by Lauren Zoë
Amidst the reoccurring protests going on at Trump rallies, as of late powerful emotions have been surfacing which has only been exacerbated by Trumps rhetoric. Many of his supports and even Trump himself have been defending their hate mongering as “freedom of speech”. This statement is pretty caustic seeing as he is running for a political office. As citizens, we should hold our public officials to a higher standard of understanding. Politicians being worried about the voters stepping on their toes is beyond a bit selfish, but Trump plays into naïve, poor/lower middle class, uneducated white people. But even outside of his supporters, many people seem to not get what free speech actual means.
Here is a refresher, the first amendment was established in 1791 prohibiting impediment of the exercise of religion, press, assembly, governmental petition grievance and of course speech. Although we are protected by state and federal laws, it is not absolute. The Supreme Court has several categories of which freedom of speech is not protected: obscenity, child porn, intent to incite a riot or lawless actions, commercial speech regulation and slander.
It’s our constitutional right to express freely our own personal ideals, but what has been seen for example, on Friday in Chicago, you have to prepare for the consequences of your actions. Our First Amendment only protects us from prosecution. How others feel about your opinions are not up for the government to filter out. When the Charlie Hebdo attacks happened last year in France, many Americans saw fit to criticize the way the France handled French Muslims while also criminalizing them. Some media outlets saw it as a way to spread a myth about Muslim “no-go zones” which is entirely false. This sparked rage within many French Muslims who felt they were being scapegoated into falling for what radical Islam extremists are doing. Charlie Hedbo’s brazen form of satire often directed at minorities was a congruent exercise of Freedom of Press in this country, but fails to realize the consequences of such efforts. I would love to say the threat of violence amongst the white majority doesn’t sit well with most of the writers. A threat of which seems more important then that of people of color.
The recent protests that have happened in Chicago seem to mirror that of the 1919 race riots, which took place in Chicago as well. Some say those riots shaped the racial divide we see now in the city involving white Americans and immigrants with black and brown people. These riots resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries over a period of 7 days. The late 60’s was tumultuous. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in retaliation of the consistent and strong pushback from Civil Rights leaders and allies. At the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago, Lyndon B. Johnson had defeated Republican, Barry Goldwater for the presidency making tensions high. Anti-war protesters filled the streets in Chicago clashing with police creating the framework of a dismantled Democratic party in the midst of a violent war in Vietnam. What they once thought as the “Golden Age” of economic prosperity post WWII was twisted into a grim narrative of violent American society.
Riots at 1968 Democratic Convention
What is the language of violence? What is constituted as a threat and by whom? Black bodies have often been the source of envy and fear with the black male body in particular have been the target of aggressive violence while also being blamed as the source. Which asks the question, who is being threatened in these very tense political situations and what constitutes as violence?
All major American news sources seem to be focusing all their energy into Trump and his rhetoric. Every move he makes is made a topic of discussion amongst pundits when the real issues garnering these reactions are ignored. For years now I’ve been a faithful MSNBC viewer because of their diverse staff and research quality. #Nerdland host, Melissa Harris-Perry was recently let go of her position as staff when she refused to change her show material into election cycle coverage, which by the way is non-stop throughout the week anyway. This was particularly a hard blow to me, because I depended on #Nerdland for diverse subject matter on current news stories that have cultural impact. Beyoncé’s Formation was the last segment she did before disappearing from the network. The disappearance of most of the MSNBC hosts of color have been glaringly apparent as well. They have been turned into pundits and contributors rather than creators of their own material within their shows. Our voices have been diminished to talking heads reading off scripts next to Brian Williams. It’s sensational. Future said it best, but I want to pretend he was talking about the state of our media outlets. Nothing is about content anymore and when I say “content” I mean the origin of matters that are happening in this country. Fox News reporter, Megyn Kelly chose to use her platform to condemn Chicago protesters because they were impeding on Donald Trump’s rights, and not even looking at all the rights that were/will be taken away from the ones protesting.
Megyn Says, “And so, all eyes for the moment are on Donald Trump and how he handles this situation in Chicago, where his First Amendment free speech rights have been shut down. The right of those to listen to him, and as that one gentleman put it so well, ‘I just wanted to hear him for myself. I just want to hear him for myself.’
That was shut down, by folks who have an agenda, and that’s fine. You can depose Donald Trump, go for it. But is this the way? Is this the way to shut down the ability of Chicagoans and those who have traveled in some cases for miles and miles and waited for hours and hours to get in, to have their say and hear him for themselves? For all these people know, they weren’t Trump supporters. Maybe that gentleman would have walked away saying ‘You know what? He’s not for me.’ We’ll never know now, because they shut down their right to listen.”
The language of violence has been manipulated throughout the years going decades and decades back. In most of these moments, destruction of property is often seen as violence and black people are continuously targeted despite white people equally being involved. The moment white people display unruly behavior at things such as sports events is always accepted as norm, but groups of black, Hispanic AND white people peacefully protesting in the streets over a murdered black people deserves military force. People like Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump will create buzz words and sell this idea to the general public that our First Amendment rights are being taken away without even hashing out the cause and effect of such a reaction.
Surface level politics is at a very low bar this election cycle and a lot of these protesters, specifically people of color, feel that their voices are not being heard, so they have to make you hear. Like I previously stated, the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from criticism or backlash. I suspect if one truly believes what they are saying they will stand in that and welcome criticism as a form of exercised liberties of other opposing viewpoints, much like what is being exercised by them in that moment. We have to learn how to pick apart and question what we are being fed on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have the answers to a utopian society, but the more we ask the closer we might be.
Lauren Zoë, a native of Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio seeks to discover new and exciting ways to explore her artistic palette. Growing up in Ohio and consistently moving around throughout her childhood has rounded her into finding new perspectives on culture through meeting many people of different backgrounds and upbringings. This transcended Lauren from Graphic Designer to Photographer and Writer. Along with her freelancing design career, Lauren has wrote contributing articles for Free Press Houston’s art and film pages and has launched her own website To Be Honest (TBH), where she writes about current social issues, art, music and fashion happening within communities of color.