The Love Affair with Free Speech

If there’s one amendment that is known nationwide, it is the First Amendment. It is as follows:

First Amendment
Image Source: Flickr via Ed Uthman

Okay, so let me rephrase. A portion of the First Amendment is known nationwide, and that is….

Freedom of speech.

Americans love that right. The right to speak our minds when we get good and ready. The right to say whatever we want in a public forum because… well.. just because. We absolutely love voicing our opinions. It’s in the DNA of this democratic society. It’s what makes this country great. We know if we scream loud enough, then our voices will be heard. Anyone who infringes this right will be promptly reprimanded (by law or by a citizen). With this in mind, I have a question.

What happens when freedom speech incites hatred and violence?

To answer this question, we’ll look at the frontrunner for the Republican candidacy, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is an extremely intelligent man. He has targeted the section of white (male or female) voters that feel cast aside from President Obama’s two terms in office. He’s played on their fears of illegal immigration and ISIS/Islam. He’s indulged their disgust for Black Lives Matter movement because “everything is not always about race.” He says the things they all want say, but don’t publicly communicate because it’s not politically correct. Thus, they feel they have a man who “tells it like it is.”On the flip side, you have the minorities who are being targeted by these blanket statements, and the people who are not blinded by Trump’s rhetoric. They are the ones receiving the fear and hatred of a crowd who feels more brazen in showing their displeasure. Trump supporters now have an outspoken leader to emulate.

Mixing these two crowds has undoubtedly sparked fireworks.

Trump rallies are a haven for racist oration accepted by masses of people. As such, people protest the idea of hate and inequality being communicated at these events. However, Trump has made efforts to impede protesters from interrupting his rallies (which is understandable). Before entering into the rally, local law enforcement and security “filter out” would be protestors (the “criteria” of such remains to be seen, but you know). Protesters who are granted access may or may not interrupt the speech (depends on who is asked). Nonetheless, they are spotted and escorted out. Trump then makes inflammatory, sarcastic, or jeering statements while the crowd cheers him.  The pro-Trump crowd taunts protesters by hurling racial epithets as they are leaving the premises. One protester was punched in the face by a Trump supporter. The protestor was subsequently cuffed by the police after he was hit. When asked about the incident, Trump offered to pay the supporter’s legal fees.

This is the man that people want to be President of the United States. These are the type of people that he invites to his campaign.

 

Chicago Protest
Image Source: Flickr

Well, one of his rallies came to a screeching halt before it began. Trump’s rally was canceled in Chicago as protesters and supporters filled the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavillion auditorium. The Chicago Police Department, which was already visible, had to assert themselves to keep order between the two groups. Small altercations broke out between the pro-Trump/anti-Trump crowd, but nothing major occurred in the way of arrests. The anti-Trump crowd celebrated the cancellation of the event. I did as well. The pro-Trump crowd blamed Chicago as this city has well-documented issues with violence.

 

As I read through Facebook discussions on the matter, people kept mentioning the right to free speech. In this case, Donald Trump has the freedom to exercise free speech regardless of who disagrees. That is correct. However, when the speech incites/condones violence, hatred, and division, then should we not expect the results to mirror what’s spoken? We may be free to speak, but we are not free from the consequences of our words.

This is also where we see a disconnect in how the First Amendment is generally interpreted. In the same paragraph, it states, “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble” which means protesters have their rights to exercise freedom of speech. This has been overlooked because the tension between the two groups caused one to be quiet.

In this case, I’m okay with one side being quiet.

People can argue that Trump’s free speech rights were infringed upon, but I disagree. He had ample opportunity to address the crowd that came to see him. Again, Trump is a smart man. Instead of addressing a partially hostile crowd, he chose to cancel the event due to safety concerns. Bear in mind, this occurred in a city that is constantly plagued by violence. How easy is it to blame the city instead of look at the person hosting the event?

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Violence begets violence.” While I believe he was speaking of physical violence, I also think this extends verbally. When our words are filled with animosity, loathing, and strife towards our brother, then we lose the essence of communication. When love cannot be felt in our conversation, then we lose the intimacy of friendships. When we speak maliciously, we sacrifice relationships. Therefore, a price is paid.

Sometimes, free speech is not really free.

[Image Source: Flickr via Alex Hanson]

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