In Order To Peaceably Assemble, Don’t You Have to Be Peaceful First?

“Contrary to popular belief, cities don’t have “riot police” held in reserve in some warehouse. Those cops have to be pulled off the streets to deal with these egotistical crybabies.”

When is a peaceable assembly not a peaceable assembly…? When it violates other people’s rights. Like when a small crowd sits in the middle of the road on a city street. They blocked the busy intersection at 5th Avenue and Stewart Street smack in the heart of the city’s downtown. Once again, in protest central, otherwise known as Seattle, a city that has hundreds of left-wing demonstrations of various sizes per year (many/most un-permitted), the city continues to set dubious precedents in constitutional jurisprudence. Don’t get me started on the million-dollar payouts to arrested demonstrators.

Back in 1999, during the World Trade Organization (WTO) riots, the city became infamous for its flaccid kumbaya approach to militant extremists. One example: the city bought pizza for arrestees being held on a bus and for radicals occupying a house illegally. Now, complicit with the demonstrators in a curious interpretation of constitutional law, a city official, sadly from the police department, has decided that constitutionally protected speech and “peaceable assembly” now include blocking city streets.

WTO protests in Seattle, November 30, 1999. Pepper spray is applied to the crowd of protesters blocking free-flow streets. (Credit: Steve Kaiser via Wikimedia Commons)

The Seattle Times quoted a Seattle Police Department deputy police chief’s odd misinterpretation of the First Amendment: “Courts have found that the First Amendment trumps a lot of other laws and a lot of other conveniences [emphasis mine],” he said. This may be true, but it obviously doesn’t apply here. Conveniences?

What about a young, single mom who may have lost her job because she was late for work stuck in traffic? Bet that wouldn’t have been at all convenient for her or her child. We can only imagine the numerous people late for many important things that afternoon. Well, important to responsible people, not to the protesters whose important things are apparently more important than yours.

The deputy police chief seems to believe this is a competition between constitutional rights versus frivolous “conveniences.” He’s wrong. This is a competition between a behavioral abdication of free speech rights vs. the pursuit of happiness. Once the protesters failed to remain peaceable, blocking the road, violating people’s right to travel, to pursue their happiness, and depleting police services to the rest of the city, they voided their contract with the Constitution, thus relinquishing their free speech rights at this demonstration.

The deputy chief added, “We have a rich history in Seattle of allowing a lot of protests. In Seattle, we staff over 300 protests a year and we have a policy of allowing individuals to express their constitutionally protected First Amendment right on the streets.” Apparently, he said this out loud.

One thing I’ll give the DC: he’s being devastatingly honest about Seattle’s affection for leftist protesters. I was a Seattle cop for more than a couple decades during those protests. I’ve seen city officials and police department command staff use this interpretation of the First Amendment in practice, but I’ve never heard or read it expressed so explicitly as an official city policy before the DC’s statement to the Times.

This comment merits repeating: “constitutionally protected First Amendment right on the streets.”

If a group obtains a permit to march, stand, recline, or gyrate and bang on plastic buckets while wearing turtle costumes in the street, go for it. At least the police can implement strategic traffic mitigation to ease congestion and warn drivers of the disruption. Otherwise, stay on the sidewalk.


St. Paul, Minnesota February 16, 2017 Around 400 people met in the Minnesota capitol building to protest bill HF322 which would charge protesters for public safety costs if they are found to be an unlawful assembly or a public nuisance. By the terms of HF322 and Minnesota statute 609.74, protesters might receive this bill for government costs if their protest is found to “unreasonably annoy” someone. Activist organizations argue HF322 is intended to deter and stifle free speech. (Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Wikimedia Commons)

Instead, they create “sleeping dragons” (demonstrators insert their arms, linking with each other, within a length of tubing) which are difficult for police to dismantle. This further guarantees traffic snarls, not to mention occupies cops whose services would be better deployed elsewhere. This is the epitome of selfish irresponsibility disguised as community activism.

These protesters always cry about their rights, but they shun the corresponding component to rights: responsibility. When exercising what they consider their rights, don’t they have a responsibility to other people? Contrary to popular belief, cities don’t have “riot police” held in reserve in some warehouse. Those cops have to be pulled off the streets to deal with these egotistical crybabies. Crime victims have to wait just a bit longer for a response from an already understaffed police department.

The DC also employed another excuse for not allowing police officers to protect the public from these irrational, radical leftists. “It’s a big risk to everybody involved and it’s a use of force which could potentially turn a peaceful protest into a riot. That’s going to end up taking a whole lot longer and we could end up looking at lawsuits.” So, it’s the cops’ fault if “peaceful” protesters riot?

