Horribly wrong, for sure. Racist and bigoted, absolutely. Contemptible in every way, almost all Americans would agree across the political spectrum.
An “unlawful assembly”? Especially when they’d been previously granted a permit? We do have this little thing called the First Amendment that would seem to suggest otherwise, but the Charlottesville City Council has decided it can’t be bothered with such niceties:
City officials declared a “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville an “unlawful assembly” Saturday and the governor declared a state of emergency as clashes erupted among thousands of alt-right demonstrators, counter-protesters, white nationalists and supporters of Black Lives Matter.
“ALERT: Unlawful assembly declared for rally at Emancipation Park,” The Charlottesville City tweeted short before the noon demonstration was scheduled to begin.
The governor’s state of emergency gives officials more authority to bring in additional resources to quell the disturbance.
The city’s declaration of the rally as an “unlawful assembly” opened the way for police to clear Emancipation Park where 2,000 to 6,000 were gathering for the rally of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, alt-right activists and pro-Confederacy groups.
The declaration effectively reversed a federal court injunction Friday night that rejected the city’s earlier attempt to ban the rally at Emancipation Park and require protesters to move to another park. The rally had been called to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, but also served as a rallying cry for the far right.
There’s not point even discussing what these dirtbags believe. It’s awful. That is not in dispute here.
But the city had already been told by a federal court that it didn’t have the authority to prohibit the rally precisely because the group’s First Amendment rights took precedence over what the rest of us think about the group’s views.
Now, when counterprotesters started showing up and things got violent, that clearly became a matter for the police. But the action required in response to the violence is for the police to restore order and arrest violent perpetrators. It is not for the city to retroactively declare that the assembly was unlawful in the first place. The white supremacists did not break the law by assembling and speaking, however horrible the content of their speech may have been.
You don’t suppose, do you, that the counterprotesters had an agenda of making sure the assembly turned violent? That would have given the city a further pretext for trying to retroactively ban the rally, even though they’d already been told by the courts that they weren’t supposed to do that.
This is a very troubling precedent. If public officials can declare an assembly unlawful because they think other parties will show up and spur violence, then all you have to do to prevent the other side from assembling is make it clear that their words will be met with a violent resistance. Pretty soon, legitimate conservatives (as opposed to these clods who are merely labeled that by the liberal media) are not allowed to assemble either on the grounds that it will be “provocative” or whatever. In truth, their opinions don’t cause any violence. The determination of rival groups to show up and cause trouble is the reason for the violence.
If you can’t stand someone else’s opinion and you have to start a riot over it, you’re the problem.
But the city of Charlottesville is clearly testing whether situations like this can legally be used as a pretext to prohibit free speech they don’t like. This needs to be smacked down as quickly and decisively as possible.
Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by HermanCain.com, which can be found at HermanCain.com
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