ACLU will still fight for First Amendment despite Charlottesville violence

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said despite recent violence at the protest in Charlottesville the organization will continue to fight for First Amendment rights of everyone.

"I think that we have our most important moments when we can disagree, and when we can do that peacefully and publicly in public spaces," said Elizabeth Bonham, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.

She was one of the attorneys who sued the city of Cleveland last year, on behalf of several protest groups, objecting to the locations of zones where the city planned to allow protestors.

The ACLU and the city of Cleveland eventually came to a settlement, and Bonham said in the case of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, protestors on both sides were able to express their opinions.

She said, it's the ACLU's job to defend free speech, that's what she said they did in Charlottesville, when the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville when the city attempted to move the white supremacist rally to a field, far away from downtown. The ACLU won its suit.

The governor of Virginia blamed the organization for the violence that ensued, something that Bonham and other members of the ACLU pushed back against.

"The ACLU stand firmly against white supremacy and violence, especially racial violence. We also are devoted to protecting the First Amendment and we don't believe those two things run at cross purposes, in fact, we believe they reinforce each other," Bonham said.

Bonham said, in Charlottesville, as in Cleveland last year, it's up to the state to ensure those protesting are safe.

"It's the state's responsibility not to remove those voices, but to create a scenario where everyone's message can be heard and everyone is secure," said Bonham.

She said the instinct by some agencies is to try to prohibit free speech out of fear of violence is known as 'security creep.'

"Just the fear of violence creeps in and shuts down speech more and more and if we allow that to happen, before we know it the state will be saying we can't speak at all," said Bonham.

Cleveland 19 asked Bonham, now knowing about the violence that can, and did, happen in Charlottesville, if that changes the ACLU's mission moving forward.

"To the person that is feeling scared by this kind of violence, I would say I'm scared of it too. I am shaken by it too, and if we aren't all shaken by it, there's something wrong. The answer to that though is not to shut down public discourse," said Bonham. She went on to say that, "the ACLU is going to continue to fight for the rights of everyone to continue to speak moving forward, even if it's not popular."

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