Stone in the Huffington Post: Why the Trial Judge Should Dismiss the Lawsuit Against Black Lives Matters

The Lawsuit Against Black Lives Matter And The Central Meaning Of The First Amendment
Geoffrey R. Stone
Huffington Post
July 11, 2017

One of the police officers who was grievously wounded last July in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a brutal attack by Gavin Long, a black, 29-year-old former Marine, filed an action on Friday for damages against the Black Lives Matter movement and several of its leading activists, including DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, alleging that they negligently caused the attack.

The complaint alleges that the defendants “used the internet and social media to organize, stage and orchestrate protests,” that they “knew or should have known” that some of these “protests had in the past become violent” and that “police officers had been injured,” and that they did nothing to condemn or to discourage such violence.

Although I am deeply sympathetic to the plaintiff, an officer who was innocent of any wrongdoing, the trial judge should dismiss the complaint. The essential claim set forth by the plaintiff is that the defendants should have known that their speech condemning the attacks by police officers across the country against African-Americans might at some point lead some individual – in this instance an individual with serious emotional issues – to viciously attack police officers somewhere in the country.

The reason the judge should dismiss the complaint is not because it was inconceivable that of the millions of individuals exposed to the Black Lives Matter movement’s expression someone might have done what Long did, but because that is not the test for restricting speech in our democracy.

The First Amendment prohibits government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” But what does that mean?

Geoffrey R. Stone