It’s a pretty basic human right. In fact, it’s the first personal freedom granted to citizens in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The freedom to peacefully assemble. The freedom of speech. The freedom of the press. The First Amendment.
This week the country is witnessing a horrifying violation of that fundamental right to speak out and speak loud. In Ferguson, Missouri, the police killing of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man Michael Brown sparked understandable anger within the St. Louis suburb. A peaceful vigil among community members led to tear gas and rubber bullets from police.
Even journalists experienced the atrocity of Ferguson’s police as they covered the shooting and resulting unrest. Ferguson police arrested reporters Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post as they were working and charging cell phones at a Ferguson McDonalds.
Police are here to protect us, to serve us, to keep our communities safe. Many of you have probably seen the powerful images of Ferguson citizens with their hands up in surrender as armed police point huge guns at them. These are peaceful civilians met with police dressed for military combat. That doesn’t look like protection to me nor does it look like the picture of democracy that we want to show to the world.
If people are not allowed to protest the senseless killing of an innocent, unarmed teenager-and journalists not allowed to cover it-without being met with police brutality, how can we ever feel comfortable exercising our constitutional rights to peacefully protest? As the challenges we face becomes more serious and more complex, there are more reasons for empowered individuals to come together, united for positive change.
Next month, I’ll take part in the People’s Climate March in New York City, the largest climate march in history, along with my colleague and Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo. Because of that precious First Amendment right which is being so egregiously violated in Missouri, I can join thousands other people from all across the country and we can all speak out and speak loud.
Greenpeace bases its nonviolent principles on that of the peaceful Quakers who believe it is “everyone’s duty to bear witness to truth and to stand in front of evil.” Not only do we apply that to our own work when we demand those responsible for environmental destruction to change, but we also support those exercising that same principle across the world and the US. It is with that organizational value and belief that Greenpeace sends support and love to the residents of Ferguson, Missouri.
“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” -Gandhi