When Antonio French, the St. Louis Alderman who has given us an incredible first-hand account of what is happening in Ferguson through his twitter feed, was released from jail this morning, he told the media, “Our civil rights don’t stop at 9PM.” After Antonio being arrested last night for “unlawful assembly,” I felt compelled to share these thoughts:
To the men and women who are responsible for firing tear gas canisters. To the ones who pull the trigger of the gun that shoots rubber bullets. To those who are the drivers of armored vehicles. The the operators of the machine that makes loud noises. To those arresting politicians and members of the press. To SWAT Teams. Tactical Teams. Riot Police. Mayors. Police Chiefs. City Council Members. State Assembly Men and Women, State Senators. Governors. And More. I urge you to re-read the United States Constitution. Specifically the First Amendment. In case you weren’t given that at your training or your elementary school education, here is how it reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Our forefathers, hundreds of years ago, decided to write this amendment and place it at the top of the Bill of Rights. They made a decision that this amendment, the First Amendment, would be the most important amendment to the foundation of our nation’s principles. Throughout history, we have fought wars, carried out secret missions, economically embargoed other countries to protect the rights of citizens around the world to enjoy the same basic freedoms we have here in America. Now, we are blatantly ignoring those rights of our very own.
Over the past five days in Ferguson, Missouri, after the tragic killing of unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, the police and local government have shown a lack of understanding of this protection. Your job is to PROTECT those who have grievances with our government. To give them space to protest and petition their local elected leaders. The only thing you have been good at protecting thus far is the name of the officer who leveled bullets into Mike Brown’s body.
An overwhelming majority of the protesters in Ferguson have been peaceful. Yes, they are angry. Yes, they are pissed off. Yes, they are frustrated. But, they have been peaceful. Of course I recognize that there have been a few who have not. A few who looted, burned and threatened violence. And I would never, ever condone that behavior. But, to all those who have been gathering at the police station everyday, and to all those who have been at the QT from dawn to dawn, why antagonize them? Why shoot upon them? Why tear gas them? Why arrest them?
To the public officials of Ferguson, it is your job to listen to those who ELECTED you. And many of those who put you in office are now protesting outside the buildings that hold your power. If you continue to attempt to silence their protest, their anger will only grow and this could get even worse. The demands of the protesters are simple. Read them. Yet, the demands of this nation are even simpler. Respect the first amendment. The Constitution is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It never takes a holiday or vacation. It never takes a day off. Unless you order a curfew or invoke martial law, the citizens of Ferguson have every right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances at ANY hour of the day.
As for us, we will continue to show our solidarity with the fight for justice for another unarmed, black teenager killed in America. Our prayers are constantly with the family and friends of Mike Brown, and our hearts are with those keeping their hands up and telling the police officers not to shoot.
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. He is on the Board of Directors of The Trayvon Martin Foundation. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik