What if the protesters were Neo-Nazis?

Neo-Nazi March

When we sympathize with a group it’s easy to rationalize their behavior. In issues of free speech you need to flip it around and imagine that the group is one that you detest, then evaluate their behavior and the government response.

Imagine if the Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood and the Skinheads decided to hold a unity protest and occupied Zucchini Park near Wall Street. Thousands of white supremacists from all over the country attend.

They don’t obtain permits, they just start camping in the park and hold daily rallies and protest marches. They announce that they are not leaving until their unspecified demands are met.

What, if anything, should the police do?

According to the law the police should treat them just like they would treat any other group. And the police should treat any other group just like they would treat the Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood and the Skinheads.

That’s what “content neutral” means.


Public Sidewalks

Sidewalk, streets, and parks are what are known as traditional forums and “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public, and time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.” Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939). The government cannot deny the public access to a traditional public forum nor can it regulate use of the forum based on the content of one’s speech. Perry Education Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). However, the government is permitted to impose “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” within a public forum so long as the regulations are “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” Id. In short, the government may set reasonable rules in a public forum, those rules can be no more expansive than is necessary to accomplish the government’s purpose and such rules can not be used to completely deny access to the traditional public forum.

Thus, the government may be able to prevent protesters from completely blocking a thoroughfare to traffic, such as a street or sidewalk, but cannot curtail any more speech than is necessary to accomplish that goal. Similarly, government can regulate use of sound amplification equipment, such as limiting the decibel level and requiring a permit, but would normally not be able to bar use of amplification equipment entirely. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).

While certain basic free speech activity is almost always permissible in a traditional public forum, such as leafleting or protests involving a small number of people, it is generally advisable to check applicable regulations before hand. For instance, sound amplification equipment will often require a permit as might a demonstration involving a large number of people. To find out what regulations exist you should contact the municipality where you intend to demonstrate.

Public Roadways

As noted above, public streets are traditional public forums and therefore are open for expressive purposes such as marches. Of course, public streets are also used for cars, buses, and other vehicles. Therefore, municipalities usually impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on the use of streets for speech purposes. These regulations generally involve a permit requirement, advance notice, time limitations, and some sort of police presence to close the street or a portion of the street to traffic during the march. Many municipalities try to also impose an insurance requirement to indemnify the city. Insurance requirements to use a traditional public forum are almost always unconstitutional. Municipalities are, however, allowed to charge a nominal fee to cover the cost of processing permit applications.

If you choose to ignore reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions and block traffic on public thoroughfares you can be arrested (or at the very least ticketed). There is nothing unconstitutional about the enforcement of generally applicable laws so long as the are enforced equally and not on the basis of the speaker’s message. Indeed, equality under the law requires that generally applicable laws be enforced uniformly even if the violators believe they had a good purpose for their action.

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24 Responses to What if the protesters were Neo-Nazis?

  1. And if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon. I can’t believe the love for the police state here.
    Again, non-violent civil disobedience was planned. The response is not justified – but was anticipated. to get people’s attention. People who might not be so sympathetic to the police rights maybe. The way Ghandi did. And they did. Good for them. I am going down there today – not being a nazi and all that.

    • WMCB says:

      NYS, I don’t think anyone here is in favor of a police state, nor opposed to the concept of civil disobedience.

      What myiq is trying to point out is that unless the cops are using extreme excessive methods, they are not being brutal thugs. If one is trying to make a point by disobeying the law, then it sort of defeats the purpose to then whine and be offended about getting arrested for doing it, and claim the cops violated your free speech rights by arresting you. They didn’t.

      Whether or not one agrees with the group protesting has no bearing whatsoever on whether the police are just doing their jobs within the bounds of the law, or violating your rights.

      If you get arrested for breaking the law, you are not being oppressed by the police. You, in order to make a point, are deliberately breaking a law to getting arrested. Fine. But that does not make the cops the bad guys.

    • Karma says:

      Come on…loving the police state? Everyone here railed against Bush and knew FISA Obama wasn’t the guy who would restore it.

      Basically, my feelings about the Occupy Wall St fools can be summed up in one question. Do you plan on voting for Obama again?

