The Constitution of the United States is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it is deliberately being weakened by the President of the United States. One pillar that soars up from that cornerstone–––the First Amendment––– is being attacked at its base by a hammering of tweets, lies and actions designed to weaken the nation’s strongest defenses against the creation of an autocracy.
That Amendment states that “The Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Consider the events of the past week. Thousands of Americans assembled in streets and parks across America to speak out and to seek redress for severe grievances. For centuries the nation’s government and its majority white citizenry has too often looked the other way when confronted with our racism, first when African people were enslaved, and then when as African American citizens they were and are denied equality. They were and are still discriminated against. They were and are still brutalized and denied justice by their government and its law enforcement institutions. They were and are still too often ignored when they raise their voices in protest.
But this time I believe it will be different
Last week it came to a boiling point in Minneapolis, Washington, DC and in cities across the country. The rhetoric on both sides escalated. The multi-racial crowd of protestors grew as they marched and chanted and sang their demand that law enforcement beatings and killing of Black Americans must stop; that police must be held to account for systematic abuses; that equal justice must become a fact rather than merely words.
The president and other Republicans erupted with demands of their own: the protestors must be cleared from the streets. Trump announced in a Rose Garden talk that he told the nation’s governors to stop the protestors or he would send in military troops to “quickly solve the problem for them.”
Republican Senator Thomas Bryant Cotton of Arkansas (a proud member of the Trump Corps of Nodding Sycophants) called for “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers…” He suggested that Trump invoke the Insurrection act, which authorizes the president to use the military in “cases of insurrection, or obstruction of the laws.”
There is no question that violent rioters and looters took advantage of the large protests, but law enforcement failed to separate the lawbreakers from the peaceful protestors. Both private property and the people exercising their Constitutional rights to petition their government deserved protection from the police in the streets. Instead, peaceful protesters and rioters/looters were lumped together.
Troops Use Military Assault Tactics
For me, the most egregious affront to the founding principles of this nation came when a phalanx of fully armored troops stormed into Lafayette Square using what looked like tear gas to clear out a crowd of peaceful protestors and journalists. This clearing action was followed by the president striding out of the White House grounds, into the park and toward St. John’s Church to pose for a photo while holding a Bible.
The travesty of this blatant assault on the constitution was captured by television news videos: The seemingly-young protestors scattering through the smoke clouds of gas; the troops marching forward with their body armor, weapons and gas masks; and the president walking safely behind, followed by his daughter, the Attorney General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (dressed in battle fatigues), and the Secretary of Defense.
The president and his minions were desperate to interrupt a growing conviction among the American people that Donald Trump, his administration and local law enforcement, rather than the protestors, were the greater danger to the future of the United States. Instead, the image of state violence against peaceful petitioners and Trump’s assault on Constitutional principles are indelibly ingrained in millions of American hearts and minds.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.