The Battle Between the First and Second Amendments
By John Grant
There is a contest going on in America between the First and Second Amendments as to which has more favor in our court system. It's a face off between gun violence and freedom of the press and it involves individuals, giant corporations and standing armies.
Last week in Oakland, CA, demonstrations followed the manslaughter conviction of a white police officer who claimed he had meant to shoot a young black man with his Taser but grabbed the wrong item from his belt. That whole incident was “shot” by two citizens with cell phones.
Deciding what trumps what in this kind of conflict between rights is an issue relegated to the Supreme Court, an aloof entity accountable to no one. The question that should concern every American though, is how this court and those below it have their fingers on the scale when it comes to the first two amendments of the Constitution.
A New Year's subway shooting
In the morning hours of New Year's Day 2009 in Oakland, cell phone videos shot by two subway passengers revealed several transit police officers engaged with three young black men on the subway platform following an apparent altercation on the train. Two officers are seen forcing 22-year-old African American Oscar Grant, who had been sitting against the wall, face-down onto the concrete platform.
One officer was at his head, and 27-year-old white Officer Johannes Mehserle straddled him from behind. Then Mehserle raises up, reaches to his belt, pulls out his pistol and -- pop! – shoots Grant in the back.
“You shot me!” witnesses said Grant exclaimed in disbelief. Grant died later in the emergency room.
Minutes before being shot, Grant sat against the wall and took his own cell phone image of Mehserle, in which the officer is shown pointing his Taser at Grant. This means Mehserle must have subsequently holstered his Taser to wrestle Grant, with the other officer, from a sitting position to a face-down prone position, only then unholstering his pistol and shooting Grant in the back. Watch the cell phone video of the shooting yourself.
The case is an amazing collision of two phenomena: the omnipresence of digital cameras and the acceptance of a gun and its “more humane” cousin, the Taser, as early problem solvers in a chain of options available to police...
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