Anarchy in the Streets: ACLU Leader Claims There's No Such Thing as Illegal Protest
The Black Lives Matter movement harbors no shame about breaking the law. In fact, illegality has proven key to their strategy. Days in advance of a planned action, they have announced their intention to trespass on private property or disrupt public infrastructure. They have declared their purpose to "shut down" targeted venues. Consider the audacity of that. They have announced that they are going to violate people's rights and commit crimes. When law enforcement agencies have responded to restore peace, Black Lives Matter has defied lawful orders, invited arrest, and taken pride in the harm they have inflicted. They brag about having "shut down" businesses, freeways, airports, and other venues, disrupting commerce, impeding travel, and incurring great expense for municipalities.
One Republican legislator in Minnesota has said enough is enough. State Representative Nick Zerwas has authored a bill that would enable government entities to bring civil action against individuals convicted of unlawful assembly. Restitution could be sought to cover law enforcement expenses related to the convict's disruption.
Critics have condemned the bill as an attack upon free speech. On a local talk radio program, Zerwas was confronted by Minnesota ACLU head Chuck Samuelson. The restitution bill proves unconstitutional, Samuelson said, because it "chills free speech." But he failed to articulate how.
There is no conceivable way that someone could be sued under the restitution bill for simply saying something. The bill does not address either speech or the content of speech. It addresses conduct, above and beyond speech, which is already prohibited by law. You cannot be convicted of unlawful assembly unless you are physically doing something that violates the rights of others. Unless you trespass where you have no right to be, block freeways and cripple corridors of travel, or unlawfully detain your fellow citizens, then cap it off by refusing lawful orders from the police, the restitution bill could not possibly affect you. It has nothing whatsoever to do with speech.
Some argue that the bill would be selectively utilized to persecute those who oppose the political establishment. But no evidence has surfaced of past wrongful convictions for unlawful assembly. If people could be arrested and convicted for unlawful assembly because of something they said, and not because of something they did, then we would have a much bigger problem on our hands. Such a miscarriage of justice would unquestionably violate the First Amendment and present an attractive case for the ACLU. But they're not pursuing that case, because no such abuse has occurred.
In truth, as demonstrated by how the radio confrontation continued, Samuelson and folks of similar persuasion oppose any limitation on protest behavior. They want to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, to whomever they want, without legal consequences of any kind, conflating such conduct with protected expression. If it's for the cause, anything goes. Consider this from Samuelson:
Who decides the size of the [law enforcement] response?... For example, at the Mall of America [the site of an unlawful assembly by Black Lives Matter just before Christmas in 2014], the police response was way, way beyond the amount of the demonstrators. And if that were the case, the bill... that you would present to these individuals would be significantly higher. So the question then is: what's an appropriate level [of law enforcement response], and who decides that?