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Bay Area Occupy Protests Raise Free Speech Questions

OAKLAND (KCBS) – City officials in both Oakland and San Francisco, as well as others across the state, have publicly stated that they support the message of the Occupy movement and want to guarantee protesters’ free speech rights.

But would that speech still be free if the message was darker, for example from the Ku Klux Klan or another sinister group?

KCBS Political Analyst Joe Tuman:

KCBS Political Analyst and San Francisco State University Professor of Legal and Political Communications Joe Tuman said there is a legal answer to that question. Tuman was also a candidate for Oakland mayor in the 2010 election.

“We found in studying Supreme Court precedence that you’re not allowed to craft restrictions on people because you object to the content of their speech. So anything that is content-based like that would be strictly illegal and that would apply equally to restriction on the KKK or the American Nazi Party as it would for anyone else,” Tuman said.

“You can’t craft restrictions because you disagree. The Supreme Court from a free speech perspective has said on occasion that there’s certain exceptions to the First Amendment, for example incitement. Those are words that you use in which you’re encouraging other people to do something illegal. Fighting words and obscenity are also exceptions. If you have a group that’s engaging in something that is a recognizable exception, than a city like San Francisco or Oakland could regulate that group based on those exceptions,” Tuman added.

Tuman said that local politicians also should have handled the matter differently.

“In the case that we have here, the original Occupy Wall Street group showed up and what the cities should have done from day one is show up with a permit and say, you can be here, but no camping allowed,” said Tuman. “But also give them a chance to exercise their free speech. Because they didn’t, the violence happened and mixed messages were sent. Now we have a much bigger demonstration going forward.”

Tuman said that cities want to have it both ways in that they want to be sympathetic to these groups of protesters, but also have a responsibility to monitor the public land where the protests are taking place.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

  • oranckay

    CBS is taking “political commentary” from a man who lost to Oakland mayor Jean Quan in the last election. Normal practices of disclosure would require you at least mention as much.

  • Roger

    Gun toting militia types with M16s are already on YouTube at Occupy Phoenix; the real question is how do you keep the homeless from setting up camp anywhere they want to go. The cities should have established that encampments are not free speech, that cities have the right to require permits for demonstrations of a certain size, that they do not provide free porta potties, etc. The governments of Oakland and San Francisco are supporting total anarchy and Oakland may reap that tomorrow. Did any union take a “strike vote”? Are there really hundreds of unions that support the anarchist general strike event or is that more hype from mainly outside agitators? Every time that the news interviews someone, they should start with ” where are you from? Followed by “why are you here?”. Oakland has a population of 390,000. If there were 2000 “occupiers”, that means that less than one half of one percent of that amount skilled at street theater and internet communication are monopolizing the news and for what? Another question for each interviewee should be “did you vote in November 2010?” and did you ever work for change within the system? Occupy may very well so stimulate the conservatives and fragment the so-called progressives that Herb Cain or Rick Perry will be elected President in 2012. They will rue that day when the first ultra-conservative justices are appointed by that President.

  • PLW

    Very good Bay area government!!! Let the Inmates run the Asylum!!!! The taxpayers will pick up the tab!

  • Hundreds Of Teachers Expected At Oakland General Strike « CBS San Francisco

    […] Coverage: Oakland Police Accuse Quan Of Mixed Messages On Protests Bay Area Occupy Protests Raise Free Speech Questions Complete Occupy Protest […]

  • JOHN

    the tax payers are already paying the tab for the Cops to gang bang everyone that will not follow the ZIONIST believe of capitalism. it seems that are government thinks we are free as long as we believe the way they want. it may amaze you, but not everyone thinks they can be happy with money. this county has become a bunch of communist lover just because they are capitalist also. that why we kiss China’s ASS. they are the modern day slaves to the capitalist, and we thought we set slaves free. we just took it out of the USA

    • JOHN

      Hells bells the witches spell you go to church and then to hell, and if you think your cross will bring you luck you better be careful for you have been plucked, for you will take a buck and give a dime and stay at war all the time.

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