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First Amendment rights on display in Rochester protests

Cornell University
10-Sep-2020 5:10 PM EDT, by Cornell University

Protests in Rochester, NY continued this week for the eighth day after a federal lawsuit revealed police involvement in the death of Daniel Prude in March along with a subsequent alleged cover up of the incident. The police chief and members of police department leadership have since resigned. 

Tyler Valeska is a fellow at the Cornell University Law School First Amendment Clinic, which handles litigation, advocacy and policy matters related to First Amendment cases for news outlets, journalists, researchers, and scholars. 


Valeska says:

“The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in our First Amendment for good reason: democracy requires that the people be able to gather in opposition to unjust governmental activity. The recent protests in Rochester are a prime example of this principle in action.

 “The protests have been largely nonviolent, with some exceptions, and have forcefully voiced the community’s outrage with how Daniel Prude was killed. Protestors are constitutionally protected in their expressive demonstrations and cannot be targeted based on the content of that activity. Police should not engage in any counter-demonstration efforts that unnecessarily chill protestors’ speech, such as firing projectiles into crowds indiscriminately or without justification. And police should refrain from targeting journalists covering the protests in any way. Even brief detainments of journalists, as have been reported, can undermine the critical newsgathering function the press plays. 

“We’re very much in a broader moment of increased protest activity, both nationally and globally. We’ve seen an increase of over 10% in the number of protests worldwide in the last decade, and domestically we’ve had over 25,000 protests attended by over 13.5 million people since President Trump’s inauguration. That comprises big and small cities and underscores the criticality of First Amendment protections in an era of mass political demonstrations.” 

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