facts

On July 4th a group calling itself Alternative Solutions and Possibilities met in Riverfront Park to protest against police brutality. As reported in the Spokesman-Review, a contingent of the group sat down on an American flag to have a picnic while others distributed literature around the site. Police surrounded the group and began circling the protesters while taking their pictures, sometimes as close as a few inches away.

A scuffle broke out, and one protester was arrested. Police allege that he assaulted an officer, while the group alleges that he was completely innocent. After that, more police began to arrive and an officer read aloud an order to disperse. Moments later (this is directly from the article) “police charged the group, ripping down their sign and pushing protesters to the ground.”

As you might assume, this has stirred up a bit of controversy. Now I understand that there’s going to be contention in regards to the first guy that was arrested. The police obviously are going to say that he started it and the protesters will swear on their lives that he was helping an old woman get a cat out of a tree. The problem that I have in this scenario crops up when the police ordered an otherwise peaceful protest to disperse and then physically charged the group.

The First Amendment states that the government shall not restrict the rights of the people peaceably to assemble. That’s a fairly unambiguous statement. Say what you will about the first kid (again, his is a separate issue), but the rest of the group had done nothing wrong.The protesters who were arrested were released after being charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly.

Which law is that again? The ones that the government shall not make to restrict a peaceful assembly? Assistant Police Chief Jim Nicks said that it wasn’t solely a First Amendment issue, but rather “a matter of balancing the rights of all individuals, including the rights of the thousands of people enjoying the events that were occurring at Riverfront Park,” Nicks said. “Spokane Police must preserve the rights of all the individuals that were attending the festivities at Riverfront Park.”

I’d be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention all those poor people who had to be in the same area where there was a protest going on. I mean, how can you possibly enjoy your civil right to watch fireworks while there’s a picnic going on with people passing around literature? Clearly, something had to be done.

People in Spokane are predictably outraged at what occurred. Why, just the other day there was a letter to the Editor in the S-R where one woman expressed complete shock and incredulity that people would sit on an American flag.

Huh? This is what we’re making a stink about?

She calls upon parents to teach their children to honor and respect the flag, because symbols are ever so much more important than that which they represent. After all, you don’t know all the facts because you weren’t there, so how can you pass judgment one way or another? She recalls the words of Sgt. Friday from Dragnet, stressing “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

Here’s what I know: a group was protesting police brutality and one protester was alleged to have hit a police officer. A group that, according to Liberty Lake City Councilman (who was present at this event) looked “entirely peaceful.” Based upon these egregious offenses, Spokane police ordered the group to disperse and “moments later” rushed them and forcibly denied their right to protest.

Those are just the facts, ma’am. You’ll have to forgive me if I place the value of civil rights over that of a symbol of said rights.