Published: Thursday, 20 July 2017 07:00
So I get into a "discussion" on Facebook the other day about peaceful protests, because the United Nations, that bulwark of integrity, is warning the GOP about infringing on the right to peaceably assemble. Republicans are criminalising peaceful protests across America, UN experts warn. Tennessee is one of the states called out in the last paragraph of that article.
I will say up front that my understandings of Tennessee SB0944 and HB668 were incorrect. I found them (the links should be proof of that) and I have read them. I will cover them in the appropriate part later on.
Let's set this table. This is going to be one of my "converging" articles, where I start with several different concepts and tie them all together.
1) Always remember, the First Amendment restricts the federal government and them alone from placing limitations on what you say and how you say it. Your employer can freely set restrictions on what and how you express yourself publicly or attach consequences after-the-fact. An organization you belong to can make your continued membership conditional on your public thoughts as well. If you don't like those restrictions, you are free to leave that employment/organization.
1a) If you do speak your mind publicly, no one has to listen to what you have to say. Nor can you compel them to listen. You might compel their presence (job/membership requirement) but they don't have to listen.
2) There is no right any person has that allows them to interfere with or abridge the rights of another.
3) In any protest/demonstration, be it peaceful or violent, there are three basic groups. The protesters, the protested and everyone else (which I will refer to as "the third group" for lack of a better and less awkward term). The objectives of a protest should be to a) generate support from the third group to b) cause a desired change in the actions of the protested. The larger the protest (because you have generated lots of supporters), the more political power the protesters have and the more pressure the protesters can bring to bear on the protested.
Any group of protesters that disrupts/angers the third group by their own actions will ultimately fail in their objective because they will not generate the positive public opinion for them and against the protested. Instead, the protesters will harden the hearts of the third group against themselves and destroy any chance for them to affect the change they want. Now, if the protesters do things that angers the protested who then does things to the third group to stop the protesters and their protesting, that's another matter.
The one universal rule to building support for a successful protest/coalition is to invoke the self-interest of the third group. Showing them how their lives are negatively affected now/in the future by the protested, versus how their lives would be positively affected if the protesters win, that's how you build support (and membership).
A great example of an effective non-violent protest is the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which the seminal event happened in March 1955 with the arrest of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old Black teenager, not Rosa Parks in December of 1955. Claudette's arrest and conviction led to the SCOTUS case Browder v. Gayle (1956) where the SCOTUS decided that segregation of public transportation is unconstitutional. Rosa Parks is associated with the boycott because she was arrested December 1st and the boycott started December 4th. Claudette was the foundation and Rosa was the last straw. That time between Claudette's and Rosa's arrests was spent building the concept, planning and execution of the boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days and hurt the bus authority, because at the time 75% of the riders were Black.
The important part about this is that no buses were burned, no property was destroyed or defaced. No one stopped the buses from their schedules. I commend these people because many were beaten and/or arrested as the Blacks of Montgomery attempted to get where they needed to go without the bus system. Violence was visited upon them and they did not respond in kind.
The people with whom I was discussing this subject were disgusted and appalled at my views. I was called violent and a sociopath for "wanting to run people down." They never read what I said, didn't hear my qualifiers. They had it firmly stuck in their heads that I would barrel through the protesters at full speed. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
They also held the erroneous belief that intentionally blocking a road is "a peaceful protest." "Peaceful" and "force" are two mutually exclusive things. Because force means violence. Violence does not have to include physical damage to anybody or anything. If one person prevents another person form carrying out an action, force must be applied to cause that. The force can be mental/emotional ("I'll hurt myself if you do that!"), social/economic ("You're fired/expelled if you do that!") or physical (blocking access or physically holding onto the other person).
T.C.A., § 39-13-303 is titled "False imprisonment" and Section (a) reads:
"A person commits the offense of false imprisonment who knowingly removes or confines another unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with the other's liberty."
Section (b) classifies this as a Class A Misdemeanor.
Think about this for a moment. The protesters could step into the road, yet yield to vehicles who wish to pass. I would consider that peaceful. The second option for the protesters is to refuse anyone to pass, at which time they would all be guilty of T.C.A., § 39-13-303 because they are interfering substantially with my liberty, which in this case entails me traveling down the road they are blocking.
Just to make it clear to my Liberal friends and readers, if a group blocks a roadway with the intent of disrupting the lives of those trying to move down that road, you are angering the third group. Your problem is, you're angering them against you, not the protested. You might want to re-read my universal rule above. Sure, the 1% of those "feel good first" people might join with you, but the other 99% would probably knock over that a bucket of water next to them if you were on fire.
Before I get into my "violent and sociopathic" response to having my path blocked, let's go over SB0944/HB0668:
Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 29, Chapter 34, Part 2, is amended by adding the following as a new section:
(a) A person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way is immune from civil liability for such injury.
(b) A person shall not be immune from civil liability if the actions leading to the injury were willful or wanton. [links to definitions are mine]
So, this law does not absolve the driver from any criminal liability. It protects the driver solely from being sued for damages from those who won't get out of the way. I think my prospective actions detailed below would fall within the standards as set forth in the above legalese.
I drive an 8 foot tall panel work truck, so the "law of gross tonnage" is in my favor. The right of the protesters to protest stops before they interfere with my right of free passage on public right-of-ways.
This only entails a small group of protesters who have the intent to impede others. If there are hundreds/thousands of protesters, I will not try to push through them, because the "law of gross tonnage" is not in my favor. If they are using the road to move a mass of people, such as across a bridge, I will wait because they have the right to travel that road as well, just not block it.
1) If a group of protestors do not block traffic, I have no problem with that. They could be the Hillsboro Baptist Church and I would not jump the curb for them or anybody else. The protesters (not the HBC) might even get a "support honk" from me.
2) If I know that a group is blocking a given road, I would avoid the area. As I drive around the Tri-State Memphis Metroplex fixing the equipment in my charge, I always have at least two alternate routes to get from point A to point B.
3) If I didn't know they were there and I can't get around them, everything from this point on is on them. Because if they do not let me pass, they lost the "peaceful protesters" label at this point.
3a) I would stop short of them, loudly asking for them to part so I can pass.
3b) If they do not part, I will let them know I am coming through.
3c) I will advance up to and through them, one inch at a time until I am clear. For people with common sense, this would be the time they would part and let me go on my way unmolested.
4) At the first brick/rock/gunshot, all bets are off. I refuse to be the next Reginald Denny or one of the dead from a riot.
As a final thought, I had to be well aware of the phrase "innocence in the eyes of the law" when I carried a weapon. It meant that if, on the horrid occasion I would have had to draw my weapon and possibly end the life of another, I had 47 things (slight exaggeration) that I had to do exactly right to avoid being prosecuted for the crime of defending myself. I had to not escalate the situation, attempt to disengage from the situation, "Shoot to stop the threat," not tamper with evidence and a whole lot more. When protesters actively interfere with the rights of others, they lose that "innocence."