Local and state police are quick to suit up in military combat wear and deploy military tanks and tactics (See: Ferguson; Baton Rouge) when civilians protest in the name of social justice for the rights and lives of Black people. There are no shortage of images of police armed with high powered firearms and combat tanks during such protests.
Police often enact antagonistic tactics against protestors during social injustice demonstrations (See: Pipeline Protestors). From tear gas to shooting rubber bullets into large crowds, police have often provoked violence during such demonstrations, and at the very least employ fear tactics against demonstrators. This is in stark contrast to the police response in Charlottesville, VA.
When looking at images of the rally in Charlottesville, VA, at first glance, it appears that the white supremacists are adventurous militaristic police officers. They are fully cloaked in camouflage attire and openly carrying semi-automatic weapons. The resemblance to militaristic law enforcers is striking.
The troubling and disturbing political statement of the atrocities in Charlottesville, VA is the use of the Constitution to protect the needs and desires of white racists in spite of the public safety of Americas “other” citizens. Constitutional rights should be abridged by the need for public safety. It is the persistent historical acceptance of white racist ideology intersecting with the founding documents of this country that perpetuate and reproduce the terror and fear of being Black, Jewish, Mexican, and “other” in America.
This show of terrorism in Charlottesville should be a reminder that America has never cut racism off at its ugly head. We can expect to see more of these types of violent, bigoted displays of terror going forward unless we suffocate racism until it can no longer breathe. It is scary to acknowledge and concede that more people will die at the hands of white rage, but it is further disturbing to witness the ways in which the founding documents of this country are used to enable and encourage what happened in Charlottesville, VA. We tell ourselves otherwise because, Black or white, we all want to sleep at night and put our children’s minds at ease, even though the lies we tell ourselves have gotten us nowhere ― it has gotten us here. America refuses to deal with its bigoted past and present in any real way, with any real consequence. Take the sequence of events that led to the violent show of neo-Nazi domestic terrorism in Charlottesville.
When U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad rejected Charlottesville, Virginia’s attempt to relocate Saturday’s white nationalist rally, he wrote that “merely moving [the] demonstration to another park will not avoid a clash of ideologies” between demonstrators and counter-protesters. He also acknowledged that “a change in the location of the demonstration would not eliminate the need for members of the City’s law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services personnel to appear at Emancipation Park.
Instead, it would necessitate having personnel present at two locations in the City.” First Amendment rights are in line with what Judge Conrad ordered. Charlottesville could not, he ruled, relocate the neo-Nazi demonstrators “based on the content of [their] speech.” Yet, based on America’s historical precedent for violence, racist domestic terrorism and the promise that these demonstrators would be armed, I have questions. Why does the law allow the intimidation of weapons to infringe on ones public safety? Why does the law allow for the silencing of free speech due to the fear of being gunned down by demonstrators? Why didn’t law enforcement allow for the protection of counter protestors? Why aren’t Black and Brown protestors ever afforded these same freedoms?
It is “radical” to suggest that these demonstrators should not have been granted the right to rally in the first place. This is “un-American.” But to truly change the racist fabric of American culture and move the needle towards racial reconciliation and a safe place to live for all Americans, our country needs to truly dismantle the racist employment of the law and enforce legislation that changes our racist culture. This means, white neo-Nazi’s are not granted the right to assemble.
This means Confederate flags are not allowed on State grounds, this means public displays of specifically, racism against Blacks and racist symbolism against Blacks is rendered unlawful.
Why? Because that is how a country begins to move past the problem of race. White supremacy is not a call for social justice, it is a call for social extinction of “others”. That is, the extinction of those who fall outside of the “pure-blood” that white supremacists claim they are here to preserve. Don’t take my word for it, the demonstrators chanted this themselves (See: “Blood and Soil” chant of demonstrators). At the very least, rallies with the expressed intent of terrorizing American citizens based on racial categories where demonstrators will be locked and loaded, should not be protected by the First, or Second Amendment.
If protestors demonstrate in response to social injustice against Black lives but are threatened and intimidated by militaristic law enforcement and the threat of being shot by police officers with semi-automatic weapons, then who is the First and Second Amendment really there to protect?
In stark contrast, armed white demonstrators rally in the name of white supremacy and the police stand by idly as they chant “Blood and Soil,” brutally beat down Black and brown people and intimidate other civilians under the guise of First and Second amendment rights.
It is all too evident who and what ideologies the laws of the land protect. The laws were created to protect white nationalism and the system continues to work exactly how it was designed to work – as a racist system. If you are not convinced, consider that the system has worked so well that the candidate who won the popular vote in the last election, still lost to a candidate who ran on an outright racist platform.
The Electoral College is an institution with a racially-stained history. These uncomfortable truths continue to rear their ugly heads, because these tools continue to work as they should – vehicles for the continuity and extension of racist oppression.
There are limits to Constitutional rights. Inciting violence should place a limit on one’s free speech. Showing up to a rally armed, demonstrates a willingness to provoke a confrontation and should limit ones right to assemble and open carry. Yet, these rights are entrenched in the pervasiveness and persistence of race, resulting in a perpetuation of white national terrorism.
Our laws are inextricably linked to racism and this fact continues to cost people their lives. Bullets accompanying the free exchange of ideas should alter the protection the law provides. New measures are being presented to create and aid the continuation of domestic terroristic actions and threats. These include, for example, North Carolinas vote to protect drivers who hit protestors. North Carolina is not the only state to introduce such measures. Numerous states across the nation are considering such anti-protest bills. This is in the wake of international incidents where terrorists have used vehicles to run people over.
As long as America refuses to learn from its past and then do so in practice, we will continue to see racism intersect with the law in deadly ways.