Chills up your spine, right? Didn’t I hear Gary Oldman, as Winston Churchill, say something with a similar theme about dealing with political bullies in the recent movie Darkest Hour? “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall….” Okay, of course, these sad protesters can’t be compared to the Third Reich, but the principle of dealing with bullies remains the same.

I’ll let Seattle’s deputy chief finish the quote, “We shall forever surrender!”

This Seattle police DC has misconstrued the First Amendment free speech protections as applying to those people who intentionally prevent other people from exercising their fundamental rights to the freedom of movement—to go where they legally have every right to go whenever they want to go there.

ST. LOUIS – In response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Missouri U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued a preliminary order restricting police engagement with citizens during protests. The Judge ordered that police cannot declare a protest an “unlawful assembly” then proceed to enforce it against demonstrators who are “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence. (Credit: Facebook/Real Stl News)

The courts have addressed the people’s freedom of movement, of which interstate travel (between and through the several states) is more definitive than intrastate travel (within the borders of the several states). However, some court decisions and common notions of liberty emphasize every person’s right to movement within the borders of his or her state.

I believe that still includes downtown Seattle.

For example, “As early as 1920, the Supreme Court held that all citizens are endowed with ‘the fundamental right, inherent in citizens of all free governments, peacefully to dwell within the limits of their respective states, to move at will from place to place therein, and to have free ingress thereto and egress therefrom.’” Pretty clear what the demonstrators violated. There are probably more violations if you think about it a while.

It was the people trapped in their cars who were being peaceable—well, I imagine, except for some understandable, frustrated honking.

Peaceable or peaceful isn’t simply the absence of physical assault and property damage; it’s the absence of any malicious behavior.

I tend to resist employing definitions, which can be boring, but in this case, I believe it’s useful. The applicable excerpts from the US Constitution, Amendment I:

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or…abridging the freedom or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…

From the Oxford English Dictionary we have the following:


1.   Inclined to avoid conflict or dissent.

1.1  Free from argument or conflict; peaceful.


1.   Free from disturbance; tranquil

Seems clear the demonstrators demonstrated that they were neither peaceful nor peaceably assembled. What portion of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech exclusively for those who peaceably assemble does Seattle not understand? What those extremists were doing doesn’t qualify as a peaceable assembly. The radicals assembled in the middle of a public roadway were anything but peaceably assembled or peaceful.

In fact, it might not be too much of a stretch to call it unlawful imprisonment. Consider the Washington state law definition: “A person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person.”

Just as my freedom to throw a punch ends where my knuckles meet your nose, my freedom of speech ends where I violate your rights to use a street for the purpose intended and for which, especially in this state, you pay significant taxes to use.

Think about it. It is illegal to get out of a car and leave it blocking the roadway (you know… because traffic needs to move). And protesters blocking the street is not the same as a collision, construction, or other legitimate or unavoidable occurrence would be. Blocking those drivers, confining them within their cars, was intentional due to idiots lying on the road. Okay, perhaps I’m being facetious, but when you think about it, unlawful imprisonment may not be so farfetched a charge.

From where is this DC arriving at this judgment? Perhaps he couldn’t resist the social justice Kool-Aid. Just as my freedom to throw a punch ends where my knuckles meet your nose, my freedom of speech ends where I violate your rights to use a street for the purpose intended and for which, especially in this state, you pay significant taxes to use.

As I’ve heard many people say, “If I were in the road, the cops would ticket me for jaywalking. But, then again, those people are merely responsible, law-abiding taxpayers, not the city’s preferred radical, oh-so-virtuous leftist agitators.”

Seattle is long known for tolerating leftist lawbreaking, as long as it’s the political left conducting the illegal protest. Seattle too often refuses to use its police department to protect its residents who are harassed and whose rights are violated by these protesters.

Seattle’s benefit of the doubt always goes to the political left. And, by the way, what were these folks protesting? The building of a new youth detention facility—juvy. You know why? You probably guessed. Because building a new youth jail is racist. How it’s racist is for another article.

Is it just me, or has the left stripped the word racist of all the power it once rightfully had?

In conclusion, I’m gawking in wide-eyed wonder at the over critical thinking going on in Seattle. Consider another statement by the DC: “We have to be able to articulate clear safety concerns and reasons for clearing people out of the street.”

I have an idea drawn from my old patrol days. How about, “Hey, get out of the street before you get hit by a car, you morons!”

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Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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