Before the Storm
Image by Alan Stanton
Saturday 6 August 2011. View from Primrose Hill across central London.
I visited Primrose Hill Books 134 Regent’s Park Road NW1. I’d never been there before, but they had a secondhand book I wanted.
I’m very rarely in that part of London. Compared with Tottenham, where Zena and I live, the streets and shops round there give an impression of wealth and prosperity.
I walked up Primrose Hill close-by. Enjoying the views across London in the summer sunshine. People sat on the grass. Some talking; some with dogs and children running around.
The book I’d bought was Republic.com, by Cass Sunstein. It’s about the challenge and opportunities offered by the internet to the ideas of deliberative democracy.
According to Sunstein, the United States Constitution includes the belief that for a free society to function, its citizens require "a set of public forums, providing speakers’ access to a diverse people, and ensuring in the process that each of us hears a wide range of speakers, spanning many topics and opinions".
To ensure free speech involves not only rights, but a duty on a democratic government : "to allow speech to occur freely in public places".
??"The US Supreme Court has also held that streets and parks must be kept open to the public for expressive activity. Hence governments are obliged even if many citizens would prefer to have peace and quiet, and even if it seems irritating to come across protesters and dissidents whom one would like to avoid."
??"To be sure, the government is allowed to impose restrictions on the ‘time, place, and manner’ of speech in public places. No one has a right to use fireworks and loudspeakers on the public streets at midnight to complain about the size of the defence budget. But time, place, and manner restrictions must be both reasonable and limited."
While I was taking the bus home – reading Cass Sunstein – some five miles (8km) away, events were taking shape in Tottenham. That afternoon there was a peaceful demonstration outside Tottenham police station about the death of Mark Duggan on 4 August 2001.
That evening the Tottenham riot began.
§ See where this picture was taken.
§ Quotations used above are not directly from Cass Sunstein’s book, but from an article he wrote called The Future of Free Speech in March/April 2001 edition of The Little Magazine (TLM) , published In India and available online here.
??To avoid any doubt, I’d add that Cass Sunstein’s advocacy of a right to dissent and public protest is not in any sense support for violent protest or riot. The opposite. He advocates Government by a diverse range of citizens engaged in discussion; rational persuasive argument and reflection.
§ Photoset by Nico Hogg showing the Tottenham riot on the night of 6/7 August 2011.
Photo: Trevor Rockliffe
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