On Nazis, hate speech and get­ting tased

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - It’s def­i­nitely eas­ier to spend your en­tire wak­ing ex­is­tence in a li­brary when it’s 20 de­grees out­side. Govern­ment watch­ing the peo­ple is sur­veil­lance. Peo­ple watch­ing the govern­ment is part of a healthy in­tern­ment of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War

The Cal­i­for­nia sec­tion’s Bob Sipchen cor­nered Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union at­tor­ney Peter Bibring at Jus­tice Ur­ban Tav­ern, a block from the Los An­ge­les Po­lice De­part­ment’s head­quar­ters/dog park. Ap­pro­pri­ately, a man on the side­walk waved a plac­ard and ranted about some­thing. If body cam­eras had been worn, they would have re­vealed that Bibring wore pale green sneak­ers. Af­ter lunch we emailed him a few ques­tions and crunched the con­ver­sa­tion into this: You grad­u­ated from Har­vard and NYU law school but couldn’t hack physics at Cal­tech. West Coast schools are harder, right? Hate speech, pro or con?

I dis­ap­prove of your crazy com­ments, but I will de­fend to the death your right to make them. The govern­ment shouldn’t be in the busi­ness of stop­ping peo­ple from say­ing cer­tain things. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lim­its. If one per­son fol­lows another around shout­ing ep­i­thets about their race or gen­der or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, that may cross a line into ha­rass­ment or threats. But re­stric­tions on speech it­self, like school speech codes that pre­vent peo­ple from ex­press­ing bi­ases, don’t ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem of prej­u­dice. The ACLU is work­ing on a new app that al­lows peo­ple to send in videos of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers en­gaged in al­legedly bad be­hav­ior. How’s it work?

You open the app, push a but­ton and it takes video like any other cam­era. The video im­me­di­ately gets up­loaded to the ACLU, so that it won’t be deleted or de­stroyed. The app also has a full li­brary of ACLU knowyour-rights ma­te­ri­als. The hope is that this will help peo­ple safely doc­u­ment po­lice ac­tiv­ity, to de­ter any mis­con­duct and pre­serve a record of mis­con­duct if it does oc­cur. Why would the ACLU en­cour­age more Or­wellian sur­veil­lance of ev­ery­one’s ev­ery move?

democ­racy. The ACLU has par­tic­i­pated in lit­i­ga­tion that has changed Cal­i­for­nia’s schools, jails and im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. Why not leave that stuff up to vot­ers?

That’s the essence of a lib­eral democ­racy. The peo­ple de­cide al­most ev­ery­thing, but govern­ment es­tab­lishes some ba­sic rights that the govern­ment — even the vot­ers — can’t take away. If vot­ers de­cide ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, then marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties don’t get a fair shake. As Larry Flynt said, “You can’t have five wolves and one sheep vot­ing on what to have for din­ner.” What case that you’ve worked on will have the great­est ef­fect on how peo­ple live in Cal­i­for­nia?

In terms of the is­sue, I think it’s our chal­lenge to the FBI’s sur­veil­lance of Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in Or­ange County. I think we’ll look back on these days in the way we look back on po­lice red squads or the Your fa­ther fled Aus­tria to es­cape Hitler. Could you de­fend the right of Nazis to march through Jewish neigh­bor­hoods?

Ab­so­lutely. One of my for­ma­tive free-speech mo­ments was at a Nazi rally in Bos­ton. There were maybe six guys in Nazi uni­forms parad­ing about with a lit­tle sound sys­tem, and a cou­ple of thou­sand counter-demon­stra­tors drown­ing them out with deaf­en­ing chants. That was a far more ef­fec­tive re­jec­tion of Nazism than the govern­ment pre­vent­ing them from march­ing in the first place. The an­swer to of­fen­sive speech is more speech, not less. Have you per­ceived any ques­tions so far as “mi­croag­gres­sions,” and if so are you plan­ning to sue? What ques­tion should we have asked but didn’t?

PETER BIBRING Selfie taken on Sun­set Boule­vard in Sil­ver Lake.

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