Opinion / Politics

Peaceful Protests v. Violent Riots – History Teaches that Dangers Lurk

historyUnpack the current moment, one eye on history.  We have a chance to heal, but serious dangers lurk.  Too often, in this land where we try to improve, to respect every individual, balance freedom and equality, keep government limited, and protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we fall short.

When we fall short, sometimes terribly short, Americans get strangely self-focused, start self-healing.  Our society tends to recognize failings, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, and seek correction.  A portion of society speaks up, using First Amendment rights to assemble, petition, and seek redress.

There is something unique about Americans. Down to the individual level, we have a profound sense of fairness.  With that, we try to fix things that go wrong.  We hate seeing wrongs unremedied, as much as we appreciate things going right.  We hate injustice, feel empowered to find resolutions and restore fairness.  It is in our character.

Some will call me an idealist or ethnocentric, but what students of history know is that we have always been this way.  Americans are different, as a function of our history.  We are not of one cultural or ethnic background, not like Europe, Russia, China, Far East, Middle East, Africa or even South America. We are different – bound to one another by ideals – like freedom, justice, and equality.

That is why, when we see an injustice, we react.  Our society uses First Amendment freedoms to throw light on darkness, awaken the conscience of fellow citizens, educate as much as legislate, infusing society with new understanding about what needs to be fixed.  We are at that moment now.

To be clear, our country has witnessed tens of thousands of protests, a strength of our nation.  Captive peoples in Communist China do not have the right.  We do have the right – with it the power of self-correction.   Credit again to our Founders.

Historically, protests have – as our Founders knew they would – helped us weather grief, educate and modulate, raising fairness over unfairness, equal treatment over unequal, and assuring fundamental liberties are never encroached or stolen by an all-powerful government.

In the spirit of 1773’s Boston Tea Party, following horrors of the Civil War, American farmers organized across the country between 1870 and 1900.  Their goal was to remedy monopolistic pricing and restore moral compass. They did, leaving the Grange, Farmer’s Alliance, and Populist Party.  Their example returned in 1979, when 3000 tractors descended on Washington DC – to halt farm foreclosures.

Likewise, the Women’s Suffrage “Procession” in 1913 was the first on Washington’s Mall, to be followed by others, including the Civil Rights March of 1963 with Martin Luther King, anti-Vietnam War protests in 1969, and so-called anti-nuclear and nuclear freeze marches during the 1980s.

Closer to our time, the Black community assembled a “Million Man March” in 1995 when Bill Clinton was in the White House, followed in 1997 by a “Million Woman March.”  Rallies against the Iraq War occurred in 2003, followed by a pro-abortion march in 2004, when George W. Bush was president.  The anti-abortion “March for Life” has filled the Mall annually since 1974.

All this leads to – now.  On the positive side, members of our society recoil at the racist, fundamentally cruel killing of a Black man by a police officer, as three others failed to intercede.  The video is searing. The death of George Floyd is an inflection point.  The First Amendment is being used.  It allows us to focus, become more introspective, and start self-healing.

But three dangers lurk.  The first – which afflicted protests in the 1970s – is that this effort at self-healing, addressing persistent inequalities, will be hijacked by violence.  Violent forces are afoot with no respect for democracy, no interest in peaceful resolution. They see the First Amendment as a weakness, chink in our armor, chance to promote anarchy and radical socialism – with violence.

That danger is made more acute by ignorance.  If we pretend that well-coordinated, pre-planned violence, spanning dozens of cities, is the same as a peaceful protest, we make a double mistake.  We miss the chance to have peaceful discussions producing positive change and self-healing.  Worse, we give the radical left – seeking to disrupt democracy – a chance.  Antifa mirrors the Weather Underground of the 1970s.  We cannot forget that.

The second danger lurks in mass turnouts.  In crowds, people become anonymous, often showing less personal responsibility.  Local police, currently backed by the National Guard, are important.  Mob violence – even without Antifa – can be destructive.  A combination of opportunism, unchecked anger, and greed has already done $400 million of damage, to which one can add burglaries, assaults, and deaths, shootings in Minnesota, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and other states.

This brings me to the third danger – misunderstanding the role, temperament, training, and inherent value of men and women in blue, American law enforcement. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement is respectful of individual liberties, acutely aware of legal and moral imperatives, honors “equal protection,” and pursues justice with care.

Data lags, but police made 62.9 million public contacts in one recent year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. They were “equally likely to initiate contact with blacks and whites.” One-in-eight adults, or 31.4 million Americans, called on police for assistance, with 85 percent satisfaction and no statistical difference between Blacks, Whites and Hispanics.  Nine-in-ten were willing to call again.

