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Ferguson and the First Amendment


Too true:

If all the narratives coming out of Ferguson, Missouri—the militarization of local cops, the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the acceptable uses of force—the constitutional story that has most captured our attention is that of the police persistently violating the First Amendment rights of both the protesters and the press. When we talk about constitutional violations there, we do so primarily with respect to our freedom of speech and assembly.

Now it is beyond dispute that what the media is doing in Ferguson is vitally important and that the arrest and incarceration of reporters is a scandal. And there is no denying that we learn something important about the scale of police lawlessness when they cross the line into arresting journalists, who are traditionally off-limits. It is also indisputable that the right of protesters to peaceably assemble and speak is being undermined by mass arrests, curfews, and attempted news blackouts. But search for the words unconstitutional and amendment in Ferguson coverage on Google, and the extent to which our outrage seems to begin and end at the First Amendment is quite striking. Searching Google News (admittedly not a scientific method, but pretty good), we got six times as many results on Ferguson coverage that mentioned the First Amendment as mentioned the 14th Amendment, which is the amendment that covers a wide range of police abuses having nothing to do with freedom of speech.


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