By William R. Toler
With today marking the 50th anniversary of one of the country’s most well-known speeches from of its most well-known activists, I thought it appropriate to do this piece on several activists that are on tour promoting freedom.
In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. twice spoke out against police abuse.
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of police brutality…Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.”
Today, the police seem to be colorblind, but the brutality continues.
Pete Eyre of Cop Block and Jacob Crawford of Copwatch are currently in South Africa on the third stop of their nine-city Police Accountability Tour. According to the site, the tour ” will maximize police accountability by facilitating connections and collaboration among those who know that badges don’t grant extra rights, and through skill sharing and the capturing and dissemination of relevant content.”
The idea is, if police know they’re being recorded, they are less likely to violate an individual’s rights.
The tour kicked off in Austin, Texas at the second annual Police Accountability Summit, put on by the Peaceful Streets Project. Speakers included Eyre and Crawford along with Photography is Not a Crime founder Carlos Miller, Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale and Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop.
In his 1967 speech “A Time to Break Silence,” Dr. King railed against the war raging in Vietnam. Two years earlier, a group of students in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands to, silently, show mourn the war dead…and were suspended. In 1969, the students won a landmark First Amendment case in the Supreme Court, featuring the memorable quote: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The youngest of those students, Mary Beth Tinker, is taking her story on the road. (She was in junior high at the time of suspension.) The Tinker Tour will kick off Sept. 15 with a picnic in Philadelphia and will be making more than 40 stops east of the Rockies.
“2013, the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham Childrens’ Crusade,the March on Washington and so much civil rights history is a fitting time for a student free speech tour,” Tinker said. “In our case, the Supreme Court cited Mississippi’s student activists to define students’ rights today. So, as we celebrate the power of youth voices that brought us so far, we also celebrate the young people who keep moving democracy forward by speaking up today.”
In a press release, organizers say the case has been cited in nearly 6,000 student cases since the decision.
[I have told my (ex)step-daughter about the Tinker case and encouraged her to don her own armband to protest her public school's uniform policy. Check back to see how that goes.]
The tour is a project of the Student Press Law Center. SPLC’s Mike Heistand will accompany Tinker on the tour to address student press rights, according to the release. Several civil rights and journalism organizations are sponsoring the tour including the ACLU, NAACP and the Journalism Education Association.
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