SCOTUS punishes protesters for protesting

DeRay Mckesson organized a Black Lives Matter demonstration in July 2016, following the murder of Alton Sterling at the hands of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the protest, populated with hundreds of people, resulting in over 200 arrests by fully armed police officers in riot gear, one police officer was hit in the face with a rock thrown by a participant.

Now DeRay McKesson is getting sued for negligence. On April 15, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to intervene in the Mckesson v. Doe lawsuit.

According to an article on the SCOTUS decision in Vox, the officer, who was allowed to hide his identity, claimed that Mckesson “knew or should have known” that violence would result and alleged that Mckesson had “organized and directed the protest in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk that one protester would assault or batter” the officer. (

The Supreme Court had already tread this water in 1982, explicitly ruling that protest leaders could not be held liable for the violent actions of a protest participant in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, even noting in its ruling that courts must use “extreme care” before imposing liability on a political figure of any kind, in fear that the precedent may be set much like the one happening right now.

Protest for Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 2016.

Right to organize protests in danger

Louisiana, like Mississippi and Texas, previously upheld the right to organize a mass protest. Now with this right being undermined, “a protest organizer faces potentially ruinous financial consequences if a single attendee at a mass protest commits an illegal act,” according to the Vox article. Under the lower court’s decision, “The Supreme Court effectively abolishes the right to mass protest in three U.S. states.” 

The courts can now weaponize the age-old, union-busting tactic of making the organizer the bearer of punishment, taking the whippings for the actions of many, which is meant, of course, to dissuade organizers from organizing. In fact this could also serve as an invitation for bad actors, such as white supremacists both federal and recreational to join a cause they don’t agree with, incite violence much in the style of the agitators against the George Floyd protests and get massive fines placed on the organizer as punishment for inconveniencing their day.

What makes the situation in the United States so unique is that when it comes to standing up for workers’ rights, bringing attention to the causes of marginalized groups and boycotting genocide, on top of being under a government that’s very prepared to murder you, a junior army of its loyalists are as well. They can be easily activated if they’re sure they won’t be penalized for it. 

On April 15, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, in response to road-blocking demonstrations protesting the U.S. funding of Israel’s murder of 13,450 children (and counting) in Palestine since October 7, tweeted: “I encourage people who get stuck behind the pro-Hamas mobs blocking traffic: Take matters into your own hands. It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.”

Cotton later edited the tweet to “take matters into your own hands to get them out of the way,” thinking that would better hide the dog whistle. In response to the George Floyd protests, Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa passed bills granting immunity to those who want to hit protesters with their 2-ton motor vehicles.

Consciousness grows in the U.S.

As consciousness in the U.S. continuously develops into more awareness of our impact on the world and the purpose of the capitalist system meant to keep our mouths shut and too poverty-stricken to fight, we’re also confronted with the fact that we are also a violent nation spitefully marching towards a fascist state. Since 2020, it’s become painfully evident that stripping back the few protections protesters have is a greenlight for more violence from the opposition.

One consolation offered to those concerned about what this decision may mean for the U.S. is that it may not be a permanent ruling. Although SCOTUS allowed the First Amendment right to protest to be attacked, they didn’t outright reverse it, possibly rendering this decision a temporary one. 

But why wouldn’t it be? It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that the gag order on protesters intends to be a nationwide feature. The working class has gotten too comfortable with the idea of having a say on how their country runs, and in response we have politicians radicalizing an angry, often armed opposition to keep us in line from just enough of a distance that they face no consequence legally. There are only benefits for the bourgeoisie. If we let them take this from us, it will be gone forever.

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