Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Should Germantown "Resolve" about Hate Groups?

Resolution 17R16 – A Resolution of the City of Germantown to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry  

Is Resolution 17R16 an appropriate condemnation of hate of the type seen recently in Charlottesville? Or, instead of being simply a fluffy, feel-good resolution, is it a pathway to enacting laws with unforseen consequences, perhaps even including legislation that might infringe on the First Amendment rights of assembly and speech? 

This is the question that aldermen must face this Monday.  

Now, let's look at the text that the aldermen will be voting on: 

I completely reject the white supremacy movement and find it extremely dangerous. In all honesty, I don't mind our city's passing a proclamation against white supremacy, although some people disagree. Detractors wonder why a city should judge which ideas are right or wrong. They ask, "Shouldn't such judgments be left to the individual rather than to a government?" I do not find this argument persuasive. White supremacy is morally indefensible. If this were simply a measure denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other similar groups, I would say: "Fine. Pass this fluffy feel-good resolution. It will be nice to put Germantown squarely against the morally bankrupt hate movements responsible for the events in Charlottesville."   

But I did a double-take and my hair stood on end when I read past the last "whereas" above. It states:

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the City of Germantown supports the Mayors' Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry and supports the Mayor's effort to work with executive and legislative partners at federal and state levels to ensure that civil rights laws are aggresively enforced, existing hate crime laws are strengthened as needed and new laws are enacted to ensure that all hate crimes are prosecutable in their jurisdictions to the greatest extent of the law." 

The above clause implies that Germantown will follow all the recommendations of the Mayors' Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry-- an initiative developed by the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. New legislation is contemplated, but what conduct will it ban? Although the resolution is non-binding, the City would appear to be committing itself to support laws recommended by the Mayor's Compact. Are we prepared to make such a commitment when we know so little about this Compact and what it intends to do? I cannot help but wonder if far-reaching legislation isn't the whole point of this effort to entice communities into signing off on what otherwise appears to be a condemnation of hate.  

Here is an article about the Compact that appeared in the Washington Post:

To put it mildly, I am surprised that the City of Germantown proposes to align itself with a newly formed group that arose in the wake of Trump's controversial response to Charlottesville. I did not see this coming. Did you realize that Germantown is a hotbed of anti-Trump sentiment? I didn't. Don't we have enough controversy over fountains, mattress stores, buildings too close to the street, bicycle lanes, drainage, school locations, and alcohol ordinances? Is it wise to further divide our community by aligning ourselves with a national group formed as an emotional reaction to controversial statements by President Trump? 

Apart from the Resolution's potention for distraction, it could also lead to pitfalls with ominous implications. I talked to a lawyer friend, and here were some of her questions:

Does the Resolution mean that the City of Germantown will work ACTIVELY and officially against proposed legislation to carve out protection for car drivers who strike someone in the street that is a protester? Does it mean the City of Germantown will work ACTIVELY and officially against legislation that enhance penalties for any injuries to a police officer, whether purposeful or accidental?  Does it mean the City of Germantown will be using its lobbyist to work ACTIVELY for legislation to enact a "Hate Speech/Hate Crime" law on the state level?    

It is my friend's last question that most concerns me. Does the Compact contemplate legislation that would criminalize speech or limit free assembly? We are treading in dangerous water if we promote challenges to the First Amendment. European nations ban the use of Nazi symbols and salutes. Here, however, these hateful expressions are protected by the First Amendment. Does the Compact contemplate legislation that would outlaw these symbols? Does the Compact envision limiting the citizens' right to assembly? We all treasure these rights, and any attempt to chip away at them should be resisted.  
A central purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech, indeed, speech so unpopular as to incense the overwhelming majority of Americans. David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU, felt it necessary to write a thoughtful piece on why we must not permit the events occurring in Charlottesville to enduce us to forsake the First Amendment. Even the horrible, neo-Nazi thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville need First Amendment protection.  

I recommend that everyone read the entire piece. Here is an excerpt: 

As Frederick Douglass reminded us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Throughout our history, disadvantaged minority groups have effectively used the First Amendment to speak, associate, and assemble for the purpose of demanding their rights—and the ACLU has defended their right to do so. Where would the movements for racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBT equality be without a muscular First Amendment? 

The First Amendment implications of this resolution should be apparent to all; however, Clay Bailey, a journalist who should have a heightened appreciation of these issues, ignored these First Amendment implications in his recent hit piece against resolution-opponent Dean Massey, who objects to the resolution because it is overly broad and connected to an unvetted authority.

Mr. Bailey's column is needlessly polarizing. He has given no thought to the potential ramifications of this resolution.

Whatever your feelings about Resolution No.17R16, be sure to communicate them to our aldermen--  

I personally feel that the resolution should be tabled until we have a clear picture of the specific legislative agenda sought by the Mayor's Compact to Combat Hate. We need to ensure that such legislation does not affect our First Amendment rights. If we feel we must take some action, the wiser course at this point would be simply to adopt a resolution that our community can fully embrace-- namely, a resolution condemning hatred of the sort that we saw in Charlottesville.

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