Trump rally in Fountain Hills sparks First Amendment discussion

Jacinta Gonzalez locked herself to a car in protest of a Donald Trump rally. She was freed by police, then arrested. (Photo by Justin Emerson/Cronkite News)

FOUNTAIN HILLS – When protesters blocked the roads leading into a Donald Trump in Arizona in March, the results were predictable. The instigators were arrested, cars were towed and traffic flowed normally.

The clash between protesters and commuters was centered on constitutional rights. On one side were the protesters claiming they had a right to free speech. On the other side were commuters and people from the area, saying the protesters had no legal basis for blocking the roads.

“This is ridiculous, they’re infringing on my constitutional rights,” said Fountain Hills resident Joshua Feuerstein, who was blocked on his way home by the protesters. “Luckily, I’m here in the midst of all this violence and I’m using my Second Amendment right to carry and bear arms.

“So right here in the middle of this violent situation, if something starts happening, I ain’t worried.”

Feuerstein called upon the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution, as well as the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. But the main right, the ones used by protesters since the country began, is the First Amendment.

While the freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful protest is explicitly protected, the way the protesters went about it in Fountain Hills by blocking traffic was not.

David Cuillier, the director of the journalism department at the University of Arizona and former president of the Society Professional Journalists, said the protesters did not express themselves in a good way.

“I don’t think that’s an acceptable way of expressing one’s thoughts and opinions, by stopping others from expressing theirs,” Cuillier said. “That just doesn’t seem right. The way to counter people you oppose is to fight speech with more speech.”

The three arrests were made for obstructing a public thoroughfare under Arizona Revised Statute 13-2906, which states that a person who “recklessly interferes” or creates an “unreasonable inconvenience” on a public roadway is a class 3 misdemeanor.

“They’re clearly in the wrong,” Cuillier said. “If they want to get their points across, there are other ways to do it.”

The Puente Human Rights Movement claimed responsibility for the protest on its Facebook page, joined by Mijente, a Latino activist group. Carlos Garcia, the executive director of the group, released a statement on Mijente’s website.

“In Arizona we’ve heard Trump’s hate before and we know where it gets us,” Garcia wrote. “Trump’s ugly rhetoric is being turned into policy proposals as we speak that threaten the wholeness of our families and the safety of our communities. All people of conscience have to unite to stop it.”

Protesters remained mostly nonviolent, chanting in both English and Spanish.

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The blockade began at approximately 9:30 a.m. and lasted until tow trucks arrived and removed the protesters’ vehicles at approximately 11:15 a.m. In all, three arrests were made and two cars were towed.

A woman, who was later identified as protestor Jacinta Gonzalez, locked herself to a van with what appeared to be a bike lock. She remained calm as an officer from Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department cut her free, then led her away in zip ties.

Feuerstein said his problem was not with the ethnicity of the mainly Latino protesters, despite protesters’ claims of such.

“I’ve lived in Mexico, there’s not a racist bone in my body,” Feuerstein said. “I understand some of these people’s concerns.

“But when you’re infringing on my constitutional right to move about my country freely …” he said, tailing off.

Cuillier said that when protesters start getting arrested, the situation gets dicey.

“It becomes a slippery slope if you have the government punishing people for various acts of expression,” he said.

He brought up certain examples of when the government intervened in protest. He said he was pleased when the Supreme Court struck down a punishment against public school children for protesting the Vietnam War in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969.

Cuillier also rhetorically asked where the government draws the line and asked if saying something such as “Screw Obama” is over that line.

“That’s something we all have to figure out as people, and decide,” he said. “I hope we side with more tolerance and give people wide boundaries for how they express themselves.”

Cuillier said when it comes to political candidates – particularly in reference to Trump’s notorious comments about Muslims, women and other groups – he wants them to say anything on their mind.

Cuillier said it is important for the electorate to be informed of the candidate’s true feelings and would rather know now than elect them and see them carry out policies against specific groups.

“If that’s what he wants to say, he can say it. I think it’s stupid and there are repercussions for saying things like that, in that people will not like you and not elect you,” Cuillier said. “In fact I hope if that’s how we feels, he does say that because we know to know that, as Americans, who we are electing.”

Added Cuillier: “I want to hear every single thought Donald Trump has. I wish in presidential elections we could put a little brain machine on them and read their thoughts and know what they’re really about.”

At the rally, Trump made no mention of the protesters. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who introduced Trump, told the crowd the protesters were on their way to jail.

Trump events have gained notoriety for its protests. A recent event in Chicago was canceled because of violent outbreaks before the event near the event’s venue.

Trump also was introduced by former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. He began the day with an event in downtown Phoenix with conservative television personality Sean Hannity, went to Fountain Hills, then traveled to Tucson for another.

Trump won the GOP Arizona presidential preference election on March 22. Hillary Clinton won on the Democratic side.

It is not the first time an election cycle has brought out protests, and even violence. During the 1896 campaign, farm workers and businesses clashed and in 1968, riots broke out at the Democratic National Convention. More recently. About 1,500 arrests were made at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

“That kind of context is very useful and helpful for journalists,” Cuillier said. “History is great. Might as well learn from it, rather than repeat it over and over.”

Twitter chronology of protest: