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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Our View: Choreographed protest no test of speech rights

The Spokesman-Review

Marchers and authorities all but choreographed this year’s anarchist parade to Riverfront Park on Friday.

The protesters obtained a permit. The cops provided an escort. The route was publicized in advance. Despite all that, some park patrons still took offense – “They are down here just to cause trouble and no other reason,” said one – but unlike the Fourth of July a year earlier, there were no scuffles, no arrests.

So does Spokane get an A-plus for the way it dealt with Americans’ distinctive way of testing their freedom on the nation’s most patriotic holiday?


It’s not that anyone behaved badly. They behaved perfectly. It was just too easy, like getting two tries to answer a true-or-false question.

Everyone was on his or her best behavior in 2008, having learned from 2007’s mistakes. No surprise that all went well – this time.

Real tests of free speech aren’t negotiated in advance, they arise spontaneously.

Nothing demonstrates the strength of American freedom like an open, conspicuous clash of ideals. Anarchists chanting taunts on the Fourth of July, white supremacists marching through Coeur d’Alene, civil rights marchers defying Jim Crow laws in Birmingham, Ala., a protester burning an American flag on the steps of a Texas courthouse.

Incidents like those come out of the blue, forcing law enforcement officers to make tough decisions on the spot. If actions truly jeopardize public safety, they need to apply reasonable force to establish order. If only feelings and beliefs are being bruised, they need to stand down.

It was good to see that the self-proclaimed anarchists of Spokane could speak their protests out loud last week, but it didn’t prove anything. It was good to see that Riverfront Park could be shared on a sunny holiday without violent provocations.

And while we don’t wish for angry exchanges in the public square, we know they occasionally and inevitably challenge our commitment to freedom.

We’d like to think Spokane is ready to answer that challenge, but a scripted exercise won’t provide the answer.