The Right to Peacefully Protest is a Right for All

“I consider myself a reasonable person. One who believes in letting people do pretty much anything as long as it does not harm me or family.”

While I do not condone or follow the beliefs that the protestors of the “Unite the Right” protest stand for, I must say that I do support their right to peacefully protest. What a lot of people do not seem to understand is that the First Amendment freedom of speech guarantee was specifically designed for speech that may be unpopular or disliked by many. It was a way our forefathers thought of protecting those who might speak out against things like government, the state, or even the very things they were trying to work for.

While hate groups and divisive organizations preach a lot of hateful and bigoted things, the fact of the matter is that it is their right to do so under the laws of the Constitution. As long as they do nothing to harm or hinder another person, they are free to shout their rhetoric as much as they please if they so choose. And when anti-protestors show up, the first one to throw the punches is the one at fault for starting any violence that occurs at the march.

In my career I had the duty and obligation to protect all people, no matter what they were doing as long as it was lawful and harmed no one else. During a few demonstrations or protests I had to stand by and watch people spit on, walk on, and tear apart the American Flag, which I hold dear to my heart since I come from a military family and served myself.

I had to protect those very same people whose actions internally disgusted me, standing between them and people that would do them physical harm for what they were doing. I did not enjoy it, I did not want to do it, but it was my duty to do so as an American and as a police officer. We cannot pick and choose what amendments to the Constitution we want to honor and what we do not.

While I detest what the original marchers in Charlottesville, VA stand for and why they were marching, I also understand they have the right to do so, and that that right should be honored and protected by law. It was when the anti-protestors showed up that things got dicey. If people had just let them march and get it out of their system, nothing would have come of it. But the interference of others and the thought that violence should be used to stop someone who is exercising a right to free speech caused more violence and a death to occur.

I consider myself a reasonable person. One who believes in letting people do pretty much anything as long as it does not harm me or family. But let me offer up this to those who are so quick to jump on the person that plowed into the people at the protest. What if you and your family were in a car and suddenly found yourself surrounded by a crowd of protestors? What if the protestors started to bang on your windows and yell at you, saying that they were going to drag you out of the car and kill you?

As it should be, opposing views are the most important protected forms of free speech.

I am not saying this is what happened, since we do not know yet what happened. But just asking if this was the case, what would you do to escape that situation? Would the use of force needed to protect you and your family justify driving through the crowd to escape? Just think about it.

So I guess what I am saying is that even though you may not like the message someone is spouting about, or protesting about, it is a right in the US to peacefully protest, and the person to throw the first punch or to destroy the first property is the one that is in the wrong. The First Amendment does not say only nice, peaceful, loving words are protected, it actually was meant for the opposite. As it should be, opposing views are the most important protected forms of free speech.

As I said before, as a cop, I would have had to stand there and protect those peacefully marching, even though I did not agree with their stance and message. To those who decided to turn this protest into a violent one, you are the reason we are all so divided, so angry, and at each other’s throats. Violence is only to be used when violence is first threatened or brought upon you. But when they do bring it, respond with overwhelming force to stop it as soon as you can.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Chris Wagoner

Chris Wagoner is a U.S. Army Veteran and has been in law enforcement the last 35+ years. He specializes in LE Firearms Instruction, and is in charge of a large Police Academy in North Florida. In his spare time Chris is a freelance writer and posts his articles on "Down Range with Chris Wagoner".

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