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COLUMNS

Loewy: Order, liberty were each important as protests took place

Staff Writer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Loewy

Last Tuesday night thanks to the wonders of a modern VCR, I was able to watch both Sean Hannity on Fox news and Chris Cuomo on CNN, each giving their view on the current chaos on the streets of our nation.

Hannity bemoaned the criminality on our streets and implored President Trump to send federal troops to wherever the weak, ineffective, liberal governors and mayors were too timid to meet the crisis of criminality on the streets. He singled out New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for special scorn.

Chris Cuomo (the brother of Andrew Cuomo) condemned those who interfered with the protesters’ legitimate right to protest. He specifically singled out President Trump, who had cleared Lafayette Park of protesters by use of tear gas and rubber bullets so that he could have a photo op in front of St. John’s Church across the street. The photo op showed him holding a Bible in one hand.

What was interesting about these shows was that Fox barely mentioned the legitimate protesters though it seemed to grudgingly concede their right to be there. CNN on the other hand, agreed that the criminals should be punished but seemed to view that as far less significant than the protectors’ right to protest.

So who’s right? The answer is both make valid points, but neither is completely right. Sean Hannity was certainly correct in saying that we need to stop anarchy and criminality on our streets to protect the public. He was right in noting that one of the purposes of our constitutional form of government is to ensure domestic tranquility. But he was not right in marginalizing the importance of the First Amendment right to protest perceived (or in this case, real) injustices.

Chris Cuomo, on the other hand, while acknowledging the importance of order, clearly subordinated it to the right to protest.

So where should we go from here? The first thing that I would note is that the protesters and the criminals are not the same people. Indeed, there have been instances of legitimate protesters trying to stop the criminals who have infiltrated the protesters for their own evil purposes

I agree with Hannity that we cannot have anarchy, vandalism, looting, and arson in our streets. What we need to do is have our police vigilant to prevent that. So, I think that the police should be vigilant so that any criminal infiltrator will be arrested at the first sign of criminality.

On the other hand, Cuomo and his CNN colleagues are quite right that a legitimate protest should not be interfered with in the name of law and order. I can think of no better illustration of this than President Trump’s attacking the protesters in Lafayette Park so that he could get his biblical photo op.

So, because both order (Fox) and liberty (CNN) are vital to America, I propose the following: 1. A large police presence at demonstrations to stop criminals as soon as they commit crimes, and (2) Guarantees to legitimate protesters that they will be protected. Liberty, especially free speech, is important, and law and order should never be used as a tool to in any way diminish our precious freedoms.

I would also suggest eliminating curfews. These are designed to prevent crime, but they also limit protest time. Instead, if the police (or if needed National Guard) are doing their job, they can prevent criminality by their very presence. At the same time, they can permit and indeed do protect the protesters.

What we need to understand as a nation is that law and order (despite the bad name it has been given by some ultra-conservatives, including the current occupant of the White House) is important to ensuring all other rights. Law and order properly conceived does not mean unleashing vicious dogs in the manner of Bull Connor of Birmingham many years ago and suggested just last week by President Trump, but it does mean monitoring potential criminals and arresting them when the crime is committed.

Arnold Loewy is the George Killiam Professor of Law at Texas Tech School of Law and a regular contributor to the A-J opinion pages.