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Uncivil disobedience

April 28, 2015

Civil disobedience has a long history in the United States. It’s how the country started, so protesting isn’t exactly a new phenomenon here.

It seems as though the only way change ever happens is through some kind of confrontation, and unfortunately, that usually involves some sort of violence. It’s as though officials don’t get the message unless you first get their attention via a sharp jolt to their complacency.

That can be in the form of an election or a mass march across a bridge, but in today’s hyperactive world of social media, it’s a lot easier for it to be through mindless violence.

In the 1700’s when it took three weeks to get a letter from one end of the country to the other, these local uprisings tended to stay localized far longer.

In the world of Twitter, instant video and instant gratification, that’s no longer true.

Watching Baltimore disintegrate into violence yesterday invites comparisons to the 1960’s. What took days or even weeks to pull together a half-century ago now takes mere minutes, even seconds.

Without getting into the weeds over which side is or isn’t justified, one thing is clear.

The city officials and possibly even the police didn’t have a clue what to do with the development of the situation.

Fifty-some years ago, there would have been some dead kids on the street. The good thing is, that apparently didn’t happen yesterday.

The bad thing is, in order to avoid that kind of result, nothing at all was done initially to get control of the situation.

With some sympathy for the mayor of Baltimore, she was not misquoted when it was reported that she seemed to be giving up tactical ground or even tacit permission to those people who wanted to be destructive. It’s on tape. She may have misspoken, but she was not misquoted.

Which brings up the question, when does tolerance turn into permissiveness, or peaceful protest to anarchy ?

We do have an inherent right to express our discontent in this country.  But that right is or should be tempered with an equally inherent responsibility to exercise some semblance of self-control .

A riot is not the same thing as a peaceful protest. In the world of instant action and reaction, yesterday’s contingency plans don’t cut it.

Whether it is because of political considerations or human compassion or a little of both, many  politicians today are slow to recognize when to use appropriate force to quell unrest, maybe because they aren’t sure what appropriate even means.

There is a difference between setting up a firing line and a containment line.  There’s also a difference between tolerance and complete capitulation to a violent element.

To those people asking where the parents of those school-age protestors were yesterday, one might answer this way;  If you have to ask that question in the middle of a riot, you are asking about the parents about 10 or 15 years too late.

No one is going to solve societal shortcomings on either side in one night. The best that can happen now is to act proactively to make sure that everyone is still around to look for the answers tomorrow.

From → op-ed

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