The #NoDAPL protests have been hard on law enforcement. They’ve been put in a position of having to enforce the law in the face of unlawful and often violent protesters who very much want to instigate conflict for the sake of attention from celebrities and headlines from sympathetic media.
They are unwilling participants, cast unfairly as the villains, in a sort of choreographed political performance art.
Which makes this video a law enforcement source sent me this evening all the more touching. It’s a view from the now-infamous Turtle Hill – scene of multiple conflicts between law enforcement and protesters – and in it we can see officers patrolling on an air boat in the middle of a blizzard going ashore to rescue an American flag which was being flown upside down near one of the protest camps.
“The flag was properly folded and presented to the Adjutant General for safekeeping,” I’m told.
There were no protesters around. I’m assuming they, understandably, were inside staying warm.
On the national level we’ve been having a debate about the legality protests involving the flag. Specifically burning the flag. President-elect Donald Trump (it still feels weird writing that) has said that he’d like to jail, and perhaps even deport, people who do it.
He’s wrong, of course. While I dislike the idea of disrespecting our nation’s flag – I find #NoDAPL’s propensity for flying it upside to be deeply disrespectful – doing so should be protected by the 1st amendment.
The test of our commitment to free speech lays in our willingness to tolerate that speech which is upsetting. We don’t have to like it; we do have to allow it.
The #NoDAPL activists stand on their first amendment rights as justification for their antics. But their definition of free speech seems to include trespass and vandalism and violent rioting. Their actions disrespect the first amendment.
Which, again, is why this moment struck me as quietly marvelous. Two cops, no doubt cold and tired and wishing they were at home instead of in the middle of a good old North Dakota blizzard baby sitting a bunch of obstinate political extremists, taking a couple of moments to rescue Old Glory from mistreatment.
Good for them. There have been so many shabby moments during the #NoDAPL protests. This was a beautiful one.