The fight for human rights and social justice is in full swing in the U.S.A. despite the curfews, quarantines, and similar restrictions spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. While some protesters have had enough with police brutality, others just want their businesses back or wish to enter a store and buy food for their children without being tossed out for not wearing a mandatory mask.
The right to peaceful assembly and to protest government actions is clearly enshrined in most countries’ constitutions and human rights charters. And even if the right to protest is not specified there, many democracies use other terms that imply the same concept.
For instance, in Australia, the right to protest government actions fall under a concept known as “implied freedom of political communication.”
Why Is the Right to Peacefully Protest So Critical in a Democracy?
Why are so many people risking their lives during the coronavirus pandemic by protesting police brutality against people of color? It is because three law enforcement officers have overstepped their boundaries and used excessive force when apprehending and arresting a black man. Their actions rendered late George Floyd, 46, unable to breathe which allegedly led to his early death by asphyxiation.
Members of the black community were appalled as this is not the first case of police brutality targeting a black person in the land of the free. And the coronavirus was not an excuse to just sit idly by and let the officers get away with it as it often happened.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to dissent and peacefully protest, a fundamental right in any democracy for preventing the government from turning the country into North Korea. The Second Amendment is just as important, as the Founding Fathers of the United States have seen a thing or two when it comes to centralized governments and their tendency of degenerating into tyranny.
We’re talking about the eternally unchanged human nature, and tyranny does happen regardless of who is in charge, be it at the local, state, federal, and even global levels.
Authorities argue that protests are “non-essential” since people should “temporarily” give up their human rights and their hard-won civil rights in a collective effort to keep a deadly virus from wreaking havoc among communities. In other words, the individual’s rights and freedoms should be trampled for the sake of the common good, which sounds awfully similar to Maoist China’s way of thinking.
These issues are well-known by peaceful protesters defying coronavirus restrictions nationwide. From civil rights activists fighting for justice in Floyd’s case to simple Americans protesting face-covering mandates or crackdowns on their constitutional freedom to worship. (In Mississippi and Kentucky, police fined churchgoers for attending drive-in services while a stay-at-home order was in place.) These people know that death is a milder fate than tyranny.
Is Coronavirus a Valid Excuse to Give Up Our Freedoms?
Legal experts that are not on the government payroll agree that a national crisis is not an excuse to put on hold people’s fundamental rights, such as the right to peacefully protest the government’s decisions or the freedom of speech. Democracy should allow people to express disagreement even with public health measures or with other issues where the science “has been settled,” since no one has a monopoly on truth, and nobody is infallible.
This means that authorities need to tailor any restrictions in a way that strictly protects public health without leaving room for abuse such as banning peaceful protests altogether or hunting down people for attending religious services in their own cars despite complying with the social distancing requirements.
What’s more, most peaceful protesters have taken the necessary precautions in order not to endanger the health of their fellow protesters or passers-by. They are wearing face masks, abiding by the 6-foot rule, demonstrating in their cars, or yelling out their grievances on social media. However, that didn’t prevent authorities from cracking down on protests, fining protesters into oblivion, or abusively arresting them.
Human rights are God-given “rights” no man shall take away regardless of how justified the reason may be. In a democracy, these rights are protected against unreasonable government intrusion through peaceful protests and the nation’s court system. There’s a reason police brutality attorneys are having a field day after George Floyd’s death. People are suing the government for a peaceful change in their communities. Take away these two tools from the hands of the people and tyranny ensues.