Freedom of speech and the devolving levels of civil and political discourse are all in the forefront as we head toward Election Day.
Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden supporters have been holding roadside rallies along U.S. Route 50. There are also plenty of campaign events scheduled, and advocates on both sides are headed to Pennsylvania to help their candidates’ causes in the key battleground.
We also continue to see plenty of disrespectful behavior toward those with differing views. Some of that disrespect unfortunately continues to cross the line — and some of it is illegal.
That is what happened on Saturday, Oct. 10, along Route 50 at a roadside rally for President Trump in Cambridge. The occupants of a car with Pennsylvania tags threw drinks and cups at Trump supporters who had gathered on the side of the road.
No one was hurt but the occupants of the car could end up facing second-degree assault and other charges.
We are not sure all that deserves jail time. Criminal justice reforms and how defendants are sentenced should be a much more important issue this election. That includes Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and her record as a prosecutor — especially her marijuana-related convictions.
We understand the emotions and divisions our communities and our country face right now. We understand the views of Trump, Biden and the media.
Free and vigorous debates are healthy for our democracy and the marketplace of ideas. The censorship we are seeing on social media and the pressuring of businesses (including threats of boycotts) who are even perceived as taking a political stance are very worrisome.
But the destruction of property and violence we are seeing is distressing. Horrific shootings have occurred at protests and during unrest, including in Texas, Wisconsin and most recently Denver.
The incident on Route 50 could have escalated if any of those involved were armed and unstable.
We are all free to disagree with each other. We also have the freedom to express those disagreements in creative and salty ways.
What we do not have the right to do is to threaten someone with bodily harm or steal or damage property (which continues to happen with campaign signs).
And we definitely do not have the right to harm someone, whether that entails violence like the fatal shooting in Denver on Oct. 10 or the throwing of drinks and cups at Trump supporters the same day here on the Eastern Shore.
Our political divisions and animosities run deep these days. Stresses and mental health challenges are also magnified by the coronavirus, the loss of jobs stemming from pandemic shutdowns and social isolations.
We have neighbors who are really struggling right now. Some of those neighbors have differing political views. Some of those neighbors with challenges and instabilities are attending protests, rallies and other events.
We need to remember that one person’s trash talk or verbal threats could trigger an escalation or violence from another.
The drink-throwing incident in Cambridge was unfortunate, and police should investigate what kind of charges it might warrant.
We are just thankful it did not escalate into something akin to the lethal violence that happened the same day in Denver.
We want all voices and viewpoints to be heard. We should be free to criticize Trump, Biden, the news media, medical experts and our neighbors. We just have to be more respectful and make sure those disagreements do not turn destructive, violent or deadly.