County Executive’s Corner: Exercising our Rights as Americans


I’ve always loved studying history – especially the history of our great nation.

I still get chills when I read about our Founding Fathers and the framework they set more than two centuries ago for our nation. They envisioned a peaceful transfer of power as we, the people, elected new leaders for our country.

And that is exactly what happened on Jan. 20. One president left office and another one came into office – like clockwork.

It is a testament to our great Democracy that no matter our political differences, we can still expect to see our national leadership change in a well-orchestrated and peaceful ceremony.

Just a day after our new president s took office, many people across the nation took to the streets to exercise another right guaranteed by the First Amendment – the right of the people to assemble peacefully and to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

From Nyack to New York City to Washington D.C., and many places in between, people all walks of life, all parts of the political spectrum practiced that right. Our government, rather than subdue these assemblies, provided police protection to make sure that everyone was safe. Our law enforcement officers also worked diligently to address the very few lawbreakers who restored to violence.

It’s our right as Americans to stand up and speak out when to address injustice or discrimination or to air our grievances with our government. Starting with the earliest days of our nation, Americans have fought and died to make sure that we have that right.

It’s a right that we have exercised often here in Rockland.

Just a couple of weeks ago my office helped organize a protest on the steps of the Old Rockland Courthouse when our governor, Andrew Cuomo, granted clemency to Brinks criminal Judith Clark. With just a day’s notice, more than 500 people turned out on that cold winter day to protest.

I was among them: I vehemently disagree with the Governor’s decision. I hate the fact that Judith Clark, a domestic terrorist who killed two Nyack police officers and a Brinks guard, might someday go free. And I paused that day to reflect on the wonderful right we have as American’s to stand openly and without fear of retribution to criticize our leaders.

We also freely exercise our right to assemble peacefully to speak out and address wrongs. We did that here in Rockland twice in recent months.

Over the summer, we stood together in sadness after a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Closer to home, we stood together as a community to protest an act of hate when someone – we still don’t know who – threw firecrackers at two homes belonging to rabbis in New City. We made it clear that such acts of hatred are not welcome in our community.

These actions give us the chance to exercise our rights as Americans – even if it involves criticizing our government and our leaders.

Our Democracy can be loud, it can be messy, it can be uneven.

But let’s never forget the hard-won guarantees that we have as Americans to protest peacefully and to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

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