The St. Louis Police Officers Association and the First Amendment

Ah, freedom of speech. Wars have been fought when voices have been silenced or when grievances have not been heard. The neat thing about the First Amendment is that it restricts the government from acting against people for saying, writing, or otherwise expressing an opinion that runs afoul of those in power. In essence, there is very little that the government (or its agents) can legally do against us for expressing our opinions. I can write on this blog that I think the President is a moron, and I can sleep soundly tonight without worrying that the police will come and take me away. I can go on my representative’s web page and blast him for not paying attention to what matters and having a phobia of the Affordable Care act, and I will go to school and work without a problem the next day, without police or anyone else in the government retaliating against me.

They could retaliate, but it wouldn’t be legal.

Today I found out that the St. Louis Police Officers Association wants the National Football League to sanction five St. Louis Rams players for raising their arms. Why is raising their arms such a threat to the SLPOA? Because the association sees the “hands up” gesture as a symbol of the people protesting the killing of Michael Brown. Those same protestors have shouted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” in a demonstration of what they say Michael Brown was doing as he was shot repeatedly (and twice in the head) by Officer Darren Wilson. The SLPOA doesn’t want NFL players to do this. They want the players to be sanctioned:

“The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology.”

Not just public, but “very” public? I’m sorry, SLPOA, but those players have the right to side with whatever side they want to join in this debate. And the officers in that association who are still working in police departments are agents of the government. It is a bad idea for them to want anyone sanctioned for expressing an opinion.

Instead of being so outraged at what 5 men on a professional football team do, the SLPOA should look into promoting better community policing within its ranks. They should take this whole situation as an opportunity to bridge the enormous gaps that exist between the police departments they’re associated with. To worry about what men who are basically entertainers do is not productive at all.

What’s next? Asking that anyone who goes out to protest get fired from their jobs and issue a “very public” apology as well? No. This manufactured outrage is nothing but a public relations ploy, a very poorly calculated one, by the SLPOA.

And the people protesting… Please, make your voices count. Don’t block roads and bridges and then not vote when elections come around. Don’t be out on the streets yelling when you could be participating in a dialogue with your elected leaders. And don’t burn buildings when you could be building bonds with the police who are there to protect you.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

2 thoughts on “The St. Louis Police Officers Association and the First Amendment

  1. I’m reminded, when our civil rights are discussed, of McCarthyism, where the utilization of one right was used in direct contravention of the words of the fifth amendment.
    I’m reminded of various suppressive acts, the latest being https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Control_Act_of_1954 .
    We, as a nation, still have a way to go in actually obeying our Constitution. Where the right to peacably assemble, is actually protected, to speak out and be not suppressed.
    For, this very evening, I read a commenter to a news story demand the summary execution of a West Virginia man who is wanted in connection to the shooting of four people. Regrettably, that is not an uncommon statement in many sites.

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    • Yeah. I’ve made the mistake at times of thinking that shooting someone on sight is better and saves us money. It may save time and money of a trial, but it costs us much more in the erosion of our collective rights to a trial and the presumption of innocence.

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