Cops use of LRADs violates 1st amendment rights

Photo credit: Mike Hudack licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

This Associated Press article notes that federal officials were considering the use of long range acoustic devices to disperse crowds during Washington demonstrations. This device has also been called a “sound cannon” because the sound emitted can actually harm the hearing of nearby individuals exposed to its auditory blasts. The military uses this device to warn ships of oncoming vessels which can give you the idea of how loud this device is.

The use of LRADs by the New York City police department as a crowd-control device to disperse crowds on the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death was deemed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to be “considered excessive force.” The Supreme Court denied review of these findings this past May, allowing the plaintiffs to move forward with their case in New York City.

But in addition to the danger that the use of an LRAD poses to the hearing and well-being of individuals who happen to be in crowds protesting what they consider injustices, there is another issue at stake as noted by Kia Rahnama in her article “How the Supreme Court Dropped the Ball on the Right to Protest,” namely the right of citizens to peacefully assemble. Isn’t it time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the right to assemble, which is protected by the First Amendment?

While the articles cited inform us of the dangers of using crowd-dispersing devices that may harm us, they also address the importance of allowing people to voice their opinions in groups that are for the most part peaceful, actions the Supreme Court should deem appropriate. Writing about the Supreme Court and its significance in protecting the rights of U.S. citizens is especially timely today in light of the death of the esteemed Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We all need to pay close attention to how our Supreme Court judges are selected. Our Constitutional Rights are at stake!

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Comments (2)

  1. Steve Orfield

    Great piece

  2. Mark Huber

    I think it’s time this be brought before the Court, from ‘the People’ out in the open—from ‘the streets’ so to speak:

    ‘For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has failed to take up a freedom-of-assembly case. As a result, this fundamental constitutional right is in sore need of an update, such as a ruling that would protect protesters from the unduly harsh police response that has become all too common as a response to demonstrations in recent years.’


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