, my husband was driving home from work. As he was driving through downtown New Albany, on one side of him was a police officer. On the other side was a car with “Black Lives Matter” written on the rear window. As they all moved along Spring Street, the cop crossed to the rear of my husband to come up behind the Black Lives Matter car. No moving violations seem to have been committed; my husband saw nothing unusual. The cop turned on his lights and pulled over the BLM car. My husband wanted to stay and observe, to look out for the kid driving, but came home instead and told me the story.
Without being a direct observer, I can’t make claims about why the cop pulled over the young man. I trust my husband’s judgment and know that his powers of observation are nearly as keen as my own. He felt this officer stopped the young person not as an act of protecting and serving, but as an act of intimidation, because this young man had made his political viewpoint known. I am left to wonder whether the silent protest of a sticker, or window marker, led this officer to misuse his badge as a means to infringe upon the constitutional right of this citizen to protest the very behavior that he exhibited. New Albany is a low-crime town. Maybe the cop had some time and just wanted to shoot the breeze with the young man. Doubtful.
The First Amendment says, “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.”
This means we might be confronted with differing opinions, but it should guarantee us the right to protest in the ways that work for us, without harassment from state officials.
As San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick exercises his right to sit or kneel, instead of standing, during the national anthem at football games, the swell of both support and naysayers continues to grow. Personally, I am not angered by those who use their First Amendment rights to push back against others, including Kaepernick, but when one suggests that Kaepernick is somehow less American, or not really black, I have to draw my line in the sand of fallacious argument.
The fact is, we have a right to protest in the ways that we find comfortable to us and is peaceable toward others and their properties. We have the right to be angry at the treatment of citizens within our borders and around the world. The fact that our military men and women fought and died for these rights should result in our defense of them, whether or not we agree.
The problem is, too often, that when we disagree, we want the capacity of the persons with whom we are disagreeing to be limited. We want their protests squashed. We are too often turning our backs on the very protection the first amendment provides because — very simply — it makes us uncomfortable.
My guess is this — in this day and age, we can’t avoid looking at the things that make us uncomfortable. We can’t turn off the television and not be confronted by protests on the internet, the radio or in the newspapers, etc. Protest happens not only in big cities around the world. It happens in our own backyard. It happens wherever injustice occurs, and we can share it with the world in seconds.
We live in a time where there is much to protest and much to be concerned or angry about, so it is likely in our best interest to find some middle ground and make peace with the rights of those around us to exercise their First Amendment rights as they see fit.
Kaepernick is correct to sit or kneel, and I support his right to protest. The growing First Nations protest at Standing Rock is right. I support their rights to clean water on their own sacred land. I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the right of every American to have a voice about the treatment of our citizens and the behavior of our government, even if I don’t agree with every protest. •