(1) Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.
The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed — or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet — many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant — to refrain from exercising their rights — out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.
The genius of this approach is how insidious its effects are: because the rights continue to be offered on paper, the citizenry continues to believe it is free. They believe that they are free to do everything they choose to do, because they have been “persuaded” — through fear and intimidation — to passively accept the status quo. As Rosa Luxemburg so perfectly put it: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” Someone who sits at home and never protests or effectively challenges power factions will not realize that their rights of speech and assembly have been effectively eroded because they never seek to exercise those rights; it’s only when we see steadfast, courageous resistance from the likes of these UC-Davis students is this erosion of rights manifest.