Guest Column: Because I’m Black?

Sequan Gatlin

While I have been spoiled with four of the five freedoms given to citizens in the First Amendment, the freedom to assemble is not always what it is “cracked up” to be, compared to the freedom of speech, religion, the press and petition. Though these four have been very beneficial, the freedom of assembly has not always been practiced in my life. Therefore, some would say I could live without it.

The freedom to assemble peaceably has not been respected throughout my life. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting … or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” Though no laws have been made to stop assembly, the prejudice assumption known as racial profiling has broken up some of the small gatherings that I’ve had. When a group of African-American boys are together, many people consider the group to be “thugs” or a “clique,” which both have very negative connotations. This oftentimes leads to bystanders calling the police and the police breaking up the group of guys because of a judgmental observation.

This has happened to me on numerous occasions. I was gathered together with a group of people at a local park, enjoying the weather, shooting some hoops and catching up with some old friends I had not seen in awhile. A police car stopped at the park and two police officers approached our group. The police officers questioned us about what we all were “really” doing; accusing us of smoking weed at the park and asking us to empty our pockets. This supports my beliefs about a weak freedom to assemble because none of the people at the park had any marijuana and none were arrested for possession of an illegal substance, but we all were wrongfully accused of exercising illegal practices.

As a young child, my siblings and I went to a local store to by some supplies and food. We didn’t feel comfortable because we continuously had to look over our shoulders as we witnessed a secret shopper following us through the store. Before we could even buy our things, the man accused us of stealing and held us in the store until the police came. We eventually were kicked out of the store and embarrassed because we had the money to pay for what we needed. This happened because a group of “suspicious-looking” kids were walking through a store, but what made us suspicious?

My life depicts what it is like without the freedom of assembly. What if everyone in the United States was put in this position on a regular basis? My understanding of this part of the amendment is that people should be able to come together without being hassled by a stereotypical assumption that represents some of the African-American community. I also believe that no ethnic or cultural group should be penalized because they are in the minority or in political opposition to those in authority.

Being allowed freedom to express myself through many written forms (speech), to believe in whatever faith and tolerating others who don’t (religion), to write the truth in our publication no matter the controversy (press) and uniting with others who want to oppose something (petition) are just some of the privileges that have been positive in my life. Yet, the First Amendment cannot be completely exercised until all the citizens make use of every freedom in the amendment.