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September 25, 2004

Damn Neighbors!

On the subject of arresting protesters or otherwise limiting their freedom of expression, GW (the law school I attend) is right next door to the IMF and World Bank (or is it the WTO? I always confuse the two...) buildings in downtown D.C., which means once or twice a year we get an email like this from the Dean of Students:
The Monetary Fund (IMF) has meetings scheduled for Oct 2 and 3 and according to local authorities, relatively small demonstrations/protests are planned in connection with these meetings. Because of the Limited Orange Alert in this area, security concerns have substantially increased. In preparation for both the meetings and protests we can expect that the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will - as they have in the past - institute street closures in the the area of the Law School -- especially on 20th Street -- and you can and should expect delays and detours in the entire Foggy Bottom Campus area over this weekend.
What's great about this is how matter-of-fact and ho-hum the dean is about the massive police presence involved with these military-style operations. Police in full riot gear surround the buildings near GW, and they put up 6-8 foot high barricades in the area streets. The barricades tend to control an area much larger than the two blocks occupied by the IMF/World Bank, ensuring that any protesters who do show up are not likely to be seen or heard by anyone involved with the meetings they're protesting. So we live in a free country and you have a right to express yourself, but legal professionals -- like the faculty and administration at a major U.S. law school -- are happy to accommodate massive police actions that threaten those freedoms and rights. And this accommodation takes place without a single word of critique. Great. Whatever you think of the police “response” to protests (which I would argue is less a response than an advance attack—the “Bush Doctrine” of military preemption applied against U.S. civil rights), these emails from the dean are also irritating because they make absolutely no attempt to interest GW law students in why this is happening, or to educate them in any way on the serious legal and social issues involved. Why are there protests? What are the protesters protesting? Why are the police responding in this way? What is the history of this kind of police action? Are current and former GW students currently involved in litigation against the city for serious police misconduct in previous protests? (Yes.) Aren't these serious and relevant legal issues? And aren't we at a law school, fergoodnessake!? Isn't an educational institution supposed to educate and encourage critical thinking? Or did I miss the memo that said law schools were supposed to teach law students to be obedient consumers whose only concern with protests is the inconvenience they might cause? It's things like this that make it abundantly clear why so many people think lawyers are a form of pond scum. Are legal issues like this not on the radar because there's so little money to be gained by paying attention to them?

Posted 01:35 PM | Comments (3) | 2L

Arresting Protesters: Neiderer

Since they don't allow comments at the Volokh Conspiracy (a mistake, IMO), I'm commenting here on this brief post from Orin Kerr about recent arrests of Bush protesters. It's a followup to a longer piece that criticizes a Maureen Dowd editorial about the arrest of Sue Neiderer because Dowd failed to mention that the charges against Neiderer were dropped and she was released. The suggestion is that Dowd somehow failed by not mentioning this. Perhaps. But isn't the issue here that the damage was already done at the point of arrest? I mean, it's great the charges were dropped, but the fact that Neiderer was arrested in the first place is what's offensive, isn't it? It's much like police rounding up protesters at mass demonstrations for little to no reason, holding them until the protest is over, then releasing them w/no charge. “Oops! Sorry! We don't want to prosecute because we already accomplished our goal, which was to violate your right to express yourself when and where it might have made a difference.” So while Professor Kerr says Neiderer's case “looks kind of bogus,” I beg to differ. The police (or secret service) should not have such unfettered freedom to arrest people who say “disagreeable” or “controversial” things in public places. The fact that those people are later released w/out being charged does not in any way reduce the fact that the police violated their rights to express themselves. I haven't studied First Amendment law yet. From the little I understand at this point, the state has the right to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of expression. Does this kind of police conduct fall within that sort of regulation? And if so, am I the only one who thinks it should not?

Posted 01:12 PM | Comments (3) | election 2004 general politics

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