      I have no problem with civil disobedience and understand it was a goal…..getting a 60s, Egyptian rebel rouser, protest patch/mugshot is a Twitter moment. But it is hard to care when they will vote for Wall St’s guy again and weren’t smart enough to figure it out the first time.

      If you see something different going on, please share, because we all know the media has goals of their own. At this point, it still looks like a brake stand, lots of sound and fury, but going no where.

      • Three Wickets says:

        I see more comparisons of the OWS protests to Tahrir square. The Tahrir square protests had a very specific goal, to depose Mubarek. I still don’t see a clearly defined goal for the OWS protests, except maybe Alex Pareene’s call for erasing all debt for 99% of the population. The goal probably ought to be some focused demand re Wall Street bankers, and that would require same demand be directed at Tim Geithner and the administration’s current policy on TBTF banks.

  2. DandyTiger says:

    It’s such a fantastic distraction. Look over there, don’t look at the man behind the curtain.

  3. DeniseVB says:

    The police must be exhausted 😦 At what point could the National Guard be called in to help? There just seems to be vile attempts by a very few to push the police to the brink, somebody’s going to get hurt.

    When the Obamas attended the theater in NYC, our whole block went into lockdown, but I had a hotel key so was allowed past the barrier. The security was so tight, with swat teams on the roofs, I’d venture to guess someone could have been shot if they thought they could jump the barrier and run towards the theater?

    Those barriers are set up at Wall Street for a reason, to protect the protestors AND the non-participating pedestrians and motorists. While they have the right to their free speech, don’t the rest of us have the right to go to work or home ?

  4. Three Wickets says:

    BO is giving another speech at 11am EST. Will apparently be announcing among other things a hike in the top marginal income tax rate from 35% to 45%. Would be significant if true. The non 99% types will be very unhappy. 🙂

    • DeniseVB says:

      I heard a blurb he was going to thank the Senate Dems for their hard work on the jobs bill. Huh?

      • Mary says:

        Huh is right. Reid, Durbin, and Schumer have already admitted they don’t even have enought Democratic votes, let alone additional votes from Repubs.

        “Top marginal rate” Where does that begin? Cuz Senate Dems have proposed a new 5% tax on millionaires and billionaires only.

        If Obama still want the increase to apply to $200,000 or $250,000, they won’t pass it. And he knows that.

        He f*g campaigning, AGAIN.

        • DeniseVB says:

          Same ole speech, same as the last one….and probably the next one. Zzzzzz.

          Did he really say it upsets the Dems when he “tries” to negotiate with the GOP ? Also wants Senators to explain their “no” votes.

        • Three Wickets says:

          Don’t know where the new top marginal tax bracket would be defined. But if it’s for the top 1%, that would begin with people making $550k and above.

        • Mary says:

          I got a good picture of the senior Democratic Senators, with years more experience than the young Boy King, reporting to the WH to f’g EXPLAIN themselves re their choices in supporting/not supporting parts of this bill.

          Arrogant little prick. (Too harsh?)

  5. foxyladi14 says:

    another speech.oh goody. 🙄

  6. Three Wickets says:

    New top White House economist Alan Kreuger has been approved. Another from Princeton.

  7. bornagaindem says:

    love your posts generally but do not quite get why you are against occupy Wall street? And they do have a very coherent message- stop working for the 1% of the population that put us in this mess and start having a government that serves the rest of us ie the 99%. Wall street should have been punished and it was not – that is where the simmering anger of the electorate is. They just don’t know how to express it. The tea party grabbed some of them but the progressives had their messiah and they were waiting for him to do something. This is an Arab Spring movement in the US -finally! They have all my support and please put me down as one of Krugman’s army. I will be joining in my city and if you want change and a return to presidential candidates that are chosen because they have ability and not because they can win american idol you should head for the nearest protest and hope we succeed.

    • myiq2xu says:

      I smell astroturf.

      I think many of the protesters are sincere but naive, and I think they are being used.

    • votermom says:

      Personally, it’s because the OWS seem to be letting WH & Congress off the hook.
      Why is that?

      • Three Wickets says:

        And as a practical matter, putting real (not staged) pressure on the White House would be the most efficient path towards bringing change and/or reckoning to Wall Street.

  8. tom metzger says:

    For your information these crowds do contain a lot of race separitists that are also pissed at the system. White Racial Socialists. (NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK)
    Dont look for uniforms etc.


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