September 29, 2017

The ACLU of Maine's Statement of Purpose reads: "The rights of each person are secure only if those of the weakest are assured. The ACLU of Maine stands on this ground; if it fails to, it and liberty may perish."

I write today to affirm that the ACLU of Maine is committed to the advancement of racial justice. We stand with the counter-protestors in Maine and around the country who are dismantling the system of white supremacy. Thanks to the work of activists and advocates, there is a growing understanding of how some of the foundational institutions of the United States of America negatively impact black and brown people.

We believe in the power of the people. We recognize that marginalized people have been leading resistance against state-sanctioned violence and oppression for generations. We stand with those in opposition to anti-black racism who advocate for liberty and their rights through protest, policy, and the pursuit of a transformative justice. We stand to affirm that racism and fascism are antithetical to the constitutional promise of equal protection under the law. And this Sunday, we stand with We The People at the March for Racial Justice in Waterville.

Racism is morally wrong and consistently violent. That violence can manifest in so many ways: hate crimes, police brutality, gentrification and redlining, austerity policies that erode the social safety net, or wars against people of color abroad, just to name a few ways.

It is imperative that we all stand up to racism and white supremacists with everything that we've got.  We need to be vigilant about white supremacy in all its forms – whether dressed up as a "free speech" rally or even an "anti-violence" rally – these titles do not change the fact that the organizers are associated with racist views. We need to be clear and honest with ourselves about what is unfolding in our state and our country.

White supremacy, neo-Nazism, and the alt-right are using the community organizing tools and messaging pioneered by social justice movements, like the civil rights movement, in an attempt to normalize their ideology and continue to build their base. We need to ask, what are their goals? What are they organizing for?

The continued empowerment of white supremacists is a very real threat to black and brown folks, Muslims and Jewish folks, LGBTQ+ folks, the disabled, the undocumented, the incarcerated, and so many marginalized populations. If you stand for human life, you must stand for racial justice.

Our critiques of the government and ideas about liberation from oppressive white supremacy are dissent. I'm no lawyer, but I understand that this kind of dissent is free speech protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment also allows people to express abhorrent, racist views. The Constitution enshrines these rights for all views.

ACLU affiliates across the country are engaged in so many different types of work advancing racial justice priorities and defending the First Amendment. In Maine, we sent a letter to law enforcement months ago explaining the rights of protesters.

In the wake of violent, white supremacist gatherings in Charlottesville and elsewhere, local law enforcement should be prepared to protect public safety and uphold free speech protections. The law allows police and government officials to draw narrow, neutral "time, place, and manner" restrictions about when and where a protest may occur. They are not permitted to treat different groups differently, depending on their viewpoint. The ACLU of Maine is available to work cooperatively with law enforcement in advance of any protests to make sure any permitting processes are safe for the public and honor the rights of protestors.

Also in the wake of Charlottesville, the ACLU of Maine has received questions about whether we would represent white supremacists. We want to assure our membership that we make decisions on a case-by-case basis. We won’t represent those intent to incite violence or hold an armed demonstration. The First Amendment doesn't protect violence, and we won't take a case if we have good reason to believe the protestors are likely to act in a violent manner.

The Constitution protects the right to assemble peacefully regardless of viewpoint – and with that in mind the ACLU of Maine encourages everyone who is able to join a counter-protest to denounce white supremacy. Please join us in Waterville on Sunday. We will stand together, We The People, to condemn white supremacy and advance the pursuit of liberty.

If you plan to attend any protest or march this weekend, please view our Know Your Rights materials and Facebook Live video featuring ACLU of Maine Legal Director Zach Heiden.  

 

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