Expected Surprises

I had to do a dreadful debate in Government class today. I hate presentations because I either block on words which confuses the hell out of people, speak too fast, or start to mumble in a unclear voice. I think today included a bit of everything I just said, which is bad but it isn’t necessarily horrible news.

I spent almost two nights writing a lawyer’s argument. I researched facts, used good diction, and tried to present a fair point. Below is my speech. The items in italic were omitted due to irrelevance. The bold text are the words and sentences I said, and everything unaltered was not said by me.

On the night of March 8, 1949, Mr. Feiner stood atop a wooden box in a New York sidewalk, speaking to a modest crowd of 75-80 people. He presented some unpopular opinions about President Truman, the mayor, and others. Two police officers stood across the street, watching Mr. Feiner for close to 30 minutes. As Mr. Feiner made some unpopular remarks, the crowd grew unruly. They were shoving, yelling, and even threatening to harm Mr. Feiner if he did not stop talking. The police officers then decided to ask him three times to get off the wooden box and stop. Each time, Feiner refused until he was ultimately arrested and taken away.

Mr. Feiner was only exercising his First Amendment rights. He did not want to purposely cause a riot or disruption. Some aspects of his speech were crude, but unpopular opinions are bound to spark a reaction. In the case of Kunz v. New York, the government cannot inappropriately limit expressions protected by the First Amendment. His choice of language might’ve been vile, but that does not mean he is denied of his right to voice his mind, as decided in the case of Terminiello v. Chicago. Justice Douglas explains that the purpose of free speech is to invite dispute, and provocative speech can be seen as a positive.

The police officers stood on the sidewalk for close to half an hour, and only by their own will did they decide to intervene. Based on witness testimonies, the officers first asked, then told, then demanded that Feiner step off the podium. We do not live in a society where citizens are forced to obey orders.

A duty of law enforcement is to ensure the safety of Mr. Feiner. The volatile crowd should’ve been contained by the officers, but yet nothing was done. The law is here to safeguard my client’s constitutional rights and safety. These officers were in defiant of their sworn duty to “protect and serve”. My client did not use fighting words or purposely infuriate the crowd. He cannot be held responsible for the actions of the crowd. But yet, only one person was arrested that night.

And closing argument is here.

In Cantwell v. Connecticut, Justice Roberts said that “a man might exaggerate, use vilification of man, and present false statements to get an opinion across, but these abuses do not restrict ones freedom of expression”. Free speech does have its limits, but those limits by no way means censorship. Free speech is a foundation for the American life, and a right that state and federal government should be protecting instead of taking away.

You might notice that only half of the text is in bold. Only half of my closing statement did come out of my mouth, and after a moment of silence and confusion from the class, I decided to just “stand down”. Everything in bold was followed by sustained periods of time when all I could utter was a sound of anxiety as my eyes darted across the sea of perplexed glares. The real verdict for this case, Feiner v. New York, was 6-3 in favor of New York. I got 2-7, with possibly two sympathetic votes.

The worst part is that I have to relive this moment for the next few months. For most people, they can stumble, recover, and discard that blunder in a matter of minutes. Having a mild stutter means I have trouble recovering from every word. Hard to focus when there’s chatter, laughter, and a general atmosphere of bewilderment in the room. And frankly, no one in class has heard me in such a tone of voice, so it might have been a real shock to some of them. And of course I feel horrible, because I think that if I presented a better case, I might’ve gotten a few more votes. Three or four would fulfill my goal. Two does not.

The good news is that I’m done with this. Hopefully, there are no more presentations to give this year in that class. I can’t stand these things, and luckily, no one told me to “calm down and breathe” today. I did that during my argument, and I stumbled even more. What happened was that I could not recover, and therefore decided to step down from the podium. Funny huh? Yes, to my fellow classmates. But having to deal with such an action is a shame to me, because I think I had a strong case written out.

At least people know what to expect from me next time. Don’t choose me to present, unless I feel the need to make an spontaneous outburst or feel so aggravated that not even stuttering can contain my voice.

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