Protests, Riots, and the 1st Amendment After George Floyd’s Death

Protests, Riots, and the 1st Amendment After George Floyd’s Death

Eight days ago, America watched in horror as George Floyd apparently died on camera as a Minneapolis Police Officer applied pressure to Mr. Floyd’s neck with his knee – all while Mr. Floyd can be heard stating, “I can’t breathe”.  In the days that followed, America has witnessed large scale pockets of lawlessness and anarchy.  Images of widespread vandalism, looting, arson, and attacks on police seem to be the only thing on prime-time television news.  The COVID-19 pandemic seems but a distant memory.

It is important to remember that when you set aside people committing violent acts, the majority who remain are engaging in peaceful civil disobedience in an attempt to address the systemic racism and injustice that George Floyd’s alleged murder represents.  Free speech and laws protecting the First Amendment are fundamental American bedrocks.  And exercising them is vital to the fabric of our country.  Indeed, public disagreement and discourse are linchpins in the “Marketplace of Ideas” – a concept that dates back to the writings of John Milton in the 1600s, and John Stuart Mill in the 1800s.  More recently, the United States Supreme Court regularly refers to the “Marketplace of Ideas” in written decisions.

As important as the First Amendment is in the United States, it is equally important to remember that the First Amendment, and the behavior it protects, is not unlimited.  Most certainly violence, arson, looting, and assault are not “protected speech”. Protesters and demonstrators should remember the distinction between lawful protest and unlawful violence and anarchy.  Protesters would be well served to avoid crossing the line between lawful protest and criminal activity.  Criminal activity may be a legitimate justification for an arrest and ultimately a jail or prison sentence.

In these challenging times, it is important to know there are experienced criminal defense attorneys ready to help if law enforcement takes action and charges someone with a crime, even if you were lawfully protesting.  At the Troy, MI Law Office of John Freeman, we stand ready to fight for your rights and freedom as you address the systemic racism and injustice that the alleged murder of George Floyd represents.

Stay safe!