Free speech, hate speech, loud jerks

By Sarah Sidlow

When one loud jerk started verbally harassing two young women on a train in Portland, Oregon, three good Samaritans stood up to stop him. The loud jerk was yelling racist slurs. One of the young women is African-American; the other was wearing a hijab. Two of the good Samaritans were stabbed to death. The third was badly injured.

The loud jerk’s name is Jeremy Joseph Christian. He’s 35 and is being held in the Multnomah County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation, and being a felon in possession of a weapon. According to court records, Christian served prison time for first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping after a crime committed 15 years ago. According to The Portland Mercury, he also showed up at a free speech march in late April with a baseball bat to confront protesters.

Now what: two events—a “Trump Free Speech Rally” and “March Against Sharia”—have given Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler pause. Due to their timing in relation to the recent attack (the Free Speech Rally was scheduled for June 4, the March Against Sharia for June 10), he asked the event organizers to cancel, arguing that the demonstrations would only fuel hatred and fear during a time of community anger and mourning.

So what: Mayor Wheeler’s appeal to the event organizers has opened the debate about things like First Amendment rights, and questions on the order of: WTF is hate speech and is it protected?

Some argue these “alt-right events” were designed to promote hatred and division, and they’re saying Portland is good on loud jerks right now, but thanks anyway. Moreover, supporters and organizers of the “alt-right” events have been publicly confronting antifascist groups (and vice versa) for months, even before the recent slaying. So these events have been viewed as a scheduled altercation between the two groups. Mayor Wheeler claims his plea to cancel is in the interest of preventing more violence—that’s a charge that kind of comes with the job.

Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon, argue this is about free speech—you know, that First Amendment thingy that differentiates America from North Korea. Their argument is basically this: you don’t have to like that loud jerk, and you don’t have to agree with what he says, but he has a constitutional right to say it.

Bonus material: It’s often impossible to talk about free speech protections without delving into the murky realm of hate speech. Hate speech is speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, or any other protected class.

The problem: there is no explicit “hate speech exception” in the First Amendment. This leads some to believe that hateful speech is just as legally permissible as any other distasteful speech. Until you start talking about “fighting words”—those words that would likely provoke a reasonable person into action. Over time, the Supreme Court has determined that fighting words are not protected as free speech under the First Amendment, and are therefore punishable.

TBD on the following: whether the scheduled events constitute protected free speech, slightly more slippery hate speech, or unprotected fighting words; whether community context should play a role in the organizers’ decisions; whether the events will be canceled.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Commentary Question of the Week : Should the provocative Portland, Oregon rallies be shut down?

Shut up, Mayor Wheeler says

Liberals run low on arguments, high on censorship

By Ron Kozar

Liberals, wouldn’t you love to use force to make conservatives shut up? Does that freedom-of-speech stuff in the First Amendment keep getting in your way?

Well fret no more! We have just the solution.

Here’s how it works. First, get some liberal Brownshirts from the nearest college to threaten violence against the conservative you want to silence. Then tell the conservative that you want to protect his rights—honest you do!—but that you just don’t have enough police to keep him from getting his brains bashed in. So you cancel his speech, refuse his permit, withdraw his invitation, whatever. All for his own good. See?

College presidents have spent months refining this new method for suppressing speech. They got the idea from Central America, where death squads with no official government affiliation kill dissenters, with a grateful wink and nod from the dictator. They’ve tweaked the procedure for the U.S. market, and now it’s ready for its first big-time public-sector test.

Mayor Wheeler of the People’s Republic of Portland gets to do the honors. Portland is the perfect place to unveil the new speech-suppression tactic because of the Reichstag-fire moment they are enjoying there. What makes the time ripe in Portland is the recent double murder on a bus in that city. Surely you’ve heard about the awful Trump-lover who heaped abuse on two women of color and then slashed the throats of the Samaritans who tried to stop him. There is even a video of the guy waving swastika flags and denouncing blacks and Muslims at some parade or other. Mind you, a few months before he started heiling Hitler, the Portland slasher was heiling Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, pining to kill Trump voters, and devoting his Facebook page to fulminations against, er, circumcision. Between you and me, he’s a lunatic, not a terrorist, a mental case, not a political one. But, hey, not since Dylann Roof have liberals had an honest-to-God right-wing killer to point to. As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said—or was it Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels?—you should never let a good crisis go to waste.

