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Politics & Government

Recent Campaign Events Question Role Of Police At Political Rallies

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Authorities in Cumberland County, N.C., say they've charged a white man who was caught on video yesterday punching a black protester at a Donald Trump rally. There has been outrage over the video which shows sheriff's deputies escorting out the man who was hit and not the one who threw the punch. NPR's Martin Kaste reports the incident heightens questions about the role of law enforcement officers at political rallies.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The way Donald Trump sees it, protesters and hecklers have it pretty easy.

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DONALD TRUMP: In the good old days, this doesn't happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily.

KASTE: That's him just last night in North Carolina, but the truth is, this has almost become a routine part of his campaign appearances.

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TRUMP: Get her out of here. Get her out. Get her out.

KASTE: So the question is, can he do that? It seems he can. For one thing, a rally inside a rented coliseum is considered private. It's his party, and he can invite who he wants to. But even in a more public setting, he could probably have someone ejected. Leslie Kendrick is a professor of law at the University Virginia who specializes in free speech issues.

LESLIE KENDRICK: If it actually manages to disrupt the event, then yes, there's enough of a reason to ask them to stop and, if they don't stop and it continues to be disruptive, to ask them to leave.

KASTE: But things get a little grayer when protestors are ejected by uniformed police, either on-duty cops or off-duty cops working security. If the protesters get the impression that their speech is being regulated by the state, Kendrick says courts might take a closer look. It comes down to whether the police are penalizing someone because of what he's saying and not just because he's being disruptive. And Kendrick says there's more at stake here than just what the law requires.

KENDRICK: If you're a candidate and you're playing anywhere close to that line, you should be worried that people would think this is someone who doesn't respect First Amendment freedoms.

KASTE: Some law enforcement entities are wary of being seen as the candidate's tool. The Secret Service recently put out a statement saying it's only concern is security and that it would not be throwing people out just for protesting. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.