Citizen rights, enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, were on full display Sunday afternoon on Main Street in Watsontown.
“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,” the First Amendment states.
On Sunday, those words sanctioned and protected the rights of about 200 members of the Milton-based group, “If Not Us, Then Who?,” and those who joined them, to gather at the intersection of Main Street and Brimmer Avenue to protest racism, to call out the names of Black citizens who died at the hands of police and speak out for justice.
The constitutional phrases “freedom of speech” and “right of the people peaceably to assemble” also sanctioned and protected the rights of spectators to gather across the street, watch the event, express their views and exchange words with those participating in the rally.
We were disappointed at the vulgar, insulting and hurtful language that became part of some of the exchanges. The event did remain peaceful, but police came on the scene and blocked several streets. It’s unfortunate that was considered necessary.
During the three-hour rally, some protesters made speeches, but all frequently broke into chants of “Black lives matter,” “Say his name, George Floyd,” “I can’t breathe” and “Silence is violence.”
Across the street, some spectators argued that the Democratic party or communists were promoting the Black Lives Matter movement.
One spectator, who refused to give his name, argued that politicians are using the death of George Floyd and racial divisions to further their political objectives.
“We need to have this conversation,” said rally participant Matt Nolder, 35, of Milton. “That’s what this is all about. From the street level to the White House, this is what it has to be about.”
The sign-carrying protesters later marched through borough side streets. As they started off down Brimmer Avenue, one obviously angry spectator shouted obscenities and “Keep walking!” and “White lives matter!” at the marchers.
We observed local police officers from Watsontown, joined by a few state police troopers and officers from other nearby departments, quietly, calmly and effectively walking between the groups, ensuring that everyone had space and that the conversations would not escalate into anything else.
We also observed that several of the direct conversations among people from opposite sides of the street ended with an approving nod, firstbump or handshake. That speaks to the power of freedom of speech and the right of people to peacefully assemble.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.