Attorney General Barr threatens protesters with sedition


Creative Commons image through Unsplash by Joseph Ngabo

Peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Los Angeles stand together in the faces of law enforcement. A number of protests have emerged in prominent cities in response to the killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.

Even though the majority of the Black Lives Matter movement has proven to be peaceful, United States Attorney General William Barr has considered charging violent protesters with sedition. Barr’s responses to the protests are just a way to subdue the overt issue of inequality in America and to suppress the voices of a group fighting for the lives of black people. 

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested by Minneapolis police officers after he allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Former officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground, keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck long enough to kill him. This resulted in a surge of protests, not just in Minneapolis, but around the entire country. There have been a number of violent acts in cities across the country, including Rochester, New York, Minneapolis and Chicago. 

The controversy around this is whether or not violent protesters should be charged, and to what degree they should be punished. Barr has been pushing his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges to protest violence, and these convictions can lead to longer prison sentences; one could face up to 20 years behind bars for sedition alone. 

The First Amendment gives citizens the right of freedom of speech, to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. By invoking the charge of sedition to protesters, Barr is disregarding Constitutional rights and limiting freedom.

“The protesters that are advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement are fighting for human rights. Systematic racism is very prevalent in our government. When a government is unjust, people need to advocate for what is morally right. [Barr] is saying that protesters are causing violence and hate crimes. His true intentions are to silence a specific group of people. If he makes federal charges against protesters he would be violating their constitutional rights,” senior Olivia Hovland said.

Protesters are using their voices to bring attention to a major flaw in law enforcement—one that has taken far too many lives. Violating citizens’ rights under the Constitution is illogical and unreasonable. Protesting falls directly under the First Amendment, so if he chooses to breach that, it is clear that Barr’s underlying motive is to intimidate protesters and suppress their speech. He is pursuing the violent aspects of recent protests, choosing to ignore the message altogether.

Sedition is an extravagant charge and is rarely ever used. In order for there to be a sedition charge, there must be proof of a conspiracy to attack the government, which is a difficult thing to prove.

Social Studies teacher Matthew Bergquist said it is the Supreme Court’s role to interpret the meaning, scope and limitations of our federal Bill of Rights, so, “one would have to identify the facts of the particular protest in question and whether it qualifies as acts of sedition, under Congressional law. That is typically a very high bar to meet.”

Protesters have not posed as an imminent threat to the federal government, much less conspiring to overthrow. The violence is a byproduct of the frustration of Americans fighting for equality across the country. Black Lives Matter is not a plot to overthrow the government. It is a movement fighting for justice and human decency.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been overwhelmingly peaceful. The vast majority of protests have been non-violent, and according to a report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, in more than 93% of all protests connected to the movement, protesters have not engaged in violence or destructive acts. 

Junior Gursimrat Dahry explained how even rioters have not been strategically planning to overthrow the government and that the question should not be whether Barr’s comments are justified, but rather if they are even logical. 

Barr has refused to recognize the good in this movement. While the majority of the Black Lives Matter movement has been undeniably peaceful, he is purposely focusing on the violence to target individuals who make the protests appear more harmful than they really are. Violent demonstrations have been largely limited to specific blocks, not entire cities. These few violent protests adamantly illustrate the anger and unrest of the people of this country. People want to capture the attention of the press because that is what needs to be done in order for change to happen.

There are some people who firmly believe that violent protests have negatively impacted the nation in many ways. Indeed, violence connected to the movement resulted in reckless destruction of entire blocks and local businesses, and violence should never have to be the answer. However, protesters were left with no choice when the government themselves refused to listen to their cries. Law enforcement’s response cannot be ignored, as their reaction to many of the peaceful protests was to shoot rubber bullets at individuals and throw tear gas into innocent crowds. Ultimately, this only added fuel to the frustration of the public, further provoking violent acts on both sides. To go as far as charging sedition to violent protesters is illogical because it is clear that the violence is more of an outcry than a conspiracy. 

If Barr holds truth to his word and follows through with sedition charges, the country will be in even more chaos. Citizens are being stripped of their rights as the government is ignoring the ongoing issue of racial injustice and inequality. There will be no change in this country’s undeniable history of racism and discrimination if people in positions of power continue to avoid the problem and implement threats like sedition. Instead of acknowledging the problem, the government is doing nothing about the murders of black lives. At a time when it is needed the most, the government chooses to overlook the flaws of their country, making no progress in a generation that is greatly defined by its advocation for change. If they can ignore something as large as this movement, then there is an obvious problem rooted in this nation’s history of prejudice and racism.