[Fwd: [BRC-ANN] The Right to Freedom of Assembly Under Attack]

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Thu Mar 30 14:52:44 PST 2000

-------- Original Message -------- Subject: [BRC-ANN] The Right to Freedom of Assembly Under Attack Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 15:39:00 -0500 From: Lorenzo Ervin <komboa at hotmail.com> To: brc-announce at lists.tao.ca

THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY UNDER ATTACK: The Chilling Use of disruption laws to stifle organized protest

The freedom of assembly provisions of the First Amendment to the United States constitution is what gives the common people the right to protest government policy. It was this provision which was used to great effect by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960's to concentrate mass action to change government policies, and has been used ever since by all manner of grassroots political movements.

But how many people would engage in organized demonstrations if they knew that each time they did so, they would likely be arrested and placed in the state penal system for six months? One need only think about the Black civil rights movement of the 1960's to realize the probable effect on that movement if the Southern segregationist states had used such a law. It would have criminalized all protest actions, and kept the leaders and principal organizers in jail for long periods of time, smashing the movement at an early stage.

Dr. Martin Luther King and also young organizers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were arrested numerous times on short misdemeanor sentences, usually no more than a few days or a month at the most. In fact, there was a strategy to "cram the jails' full of protesters. But if they were given six month sentences by racist Southern judges for each such offense, the movement may have suffered a blow from which it would have never recovered, and at the very least been much more costly and daunting for its' leaders and activists.

So, it should be especially troubling that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld the state "disruption" law, in the case of activists arrested in 1993 (and pending charges since 1998 in another case), which makes it a crime to use even nonviolent direct action, or what it calls "verbal utterance" to protest in the streets, if it is a counter-demonstration to a public or private meeting of any sort, and effectively outlaws all protests against the government. In this case eight Black activists were arrested at a sidewalk protest in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse, when they confronted police at a so-called memorial" ceremony to protest the refusal of the country grand jury to file charges against eight cops for murder in a Driving While Black case, which caused the choking death of a 28 year-old Black man, Larry Isaac Powell.

Of the 25 demonstrators in attendance, 8 were arrested and placed on trial in 1994, six were acquitted and 2 were convicted, including Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, who appealed the case. These predominately Black activists were admittedly singled out by the cops because they had picket signs and a megaphone.

The way this law is written any group, such as the racist Ku Klux Klan could hold its demonstrations, and if counter-protesters came to heckle them, then they could have all the protesters arrested by filing criminal disruption charges for violating their "rights" to hold a cross burning or any other kind of event. The law protects such racist scum, and allows Black activists to be arrested, and no Klan member has ever been arrested under the law, even when they parade in masks and wearing Klan regalia, or make terroristic threats against Blacks, Jew, Anarchsts or others. A few years ago Klansmen were arrested for shooting five Black woment from ambush, and they were either acquitted or given less time than the Chattanooga 3 Black activist face under this law. This law has only been used to stifle anti-racist and anti-police brutality protests in this city, and the political establishment is protecting the racists! It is a disgrace.

Although the law has only been used in Chattanooga, the law has statewide application, and the decision will effectively outlaw all protests at the police department's discretion. Also, other states have similar laws, making this law have potential national application, this is an especially dangerous precedent, and we cannot allow it to stand. The chilling use of such laws will stifle protests, and make the police state tactics of the government even more powerful. The laws are clearly political, and are an attack on Black dissent, in the very area of the US where the civil rights movement arose. Like the Anti-Syndicalist laws of the 1920's, the Smith Act of the 1950's, and the other repressive laws going back to the creation of the Republic, their focus is to punish political thought, speech and mobilization. The government is trying to defend itself against its own people!

The consitutional issues in this case, will have a direct bearing on the Chattanooga 3 case now pending in state court for a Chattanooga City Hall protest against policeWe want to file this case into the federal court system and, if necessary, onward to the United States Supreme Court. But we do not have the money or an attorney willing to represent us. The entire legal and political establishment of the State of Tennessee is against us, even the State ACLU will not represent us, because we are Anarchists and Black revolutionaries. So we are alone, except for our supporters in various parts of the world who realize the injustice of what is happening.

We need an attorney or civil right law firm from anywhere in the country who would represent us pro bono, or we need donations to raise the thousands of dollars for our defense (estimated at $5-10,000 dollars). So, we are asking for help.

Please contact:

The Int'l Committee to Support the Chattanooga Three c/o JoNina Abron P.O. Box 19962 Kalamazoo, MI 49006 (USA) Email: jonina1 at yahoo.com or komboa at hotmail.com

Thank you.


Lorenzo Komboa Ervin


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