Every now and then I like to read some or all of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Since the first time they were discussed during junior high history at Catholic school, and then in 9th Grade Civics class, I have been fascinated. I have read and re-read, and I have gone from thinking I knew what it said to wondering if I knew is said, to accepting that it needs little interpretation.
Since childhood I have heard the term "first amendment rights" bandied about for some of the most minuscule and some of the most important issues of the day.
The discussion has mostly centered on the "freedom of speech, or of the press" clause. And for good reason. We are the people who enjoy such freedoms laid out in black and white.
The clause about "establishment of religion" has been murkier, because religious zealots interpret this differently than intellectuals. Although a religious person myself, I fall on the side of the intellectual interpretations. it means keep your damned religion out of my government. Period.
The ending part of the First Amendment has been the least discussed: "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
It seems pretty clear to me. If a group of citizens are gathered, without weapons, without violence, to highlight grievances with government policy, then they have every right to do so.
That right is not abridged by any inconvenience to commerce, nor any notions of cleanliness or noise. It is the role of the local (municipal and state) law enforcement agencies to ensure that citizens are protected during this gathering and petition for redress.
Those rights and the protection afforded exercise of those rights do not expire after twenty-four hours, or five days, or a month.
And when local law enforcement agencies fail to provide that protection, or actually become a hindrance to the exercise of these rights, federal law enforcement authorities are expected to step in and provide the security.
That is what Constitutional rights require: the protection of the civil liberties of the citizens.
We protect the Westboro Baptist Church when it wants to protest at the funerals of soldiers, we protect gun-toting rednecks when they want to gather at a speech by the President, and we need to protect the disenfranchised when they are protesting the newfangled laws of finance that have been re-engineered against the average citizen for three decades.
This last group, however, has not been afforded protection. In fact, elected officials across the country have used their police forces like a domestic military force to disperse and silence that which they find inconvenient.
Policemen have dressed in military gear, taken high-powered weapons, and set upon American citizens because some don't like the topics at hand.
The Federal government's failure to protect these protesters, who have peaceably assembled to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, is a stain on the FBI, the Supreme Court, the legislative branch of government, and the President. it is a stain on our democracy, a stain on our Bill of Rights, a stain on our reputation as the leaders of the free world.
Lest there be any confusion about the text of the First Amendment, post it here:
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.
See, Bill of Rights
Irrespective of our opinions about the Occupy Wall Street movement, they are breaking no laws except some municipal ordinances that never trump the Constitution, They deserve to be protected and all government officials should come to their aid as they would a more privileged group of people.
There are some Americans who are members of the military and law enforcement agencies who have spoken-up. None more dramatically than Sgt. Shamar Thomas, a New York veteran of the Iraq War.
In this video taken in Times Square, he confronts New York police who are attempting to disperse a group of protesters. The presence of so many "white shirts" is proof that the police planned to use violence, until Sgt. Thomas intervened.
The only time the police become violent in NYC is when the "white shirts" are present. They are the harbingers of violence for the New York City police. The "white shirts" bring dishonor to all cops.
Kyle G. Brixton