Shopkeepers in Jackson Heights, Queens, prepared on 5 June 2020 for potential riots by boarding-up small businesses operating alongst 37th Ave. in Queens. Despite irrational fears, looters have a right to assemble. Progress New York/File Photograph

EDITORIAL : Looters have a right to assemble, too

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t qualify the Bill of Rights by ideology. Neither should the NYPD.

By The Editor

In a bombshell report issued by the New York City Department of Investigation, it was revealed that the New York Police Department posits that First Amendment rights to the freedom of assembly arise from a “facilitation mindset” from the police — and not from guarantees to freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. In a discussion, authors of the DOI report advanced the idea that a “differentiated response” by the NYPD could lead to the imposition of burdens on protesters based on their ideology where “radical,” “fringe,” or “non-ideological opportunists (e.g., looters)” could face burdens.

This treatment was evidenced by how the NYPD primarily focused its public messaging during the George Floyd-inspired anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests on “violence and looting without simultaneous acknowledgment of the pain and anger that gave rise to the protests, or due regard for the many individuals airing their grievances with the government in a peaceful manner.”

Since DOI made no express rejection of NYPD’s imposition of burdens based on ideology, DOI Agents appeared to affirm the NYPD’s controversial response to the George Floyd-inspired protests, despite the DOI’s finding that the NYPD “was suppressing rather than facilitating lawful First Amendment assembly and expression.”

It’s unconstitutional to deny people the right to assemble.

Three Law Enforcement Agencies have oversight powers in respect of the NYPD : The Office of the New York State Attorney General, the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, and DOI. Because they enforce the laws, Agents from these offices know that it is unconstitutional to deny people the right to assemble based on ideology. Yet, as reported by Progress New York and its predecessor, Progress Queens, Federal Law Enforcement Agencies have been attempting to criminalise beliefs in some political ideologies.

If, as DOI note, the NYPD turned their metaphorical backs of “many individuals airing their grievances with the government in a peaceful manner,” then it shouldn’t be the NYPD’s job to first determine whether people have a grievance in order to assemble. People don’t need to have grievances in order to assemble. Their right to assemble is protected as a right without qualification.

In the long, unfinished march toward equal civil rights in this Nation, people enduring discrimination, exploitation, or oppression have had to resort to protests, demonstrations, and even riots in order to fight for justice. Speaking in 1967 at Stanford University, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “[A] riot is the language of the unheard.” At times, it’s taken riots for the Government to hear the grievances of its citizens. And the NYPD, or any other police force, has no right to police the ideology of protest participants, much less violate their First Amendment rights.

Given the Government’s stingy refusal to provide its citizens with a sufficient, monthly income during the confinements that have shut down the broader economy since the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have experience hunger, with some turning to petty shoplifting in order to have enough to eat. Because the Government is balking at providing $2,000 in economic stimulus to the very people whose consent provides the Government with its authority, those suffering from hunger — especially those turning to shoplifting, as a result — have every reason to march against the Government.

If a protest march of — or a riot by — shoplifters (or “looters,” in the NYPD’s code) were to take place in order for the Government to provide all of its people with a sufficient, monthly income until there has been a full economic recovery from the pandemic, then it would be unlawful for the NYPD to place burdens on the participants of such an assembly.