The following remarks were presented by the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director, at a Takeover Tuesday rally against HB805, a bill that threatens our first amendment.
The history of my faith tradition is to work out disputes in the public square. During the time of the Old Testament prophets, those who were at odds would plead their cases to the judges who sat at the gates of the city. All voices were heard and all sides of the issue were considered. Those peaceable assembles were the precursor for what we have in the First Amendment, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And that is why we are here today, to remind the government that we have a right to be here and to be anywhere necessary “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In fact, when you get down to it—they work for us. It’s their job to come out here and listen to us as we seek to “redress grievances.”
Our grievance today is with HB805. In part, the bill states, “A riot is a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”
Who decides when an “assemblage of three or more persons” . . . is an “imminent threat” . . . that “creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage”? Who decides that?
Let’s play a little game:
Was the Boston Tea Party a riot or a rally? Actually, it was a riot incited by Samuel Adams to have the king’s tea thrown in the harbor because even with a tea tax it was still going to cost less than the tea Sam Adams was selling from the Dutch Tea Company. He stood to lose some money. Bet you didn’t know that.
Was the first attempted March to Selma moving across the Pettis Street Bridge a riot or a rally? I would call that one a riot too, but the rioters who created a “clear and present danger” that day were not the marchers. No, the marchers were rioted upon by state troopers who violently forced them off the bridge, creating “clear and present danger” for everybody on that bridge.
How about Occupy Wall Street, 2011, focused on income and wealth inequality, which, by the way, is worse now than it was in 2011? Riot or rally? Most people say rally about the original gathering in New York City and the gatherings that followed around the country. But still, thousands of people were arrested for “publicly assembling.” Wonder why?
My point is, the ones who define “clear and present danger” will be the ones who decide whether it is a riot or a rally. It will have nothing to do with the intentions of those who “peaceably assemble,” . . . “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This bill seeks to turn a constitutional right into a crime with extreme punitive repercussions.
My faith tradition assures me we have the right to be here today. And the government has the responsibility to listen to us. Thank you.