Cops vs the First Amendment

Imprisoned political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu Jamal and two unidentified NYPD cops using freedom of speech to mock a police brutality victim Eric Garner.

Imprisoned political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu Jamal and two unidentified NYPD cops using freedom of speech to mock police brutality victim Eric Garner.

by Keith Cook
Thank you for inviting me again to be a part of this essential, timely discussion that we should be having across our nation. Free speech – for most of us who are activists, what does the Fraternal Order of Police, commonly known as the FOP, have to do with it? Thus the name of this forum, “Cops vs. Free Speech.”
As most of you know, back on Oct. 5 this year, Pennsylvania passed a law that allows judges to prohibit and punish those who amplify Mumia’s voice. This new law was written in direct response to the pre-recorded commencement address at his alma mater, Goddard College in Vermont. This law is another example of the long standing vendetta by the state of Pennsylvania and the FOP against Mumia.
You all here know something about free speech because the Free Speech Movement was started here during the 1964-65 academic year on the campus of UC at Berkeley. It was a student protest that was unprecedented in scope. This is the 50th anniversary of the protest.
So, my friends, if you do nothing during this time in history, eventually, if you are an activist or a person of color, they are going to come after you in some way. Now we are at this place where we must stand up. We are only at the beginning of where the FOP bad cops are trying to take away the right to free speech and dissent, the right to assemble, the right to protect yourself, even take away your camera and threaten you. There is a breakdown in trust and the rights of every American.
Since when did the United States of America change the rules – change to the point where free speech, freedom to disagree, freedom to think differently become a violation of the Constitution of the United States? When did America change?
The FOP has only 325,000 members spread out over 2,100 chapters. Who gave them the power to change America? It has been changing over time because we have blindly given the federal government, state government, police departments and the FOP carte blanche to keep us feeling safe “by any means necessary.”
Because it didn’t harm you at the time, we accept even the militarization of our police and drones to “help” watch over us. So now we are where we are, a very scared, divided, paranoid country with no trust. We don’t even believe that our children will have a better life than we do.
Back on Oct. 5 this year, Pennsylvania passed a law that allows judges to prohibit and punish those who amplify Mumia’s voice. This law is another example of the long standing vendetta by the state of Pennsylvania and the FOP against Mumia.
We are not going to allow these people, the real hoodlums, the police, peace officers, the FOP to destroy the foundation of America just because they carry a gun and take rights they don’t have. The hoodlums are indeed the rogue cops who are out there pulling political strings of certain elected officials.
The hoodlums are the rogue cops who are hiding behind their shields their true racist passion. The hoodlums are the cops who use chokeholds, on camera, and get away with it. The hoodlums are the police who bully and throw 70-year-old women to the ground. The hoodlums are the cops who set my brother Mumia up in the first place.
Why are we so adamant about fighting this? You have to stand for something. We all do. The First Amendment clearly states it prohibits the making of any law that disallows freedom of speech.
Stand up with us. We have a right to protest.
You see, there is a delusion of power. The cops believe they have all power – so much power that they believe they can take away your freedom of speech. That they can violate the Constitution or even rewrite it the way they want it to be read.
Every one of the key persons on the prosecution team who were involved in Mumia’s case was controlled by the FOP, got promoted and in some cases still are there. Every DA in Philadelphia since 1981 was elected with the help of the FOP and ran openly on the platform that if elected they would murder Mumia.
The First Amendment clearly states it prohibits the making of any law that disallows freedom of speech. Stand up with us. We have a right to protest.
One of the big problems is that there is not an independent body policing the cops. They investigate themselves. It is nearly impossible to indict a policeman. It is a clear conflict of interest to allow them to investigate themselves.
The relationship between the prosecutors and the police is too cozy. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. We have to break up some of these relationships. We need independent reviews, independent grand juries. The DA has too much control of the outcomes. We need the government to represent the people, all the people.
Be clear. This isn’t only about Mumia or offenders. This is about you. This is about what your child can read in school. This is about Urban Dreams, the curriculum that the Oakland School District just reinstated.
This is about protests we see around the country led by Black Lives Matter and other small groups around the country like in New York and Ferguson. There was a protest in 140 cities last week in support of Mike Brown. This is about Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice – only 12 years old – all disenfranchised people, Black, White and Brown people; it is about all of us.
Be clear. This isn’t only about Mumia or offenders. This is about you.
Don’t be totally discouraged. We are seeing some progress, some wins. The FOP did not get the NFL to penalize the St. Louis Rams players who put their “hands up, don’t shoot” as they entered the field. An infuriated spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association told the NFL and the Rams: “I know that there are those who say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well, I got news for people who think that way. Cops have First Amendment rights, too, and we plan to exercise ours.”
This man is a former cop and a current member of the Missouri state House of Representatives. Did that sound vaguely like a threatening tone? Here it is. It’s a governmental agent who seeks to punish someone for expressing certain views. Arrogance. It is also clear he did not understand what the First Amendment says.
The FOP did not get Goddard College staff and students to cancel Mumia’s planned commencement speech. The Oakland School district is reinstating the Urban Dreams curriculum over the objections of the FOP. Thank goodness for Oakland Teachers for Mumia, the unions and others. They said NO and didn’t let it go until it was reversed.
In discussing the recent protests about the killing of Black men and boys across the U.S., Congressmen Jeffries said: “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a rallying cry of people across America who are fed up with police violence.” President Obama called it “unfair policies that violate my belief in what America can be.” Lastly, Rep. Green from Texas said it was a John Carlos moment because this has become a new symbol, a new statement where people around the country now are calling to the attention of those who don’t quite understand that this is a movement – a movement that will get stronger as more people join in.
The nation has seen the murder of Eric Garner, the nation has seen the police roll up on Tamir Rice, age 12, with a toy pistol and within seconds shoot him dead. We and they did not have to take the police’s word of what happened; we saw. So the question becomes, “How many more lies have they told and we believed?”
Congressmen Jeffries said: “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a rallying cry of people across America who are fed up with police violence.”
Just maybe we need to ask more questions, which open up this large can of worms. Just look at how many lies the police have been caught at in the last couple of weeks. There is a better chance now that the larger community can believe the possibility Mumia was framed and innocent as we do.
In closing, I am asking you to do three things:
  1. Educate yourself and five other people about the injustices that we are speaking about tonight.
  2. Stand up where you are – in your neighborhood, in your city, in Sacramento, on social media, everywhere you can – to let your voices be heard to stop this madness
  3. And work with other like-minded organizations who want the same thing. Whether it is the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia, Stop the Death Penalty, Veterans for Peace or Stop Mass Incarceration.
My friends, what I am asking you to do is to understand that you have to have the power, because there are more of you than there are members of the FOP. There are more of you than the staff at Fox News. It is a matter of your desire to stick together until we get the change we are asking for.
My brother Mumia said in response to the Mumia Gag Law:
“I welcome Gov. Corbett’s signature on an unconstitutional bill that is proof that the executive and the legislative don’t give one whit about their own Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States Constitution. I welcome that as proof that they are the outlaws.”
Hands up, don’t shoot! Free Mumia and all political prisoners!
Keith Cook delivered this speech on Dec. 5 at “Cops vs. Free Speech,” a public forum organized by the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia, Prison Radio, and Oakland Teachers for Mumia, and held at La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. He can be reached at:kdc52@aol.com


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