Finally, deterrence is a cornerstone of law enforcement.  Washington DC has 706,000 residents, only 3800 officers – a ratio of one to 144.  Los Angeles has four million residents, 9000 officers, a ratio of one to 444.  Cutting their numbers or support would be senseless – and dangerous.

In short, America is a nation premised on mutual respect, limited government, individual liberties, and the promise of equal protection.  We must keep striving for those ideals.  Our Constitution encourages peaceful self-healing.  The First Amendment makes that possible. Danger lurks in not healing, but also in misunderstanding the value of cohesion and law enforcement. History teaches that we must pull together – or we will surely be pulled apart.

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Kim
2 months ago

I don’t know ANYONE who would have condoned the actions of the police officers who killed George Floyd. The moment an “alleged perpetrator” has been subdued, there no longer is any need for brute force. Whether he had a rap sheet as long as my arm or was the PTA vice president, all suspects deserve to be treated fairly, equally, and never to the point where their lives are at risk. The United States prides itself on the tenets of rule of law, although sometimes those values are challenged. This happens rarely in this country, but when it does, the… Read more »

Judy Green
2 months ago

It is beyond disgusting to see the entire country lauding a career criminal and outright scumbag!!!! When a soldier dies, the family gets a flag! This POS gets how many memorials now? A gold casket and a horse-drawn carriage??? WHAT A FARCE!!!! When people act like thugs, they deserve to be treated as thugs! And THAT was what George Floyd was – a THUG!!!! No, I am not saying he deserved to die but, in reality, his death came primarily by his own hand. Yes, the cop shouldn’t have put his knee on his neck that way and yes, it… Read more »

Patriot Will
2 months ago

Traditional America is basically good. When certain interest groups hold themselves to be more important than the citizens as a whole, then we often become irrational and even violent. Those who are very quick to protest have a right to protest. However, if the protesters forget to think about the rights of all Americans, there is a danger of haters and criminals to pollute the environment to the point where so-called peaceful protests become violent mob actions of fighting, stealing, burning and even killing. As soon as individuals forget about mutual respect and open communication, perfectly acceptable behavior can quickly… Read more »

Blanca I
1 month ago

The thinking of living in anarchy scares me. I support our police force, think of the old saying “one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch”. We need the police and I support them.

Pam
1 month ago

I disagree with the statement that the death of George Floyd was racist. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. You cannot make the claim that all altercations between people with different skin colors has racism as it’s root.

Pat R
1 month ago

The fact the ‘instigators’ were bused or flown in to DC from as far as Arizona, and other cities, gives a huge clue about motive. And those instigators took advantage of peoples’ emotions & got some to join their destruction & looting, making it look like it was all protestors. BUT the supply of bricks, rocks, and even Molotov cocktails hidden in bushes of places marches were planned shows there was a whole different agenda in play. Their travel, supplies, and personal necessities for trip/stay were well planned and paid for, even bail when arrested. BUT, they didn’t go unnoticed… Read more »

Ron Newell
1 month ago

A very reasoned and balanced report that ought to be read by all Americans. Extremism is dangerous while dissent is necessary. To keep protests at a nonviolent level requires law enforcement. The majority of Americans can police themselves. But law enforcement is needed to safeguard us against those who wish anarchy to reign, or simply wish to commit crimes. We are a nation laws, not a nation of anarchists or totalitarians. Let’s keep it that way.

chaly
1 month ago

I tell ya what, with all of the AK-47’s supposedly laying around every home in your neighborhood we need to use them on the evil destroyers of our democracy. BLM, B.S., these people do the same thing in their own neighborhood. Look at Wash D.C., NY city, and Seattle, Minneapolis and all the rest of the places where average citizens’ happen to live and this group of scum can come in and destroy everything YOU have built. They have lost my support NOW!!! They deserve no more support from me or you!

Diane Watson
1 month ago

Much of what is happening has the flavor of the Weather Underground, but there are shades of the Black Panthers. I think a violent Islamic presence or Sikh presence, which is under the “banner” of Islam is also there. To go further would be folly as the dual forces of Communist China and Russia were just starting to surface when former President Nixon went to Communist China with Henry Kissinger. You figure out what to conclude, We did change the money standard again at the time.

Rhonda
1 month ago

I think we have lost it all, limited government, free speech, right to bear arms, a means of discussion between opposing views, respect for authority, including police officers, most of which are good men and women doing a job etc., etc. I don’t see how we can go back from here. The socialists/communists/globalists seem to have thrown us into the chaos required in the communist playbook to destroy our history and our rights and propel us into a nightmare of complete global government control of every aspect of our lives. Too bad our children have not been trained in our… Read more »

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