Freedom Of Speech Rights Tested By Anti-Police Protests And Threats

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C, – United States of America – In the wake of racially charged protests, instances of violence have erupted and police tactics in dealing with such protests have been scrutinized. The protests have reignited a longstanding debate about how police forces treat non-white citizens. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked protestors to suspend demonstrations after two New York City police officers were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn last week.


Protestors at 116th St. in New York (Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post)

However, some organizers of the protests, including Answer Coalition, the organization which led the march on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, stated that they would continue with their protests despite the mayor’s plea for a quell in demonstrations. The organization released a statement, which said, “[t]he mayor’s call for a suspension of democracy and the exercise of free speech rights in the face of ongoing injustice is outrageous.”

Marvin Knight, a 71-year-old African American from Brooklyn, expressed his disapproval of the Mayor’s request to suppress protests, stating, “[t]his is America,” “[w]hy should we stop doing what we know is right?” Knight argued that the call for a halt to demonstrations infringed on the protestor’s first amendment rights.

Compared with other countries the United States has a strong guarantee of speech rights, even if that speech displays racism or hatred. However, state laws make it a crime to communicate specific threats. Generally, a threat must have some degree of specificity regarding who or what is going to be attacked, or some other details of the threat. Context is important in threat cases, so much so that in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the burning of a cross was protected speech so long as it was done in an open field and not intended to intimidate a specific individual. The USSC on December 1, 2014 has decided to revisit the law of threats. The court intends to address the question of whether prosecutors must show that a person intended to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that a reasonable person would have felt threatened.


For more information, please see the following:

FOX NEWS – ‘To Protest is a First Amendment Right’: New Yorkers Defy Mayor’s Request to Pause Demonstrations– 23 Dec. 2014.

HUFFINGTON POST – Protestors Flood New York City Streets Despite Mayor’s Call For Moratorium – 24 Dec. 2014

REUTERS – NY Protesters Reject Plea For Hiatus Despite Police Slayings – 23 Dec. 2014.

REUTERS – Talk of ‘Wings on Pigs’ Threats on Police Tests U.S. Speech Rights – 23 Dec. 2014.

Author: Lyndsey Kelly

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