Argumentative Essay: Under The First Amendment

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Howard Zinn famously once said: “The First Amendment is whatever the cop on the beat says it is.” Zinn’s words may have best been exemplified in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. The First Amendment states that no law shall be made “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble” (U.S. Constitution). Yet in Ferguson, protesters were confronted by police officers carrying military-grade equipment, and reporters were arrested while simply doing their job. Zinn appears to have been right; at least temporarily, the rights an American has under the First Amendment are whatever the cop on the beat says they are. Since its founding, the United States of America…show more content…
In 1886, a peaceful rally meant to shine a light on the lack of enforcement of the eight-hour workday at Haymarket Square in Chicago turned into a riot. Towards the end of the event, an unknown person threw a bomb towards police officers who had come to break up the rally. Several officers were killed. Not knowing who threw the bomb, police arrested several well-known anarchists and labor activists. The argument was that these activists had encouraged people to attend the rally and ultimately "aided, abetted, and encouraged" the use of violence and the murder of police officers (Linder, 1995). Several of the arrested activists were put to death. Later, Schenck v. United States (1919) would determine that the First Amendment would be limited by speech or action intended to result in a crime, and posed a “clear or present danger”. Even under this doctrine, it is hard to see how the encouragement to protest by labor activists encouraged someone to throw a bomb. Under the doctrine determined by Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), which stated that only speech "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action", encouraging or engaging in protests is undoubtedly protected by the First
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