“You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell
You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see
Takin’ it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets”
–Doobie Brothers Song
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd citizens have taken to the streets to demand justice. They are exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition the government to redress longstanding grievances. A few have taken this opportunity to loot and burn businesses. But the overwhelming majority of those in the streets are assembling peacefully and loudly expressing their grievances, particularly for black and brown people.
On Monday the president had troops clear a path for him to walk from the White House to hold up a bible before St. John’s church. Troops used tear gas and flash grenades, as well as a low flying helicopter to clear the peacefully assembled crowd. All so he could hold up a bible for a photo op. I wish he had held up the Constitution and read the First Amendment instead. I’m not sure it would do any good. He seems to think he is King and can do whatever he wants.
Former military leaders, including General Mattis, have decried the president’s actions, and have warned that using the US military on civilians is unconstitutional, except under extreme circumstances. Defense Secretary Esper stated that we have not met that criteria, and apparently later walked it back. What I know is that Trump thinks he can command the military to do his bidding to suppress legitimate protests and get away with it.
What separates us from the autocracies throughout the world? The dictators who have turned the military against their people, like what happened not long ago in Tiananmen Square in China? It is the increasingly fragile thread of democracy by and for the people versus government by and for the powerful. The tread is breaking.
My biggest concern is not that Trump wants to be an autocrat. It is that so many want an autocratic leader, one who wants to “dominate” the streets under the guise of law and order. It is to those who don’t appreciate that what makes America great is our Constitution and rule of law, and who were apparently asleep during Civics class when the Constitution was taught. It is to those who think dissent is insurrection. I am encouraged that apparently those who hold those opinions are in the minority—at least for now. As Trump is fond of saying, come November, we’ll see what happens.