One day in the late 1970s, when I was growing up in Cincinnati, my Dad took me downtown to see American Nazis’ rallying on Fountain Square, the center of the city. In a corner of the plaza just northeast of the fountain, a group of maybe ten unimpressive, mostly unkempt, white guys were rallying for white supremacy and against Jews and blacks. There were more spectators than there were protesters. Indeed, there may have been more cops, standing shoulder to shoulder in a cordon around the protesters, protecting them from the crowd.
My Dad, an amateur photographer, took a few pictures of the event. One of them showed the stern face of a black policeman, probably in his early 30s or so, with an angry-looking white guy behind him, holding up a sign which read “White Power.” My Dad mounted the picture and titled it “First Amendment.”
Later, as I learned more about Cincinnati’s history, I realized in his childhood, that man probably didn’t think he could be a cop when he grew up. At the time, there were very few black policemen. And there he was protecting the freedom of some kook to rally for white power. Some kook who would surely want to deny that man his freedom to choose a career in law enforcement.
Every time I think of that day–and my Dad’s photograph–I have this wonderful feeling about our great nation; his picture said so much about one of the many things which makes us great. As I studied history and current events in the years following that rally, I learned how, in many countries, even regrettably sometimes in our own, the police did not protect the right of citizens to protest, but rather arrested those who spoke out against the government.
Given that many blacks migrated to Cincinnati from the rural South, perhaps some sheriff in some Kentucky or Tennessee town had arrested that policeman’s father for protesting Jim Crow laws. Or perhaps police had stood idly by while angry white men lynched one of his forebears.
In watching Cindy Sheehan and her supporters utter angry words about the president and his policies not far from that good man’s summer retreat, I think again about that policeman. Much as I disagree with what those protesters down in Texas have to say, I note that the police there, just like that black cop, were protecting her right to protest while she was there and that of her followers since she has left.
Even though those cops likely agreed with the sentiments of the man who ran over the makeshift graveyard those protesters had erected, they arrested and charged him while continuing to protect the protesters. Whatever we may think of Cindy Sheehan and her statements, it says much about our great nation that our law enforcement officials protect rather than incarcerate such critics of the government. That she is free to protest so close to the president’s home. Her words notwithstanding, no wonder so many believe this country is worth fighting for.
For, in our country, a black man whose ancestors were deprived of their liberty, merely because of the color of their skin, protects the freedom of someone who hates him, merely because of the color of his skin, says much how we cherish the freedom of expression, the freedom to protest. Just as law enforcement officials today protect protesters like Cindy Sheehan — and anyone else — who speaks out against the president and other leaders of great nation.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: I have asked my Dad if he still has a copy of the picture and he has promised to look for it when he gets back to Cincinnati. A copy currently hangs in the office of a former Democratic Congressman from the Buckeye State.