So the iron is hot to strike a blow at “hate speech.” And hate speech, as everyone knows, is conservative speech. With that in mind, the people Wheeler wants to silence are not obvious targets like Nazis marching through Skokie or Westboro Baptists weirding off at funerals. No, he’s aiming higher. He wanted to cancel the rally supporting the president of the United States. It’s called a “Trump Free Speech Rally,” and its name heralds two things no liberal can stand: Trump and free speech. A second rally Wheeler wants to cancel is a “March Against Sharia.” If you don’t know, Sharia is a legal tradition, hitherto confined to Muslim redoubts like Saudi Arabia and Great Britain, that calls for the beheading of apostates, the stoning of rape victims, and the defenestration of homosexuals. Liberals, of course, do not want to behead, stone, or defenestrate anyone. But if you emit the slightest murmur of concern that letting more Muslims into our country will increase the risk of Sharia here, then liberals think you should be beheaded, stoned, and defenestrated. Islamophobia as horrid as yours, Mayor Wheeler says, is reason enough for the Portland Gestapo to rip the microphone from your hand.

Liberals have come a long way. Once, they valued tolerance, opposed censorship, and disagreed with what you said but defended your right to say it. It was the right, not the left, that would blacklist you for touting the wrong ideology or fire you for uttering forbidden words. But today, the roles are reversed. It’s the liberals who blacklist you and forbid words (just ask Bill Maher). George Bernard Shaw once said that the first condition for finding truth is ending censorship, and that the ultimate censorship is assassination. Today, liberals are less interested in finding truth than in avoiding offense. And the young liberals who answer conservative ideas with fists and crowbars are cool with assassination, too.

The reason those young liberals and the officeholders who sympathize with them prefer censorship is that their minds have gone flabby. They can’t win arguments like they used to. Liberals of Shaw’s generation didn’t need censorship. They refuted conservatives effortlessly and had fun doing it. Today’s liberals, by contrast, run bewildered to the nearest safe space if you cite crime statistics or quote a repulsive passage from the Koran. Maybe the reason they cover their ears and shout la la la when confronted with speeches and rallies about immigrants and crime, or race and IQ, or Islam and Sharia is that liberals aren’t very impressed with their own responses. Maybe censorship is the only response they have.

Ron Kozar is a lawyer in Dayton.  He can be reached at Ronald.Kozar@gmail.com

Right to swing

Free to protest, free to speak out against it

By Patrick Bittner

With the current state of affairs in the United States so polarized and dangerous, committing an undesirable spectacle can incite never-before-seen reactions. Such an event occurred in Portland, sparking national controversy and, at least for some, unprecedented fear.

Now, a national debate regarding the legality of hate crimes, crimes motivated by bias against a group, based on factors like race or religion, is swarming. This, in essence, is at the heart of this week’s Dayton City Paper debate question.

Is yelling, threatening, or demeaning an individual, whether or not that person is a citizen, acceptable in the United States? If not, do we each have a duty to prevent such actions from happening? The answer depends on who is asked. That is the factor driving a divide in this nation right now.

The purpose of society is to better itself, and it cannot achieve this without or engagement. All citizens of this nation are bound by a sacred duty to stand up to the inequities they witness, and this is exactly what Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, Ricky John Best, and Micah Fletcher were doing on a light rail train the morning of May 26. Preventing a potential hate crime led to an even more tragic event—the murder of the two heroes.

Now, Portland’s mayor is arguing against our ability to prevent such tragedies and our right to speak out against what we think is wrong, because other groups have and are speaking out, but with words he (like many of us) don’t agree with.

However, it is not the morality of the protest in the name of white supremacy that is in question here, but the right of the citizenry of this country to participate in such an act. Ultimately, even though the protest is morally corrupt, much the way a child burning ants with a magnifying glass believes the act empowers them, to protest is the right—and I dare say duty—of the participants.

While many of us may view the argument of First Amendment protection as a relic from a bygone era, its profound equalizing power is currently at the forefront of the American psyche. Just as the flag burning issue sparked an earlier national debate on what was acceptable protest and free speech versus what was smut and unfounded, the idea of hate expression will capture this generation’s constitutional interest.

Marching in a protest, such as the one in Portland, whether it empower the actions or promote the ideas that created this situation, sets the conditions for a dialogue or a debate—one with the potential to stifle the kind of thinking that led to two deaths last month in Oregon.

We are beginning to understand that we do not progress as a society, or even as a species, without realizing when we are wrong. We cannot idly stand by while those with the loudest mouths and simplest messages build an environment where progress stagnates. Let’s not live in fear but rather constant skepticism, not in anger but in curiosity, and not in hate, but with the mindset that being an American does not mean being white. It does not mean Christian. It does not mean conservative or liberal. It does not mean man or woman. It does not mean angry or content. And it certainly does not mean that violence or hate will inspire.

Being American means that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, although we need to be reminded of that evidence from time to time. It means that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain rights, and that among them are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the right and duty of every American to speak out against injustice, and it is also our responsibility, as Abraham Lincoln said when confronted with the question of free speech, “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Patrick Bittner at PatrickBittner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Patrick is a student of Humanities and loves politics. He enjoys writing for DCP and hopes to get people thinking about powerful issues. Reach DCP freelance writer Patrick Bittner at PatrickBittner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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