Jackson, Mississippi Councilman Kenneth Stokes has unleashed a firestorm of controversy over his call for citizens to throw bricks and bottles at police who are trying to make arrests. Stokes declared “Let’s get rocks; let’s get bricks, and let’s get bottles. And we’ll start throwing them, and then they won’t come in here anymore.” (Notably, the Jackson sheriff agreed with the Stokes in opposing car chases in the city while Stokes himself remains entirely unapologetic for calling for violence against police.)
It was a reprehensible statement for Stokes, who has a history of outrageous comments. He tried dress up his violent advocacy later in an interview with Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger: “When you have these police officers coming from other jurisdictions and they will not respect human life, then I said we should use rocks, bricks or bottles to try to get the message over: stop endangering our children.”
The most immediate threat evident in the area is Stokes himself. While I have both sued and represented law enforcement officers, I have never stopped being grateful to police officers for what they do on a daily basis. Among other things, they protect people like Stokes who is now advocating that people assault them.
Having said this, I do not agree with calls for Stokes’ prosecution for engaging in free speech. The response to Stokes shows that we do not have to criminalize speech to counteract such hateful messages.
Stokes was specifically referring to police pursuing people on misdemeanor offenses. Yet, that hardly justifies a call to assault police. Stokes insists that he was responding to a recent chase of police of a man who had shoplifted at a Walmart and assaulted people in the parking lot. Various jurisdictions chased the man and Stokes object that “[i]t was a misdemeanor. They could easily break off the chase, get the tag number,” Stokes said. “We’ll pay for whatever they stole to make sure that our babies are not harmed. We want the same respect that they give to their neighborhoods given to Jackson neighborhoods.”
It is a rather poor example given the assault element to the shoplifting allegation. Moreover, this man had clearly threatened the community if he confronted people in the parking lot. More importantly, while one can make reasoned arguments against police chases for minor cases, there is no logic that leads you to supporting an assault on police officers as a solution.
What is distressing is that the city council only managed to issue a statement distancing themselves from Stokes’ comments rather than voting on a censure of a city council member calling for violence.
What do you think?