Today’s Senate Public Safety Committee Informational Hearing on the recent rise of violence at protests struck at the heart of one the most difficult questions California, and the nation, has had to deal with this year: How do we balance the need to protect our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly – even speech that some people find repugnant – with the need to protect public safety when protests turn violent? It featured testimony from the law enforcement officials and organizations that help develop hate crime training for law enforcement officers.
While the protests and violence in Charlottesville immediately come to mind, it’s an issue that’s plagued California recently as well. A few notable instances in California are the violent protests at UC Berkeley in February in opposition to an event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos and a clash between neo-Nazis and protesters at the State Capitol in Sacramento that left 10 injured.
Testimony from the law enforcement officials at the hearing focused on how they’ve modified and modernized their training and tactics to allow them to identify bad actors and pull them out of a situation while protecting a group of protesters right to protest while also preventing violence, either entirely or at least preventing violence from escalating.
Today’s informational hearing also provided a great example of the California Legislature’s committee process at work. The information gathered by lawmakers today will be crucial in the upcoming year as they go forward crafting legislation to help law enforcement officials more quickly deescalate potentially violent protests while protecting everybody’s right to free speech.
For more on committees, and their role in the California lawmaking process, please listen to Erinn Ryberg’s podcast on committees below. And for a refresher on hate speech, please also check out Leslie Gielow Jacob’s earlier post on the topic, as well as her podcast on hate speech – which I’ve also included below.