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The Minneapolis Riots: The Constitutional right to peaceful protest must be upheld, but that does not include rioting

The video of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on Memorial Day is horrible to watch. Whether former officer Derek Chauvin’s actions killed George Floyd are questions for the medical examiner and the courts. But, speaking personally, there is no way that arresting a man for an alleged minor infraction should involve a police officer putting his knee on that man’s neck for nine minutes while he cries out “I can’t breathe” and then goes silent. The police are there to maintain law and order and protect the public. Those laws apply to the police and George Floyd was a member of that public.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Emphasis added]

Right there is the guarantee of the right to peaceful protest. Many people, in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States, have exercised that right in the days since George Floyd’s death. That constitutional right should be protected with as much doggedness as any other. It is an indispensable part of a free country.

Sadly, at the same time that many have been exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest, others have simply been out rioting or using the opportunity to loot some free stuff. For this, there is no constitutional guarantee, nor should there be.

As I wrote on Thursday, people have had their lives shattered by this rioting and looting. Not only that, but this rioting and looting distracts from the legitimate peaceful protests over George Floyd’s death. Addressing the violence, George Floyd’s brother, Terrence, said: “Let’s do this another way!” The Star Tribune reported:

Speaking on Monday to onlookers and a crush of international media, Terrence Floyd took to task those people who have rioted in his brother’s name, saying his brother loved Minneapolis.

“I understand you all are upset. But I doubt you are half as upset as I am. So if I’m not over here wilding out, if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing? … That’s not going to bring my brother back,” he said.

Nothing will. But the looters and rioters should not be allowed to detract from those peacefully protesting, as the constitution allows.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.

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