Freedom of (Hate) Speech?

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

What does a Trump sign mean to you?

Point:

The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” We citizens of the United States refer to this as the “right to free speech” or “freedom of expression” and generally extend it to campaign signs. Thus, whatever the prevailing politics of a community are, Trump signs and Biden signs have equal right to be in people’s yards and other sign-sanctioned areas. Seems simple. But nothing political ever is, really.

Anecdotal Interlude:

On the internet today, I witnessed one of my neighbors pleading with people to be respectful of other people’s property and viewpoints. The incident that spurred her post was the theft of a Trump sign at the front of our neighborhood and the defacing of a Trump supporter’s property. The damage included their cable being cut, which interfered with their kids’ ability to get online for school. Most people agreed with her and thanked her for her call for decency, no matter their political affiliation. Hell, I agreed with her. Then, a different neighbor passionately presented another view.

Counterpoint:

To some, (myself kinda included) Trump signs are symbols of hate and intolerance. To a not-small number of people, they say “racism, elitism, classism,” calling to mind a general lack of empathy for fellow human beings. So, (and this is far from a new issue) do we tolerate ALL speech? According to the Constitution and the US Supreme Court, yes we do, with the exception of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. But — and this is a question for intelligent Trump supporters in my neighborhood — how would you feel about a swastika sign in your neighbor’s yard? What about a confederate flag? Perhaps you’d be okay with a group of people in white hoods passing out literature or at least uneasily tolerate it as legal, but if a “Hitler” banner makes you squeamish, perhaps you can imagine how a Trump sign makes some people feel.

Let’s Be Reasonable:

I am not equating Trump with the long-dead, most-infamous, murderous racist of all time. I recognize a Trump sign is not the same as a Hitler sign. After all, Hitler is not the incumbent president up for re-election this year. I’d be skating on nonexistent ice if I said you couldn’t put up signs supporting a legitimate candidate in an upcoming presidential race. But I make the comparison in hopes of creating some empathy. No matter your politics, can you imagine seeing a sign planted in the ground, near your home, that you equate with complete disrespect and disregard for not just what you believe but who you are?

Trump Supporters:

I’m not asking you to change your mind. I’m not asking you to condone destruction of property, political signs or otherwise. I’m asking you to have a little empathy for how your neighbors feel, how they might perceive those signs as a threat to their well-being based on the way the Trump administration has treated immigrants and other marginalized groups and ingratiated themselves to white supremacist groups. I’m not saying take your sign down; I’m asking you to consider your neighbor’s perspective. Just a little.

Anti-Trump People:

I know you are frustrated and appalled at what is going on in our country; I am too. And you should say so, loud, clear, articulately and often. But don’t resort to name-calling. Don’t sink to personal attacks and petty destruction of property. Stand firm, argue the issues. Vote, for godsakes. But we too need to show some empathy. Your neighbor is still your neighbor. And just because you can’t fathom their politics, doesn’t mean they aren’t decent people. Hell, debate with them; it would be good for you — get it out in the open and maybe both of you will stop feeling so hateful. But debate and listen; don’t fight, don’t mudsling. Come on, y’all. What would Obama do?

In Closing:

“Polarized” is hardly a strong enough word to describe the extent of us-versus-them mentality these days. Both sides only make it worse when they abandon intelligently arguing the issues for trying to out-bully each other. I’d like to think, or at least hope, that my neighbors can rise above the crappy example set by some of our most visible politicians. You can scowl at your neighbor’s yard sign. Your can disagree with them, and you can tell them that. But have some empathy and be a fucking adult about it, would you?

White Privilege ~ to Make Mistakes and Not Be Killed For Them

Black Lives Matter Protest in Bloomington
Copyright: shutterbreakerli

I saw the body cam footage from the Rayshard Brooks incident.

Upon viewing it, I became certain about something I already suspected.

The video shows an officer approach Brooks’ car, where he’d fallen asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through line. The officer directs him to park the car, which Brooks does. When another officer arrives, they administer a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer; they determine he is indeed drunk.

Throughout the 20-minute interaction, Brooks is cooperative and friendly toward the officers, cordially submitting to the tests. He admits he’s been drinking. He’s in town to visit his mother’s grave, he says, in the course of the conversation. He offers to leave his car where it is and walk to the house where he is staying.

The officers ask him to put his hands behind his back, and that’s when Brooks begins to resist. He wrestles a taser from one of the officers and runs away. The cop who chases him points a taser at him, and Brooks points his stolen one back at the officer. It is at this point, one of the police officers shoots Brooks in the back two times. He died later of his injuries.

This was not just one man’s life. It was his family’s life as well. He had a father, siblings, a spouse and three kids. The day he was killed, his daughter had had her eighth birthday party. According to his family, he was a “loving husband and caring brother.” He adored his children. His niece said, “He was silly, had the biggest smile and the brightest heart,” and yet he was “shot and killed like trash for falling asleep at a drive-through.”

I have another story to tell you. There is no video footage or press coverage of it.

Two women in their mid-twenties stand on the street in downtown Austin next to a parked car. It’s around 2am. They are talking loudly and animatedly with one another when a police officer approaches them and asks if there’s a problem. They explain to the officer that they are both too drunk to drive their car home, but it’s in a space that will be tow-away come morning. They’ve secured a ride home from a sober friend. They are trying to decide which, if either of them, has the capacity to safely move the car to a nearby space where it will be legally parked.

The cop does not administer a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer. He does not ask them any questions. He would be well within the law to arrest them for public intoxication, but he doesn’t. He volunteers to move the car for them. He reparks the car, returns their keys, and they ride home with their friend and sleep safely in their own beds. Their parents, spouses and friends have the benefit of their presence to this day.

The police did not punish or even chastise the women for behaving somewhat irresponsibly; the police, in fact, facilitated their safe return home. Oh, did I mention? The women were both white. They were my sister and me.

It didn’t have to be this way.

What I suspected when I first heard about Rayshard Brooks’s murder was that it didn’t have to end in tragedy; it could have gone much the same way the incident with my sister and me did. What if, instead of trying to arrest him, they’d taken him up on his offer to walk home? What if they’d followed him in their car, or even driven him, to ensure he arrived safely and without incident? Without wasting taxpayer dollars on a purposeless arrest. What if that cop, even after Rayshard ran off with his taser, realized killing him would be a far worse outcome than the possibility he might escape?

But no, instead, Rayshard Brooks is dead, and his children will grow up without him. His penalty for a lapse in judgment, which we all have from time to time, was death.

Police aren’t trained to be helpful.

Sure, it happens sometimes, like with the officer that moved my sister’s car for us; there are cops who are reasonable and have a sense they are serving, not policing, the community, at least when it comes to white people. But how often are black people given that kind of understanding? How often, in the face of the police, is a black person allowed to make a mistake without dire, unjustifiable consequences?

If you take the militaristic methods by which police are trained and combine it with inherent bias and racism, you get the dangerously dysfunctional kind of policing we have now. You shouldn’t take my word for it, though; I’ve never been trained as a cop, but this guy has, and what he says about the toxic, racist, warlike atmosphere of police training is scary as hell.

Police officers are trained to expect conflict, to approach every person as if they are a mortally-dangerous enemy. The folks who get the worst of that mentality are marginalized groups like black people and people who are homeless or severely mentally ill.

White Privilege Redux

The point here is this: We white people need to realize that our rights are respected way more often than those of black people. And nothing is going to change by making officers attend a handful of “diversity education” classes. When you hear shouts of “defund the police” what people are really saying is “dismantle the police departments and reconstruct something better.”