Letters to the Editor

Where do we draw the line? Protect the public, or preserve free speech?

Recently, several high-profile national incidents have bred great distrust between police and the public they protect. Here in Dallas-Fort Worth, a teenager was charged with making a terroristic threat for posting a photo on social media of himself holding an air gun pointed at a police cruiser. Two members of an Arlington open-carry activist group were arrested videotaping police and accused of interfering with their work. The arrests cause some to wonder whether First Amendment protections apply to such incidents. Where is the line between free speech and protecting the public?

The line between free speech and protecting the public is a very thin. Law enforcement agencies have a difficult time properly maintaining this line.

If they would have done nothing about threats, even posting on social media and that person went berserk killing innocent people, the public would yell: “Why didn’t you investigate the threat, possibly stopping the killings?”

If they did investigate and found no danger; the public would yell, “Wrong! The First Amendment! Freedom of speech.”

Law enforcement agencies are faced with extreme criticism if they do and if the do not!

— George J. Anthony, Fort Worth

Free speech does not apply to making terrorist-type threats, even in jest, against any people or group of people.

You also can not make any comments designed to potentially cause panic among a group of people such as yelling fire in a theater or arena since this can pose potential damage to a panic-stricken crowd.

People should be allowed to video police actions on public property or in their workplace as long as they do not interfere with the police work.

However, videotaping while carrying long guns in public can be construed as threats and such actions are not warranted or reasonable.

If police actions are involved, guns around can be very easily perceived as a potential threat to people in the areas.

Common sense should be used to resolve proper and improper free speech.

— Walter H. Delashmit, Justin

The thin blue line is crossed, according to Rev. Al Sharpton, when a white policeman kills a black suspect whether or not his or her own life is in danger.

When an officer’s life is in danger at the hands of any suspect, however, and the suspect is killed, the thin blue line is not crossed.

Those who would play the race card and incite riots over such incidents, such as Sharpton and Attorney General Eric Holder, need to keep quiet and let our judicial process play out.

Race-baiters can’t hide behind the First Amendment to incite riots! We all need to obey authority figures — the police in this case — and teach our children to do the same.

— Hugh T. Lefler Jr., Fort Worth

Freedom of speech requires that we also behave responsibly.

Any threat to another must be taken seriously, or we will have chaos and live in fear — which in of itself is losing freedom.

— Eva Snapka, Arlington

These are two very different examples — both potentially dangerous to freedom of speech.

The first appears to be an incitement to violence, which is a criminal offense, regardless of the intended target of the violence. The difficulty here lies in equal treatment — would the same charge be made if the imaginary target were a black president, a Muslim, a foreign leader or your next door neighbor?

The second is more complicated. While I am no fan of the open-carry loons, we cannot allow the police to arbitrarily decide when they don’t want their actions recorded.

There must be clearly stated objective parameters outlining what does and does not constitute interference with official police duties, and absent a clear violation of these specific guidelines, the public should not only be free to record but should be encouraged to do so.

— Mark Greene, Fort Worth

The only commonality between the teenager charged with making a terroristic threat and the open carry group videotaping the police would be the guns.

Anyone flaunting a gun is inherently a threat. But a court which says that “money is speech” is likely to rule that guns also are speech and “the public be damned.”

— Guelma B. Hopkins, Fort Worth

That “line” is so wide and variable it can only be defined within each incident where it might come into question.

However, “experts” from various disciplines will continue in their attempts to provide insight into what they believe are the issues inherent in designing policy and law to control police response to circumstances that may eventually lead to a point where some form of police force may be necessary.

Most of these attempts appear as guesswork at best.

Ironically, it appears that our constitutional freedom of expression, coupled with society’s course toward personal unaccountability, will remain the major cause of this conflict and confusion.

— Richard M. Holbrook,

Weatherford

All Points each Monday features reader responses to a question posed by the Editorial Board. With each week’s responses comes the next week’s question. All Points responses are not counted toward the monthly limit of one letter to the editor from each writer. Readers are welcome to send their own ideas for All Points topics to Editorial Director Mike Norman, mnorman@star-telegram.com.

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