“Gasoline is Awfully Cheap”: Police Action Against “Ace Burns” Raises Free Speech Concerns
We have often discussed how advocating for free speech often places us in troubling company. Those who are targeted for arrest are often the loudest and most obnoxious among us. Ace Burns is one of those people. Burns, 34, whose real name is Israel Burns,, is the self-proclaimed leader of the “FTP movement (which he defined in various ways including “Fire To Property”). Burns was taken into the police station after eluding to the possibility that the Diamond District in New York would be burned to the ground. It is a prototypical violent speech cases and, as many on this blog will not be surprised to read, I believe it raises a serious concern for free speech.
Ironically, we previously discussed the issue of violent speech in a column where I argued against charging Michael Brown’s stepfather during the Ferguson rioting.
Burns told a reporter with Fox News
“You know I’m a leader of this ‘FTP’ movement. It means a lot of things. It can mean free the people, it can mean for the people, it can also mean ‘fire to property.’ You know that’s very possible …
Today, I’m giving a demonstration from Barclay’s Center at 6 p.m. to City Hall, and that’s the first stop — and we’re hoping [Mayor] De Blasio and [Gov.] Cuomo come out and talk to us and give the youth some direction. But if they don’t, then [the] next stop is the Diamond District,” he said, referring to a block on Manhattan’s 47th Street known for jewelry shops. “And gasoline, thanks to Trump, is awfully cheap. So, we’re giving them a chance right now to do the right thing.”
The police responded by saying that they searched for the man in the interview and “took him in.”
Likewise, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi, involved a civil action based on a statement made by NAACP Field Secretary Charles Evers that
“black people that any ‘uncle toms’ who broke the boycott would ‘have their necks broken’ by their own people.” The Supreme Court found that Evers’ “emotionally charged rhetoric . . . did not transcend the bounds of protected speech set forth in Brandenburg. . . . An advocate must be free to stimulate his audience with spontaneous and emotional appeals for unity and action in a common cause. When such appeals do not incite lawless action, they must be regarded as protected speech.”