In these highly divisive times political protests are seemingly endless. Protestors are often confronted with counter-protestors of an opposite viewpoint. Disputes are about abortion, war, civil rights, global warming, politics, union strikes, police behavior, and countless other issues.
The protests du jour of radical leftist students (and some faculty) on college campuses are irrationally condemning Israel and defending Hamas for its barbaric slaughter of innocent Israelis on October 7. It wasn’t so long ago that leftist students of this ilk pretended to be delicate snowflakes emotionally devastated by the mere utterance of a conservative viewpoint in their presence. Empowered by their victories in the cancel culture, they’ve now grown fangs and morphed into intolerant goon squads hysterically heaping venom on Israel and Jews in general. Thoroughly brainwashed by progressive ideology in K-12 and higher education, this younger generation of neo-Marxists is reminiscent of the pro-communist useful idiots who worshipped the Soviet Union.
For the record, I treasure the constitutional rights of Americans to freely speak, assemble, and protest. However, as George Will concisely put it, these fundamental rights are tempered by four essential words: “up to a point.” None of these rights is absolute. Free speech doesn’t permit libel, free assembly doesn’t include trespass, and protest must be peaceful.
True, our nation’s founders protested tyrannical British rule, dumped tea into Boston Harbor, and ultimately waged a revolutionary war. But that was because they had no peaceful recourse. We do. While peaceful protest is certainly lawful, it’s often irrelevant. Public policy in our constitutional republic is ultimately decided by representative government elected by the people who are also empowered to replace them. Legal issues are resolved in court.
Protests and demonstrations can have some influence on public policy, but nowadays they don’t change many minds. They just reaffirm the beliefs of those who already agree while hardening the opposing views of those who don’t. Unruly protests can backfire on the protestors’ cause when they go too far. A classic example was the nationwide protests of the Vietnam War with hordes marching on Washington, students throwing rocks at National Guardsmen at Kent State University, and extremists rioting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
A radical left-wing terrorist group called the Weather Underground inflicted dozens of bombings at targets from corporate headquarters, to the U.S. Capitol Building, to The Pentagon. Nevertheless, disgusted by all this turmoil, the “silent majority” of Americans had their say in two presidential elections, electing Republican Richard Nixon, an outspoken anti-communist, in 1968 and reelecting him in 1972, defeating the Democrats’ anti-war candidate, Sen. George McGovern in a historic landslide carrying 49 states.
I’m not impressed when a half million turn out for a march on Washington, for whatever reason, in a country where 330 million don’t. Or by 10,000 folks wildly cheering their candidate at a staged political rally. That’s no big deal. 80,000 can turn out for a football game.
Public protesting may be motivated by passion for a cause (especially among callow, idealistic young students), psychotherapy, socializing, street theater, the need to feel empowered — and even for fun. It’s also an opportunity for shoplifters to piggyback on violent demonstrations and loot with impunity. The BLM so-called “mostly peaceful” protests and riots of 2020 come to mind.
When police are faced with unruly mobs, some protestors game the system, lining their pockets at taxpayer expense with premeditated disrespect and provocation of police, then they sue city government with bogus claims of excessive force. In Denver, some BLM protestors obstructed traffic and vandalized private and public property, including the State Capitol. Denver police tried to keep protests from erupting but when things turn ugly and tear gas or pepper balls are necessary, cops can’t possibly isolate peaceful from violent protestors.
In one particular BLM protest, Denver police sensed a tipping point and relied on an emergency curfew already in place to disburse protestors and prevent violence. Many protestors refused and were arrested. (None were prosecuted, and habitual protestors consider an arrest to be a badge of honor.) Although violence was avoided, 300 protestors lawyered up and sued the city.
Their attorneys based their case on an absurd claim that the police selectively discriminated against “peaceful” protestors arresting them for “only” violating the emergency curfew or failing to obey a lawful order. “Only?” When tensions boil over, some who appear to be peaceful can turn violent, and cops can’t tell them apart. All the protestors — peaceful or not — were in violation of the curfew and a police order to disburse. That’s sufficient cause for arrest. Case closed! Sadly not, Denver’s ultra-progressive City Council just recently settled out of court with those 300 protestors for “only” 4.72 million taxpayer dollars, and probably admire them as political soul mates.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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