Do peaceful protests work? Is damaging private property a legitimate form of protest? How can we move forward?
Do peaceful protests work?
We've all seen the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote being shared by different sides, one to justify the "unheard" while the other pointing out Dr. King's preference to peaceful protesting.
"But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We tend to simplify the issue as two-sided, but there are multiple players in this situation. And, within each group are several subgroups, and within those, many more. Most people that I've spoken with, in general, do not agree with the property damage aspect of the recent protests, but they agree with ending police brutality. I myself am still troubled by the property damage, but I feel a little better after chatting with a friend that has deep roots in the cop-watch community, an activist, a graduate from West Point, Stanford, and Harvard who is also a veteran.
He said, "I have no problem with corporations worth tens to hundreds of billions of dollars getting looted or burned. That is leverage. Voting and marching and petitions won’t get the cops to respect life."
Some feel showing sympathy for business owners who were looted overshadows the tragic killing of George Floyd and shifts the focus away from the original message to a discussion on acceptable forms of protest. As someone who strongly believes property rights are the foundation of a free society, it was hard for me to ignore the damage and looting of private businesses, especially in my home town.
Because of this, I initially missed the weight of what my friend said until another friend pointed it out, "The leverage comment is heavy. I’m sure these people have felt that way for decades, waiting for the law to be upheld and not perverted...if people aren’t seeing justice through the democratic processes we have, an upheaval and repudiation is the predictable human response. Luckily the violence is merely directed at property."
I had to think to myself, "what did I expect to happen?"
It's clear to me from the many videos of BLM protesters calling out the instigators who appear to be trying to incite riots, that there are multiple factions at play here with some trying hard to co-opt this movement. Many instances show protesters protecting businesses and police.
As a nation, we're clearly divided; at least on the surface it would seem that way. None of these different factions speak with one, unified voice. Everyone has different emotions and opinions on what #BlackLivesMatters and #AllLivesMatters mean and what to do about the state of our criminal justice system. But, it does appear to me that there is some common ground and admittance that a real problem does exist, and that's a start. There is plenty of crossover between many of these groups I've noticed at the protests:
For me, the uniting message is: the entire system has failed us. That may be the only thing all these groups can agree on. It shouldn't even be a question if peaceful protests work. Yes, sometimes they do. But, what we do about our failed system is where these groups drift apart. Ron Paul, a hero to many libertarians, used to talk about a duality of change that requires both working through the system for political reform while simultaneously working outside the system through civil disobedience and activism.
It's hard to deny that a physical confrontation was necessary to become a catalyst for real change, and it's possible to believe that while also supporting property rights.
The real question then appears to be, "are destructive protests ever justified when peaceful means are exhausted?" Well frankly, it depends on who you ask.
The very fabric of our nation is built on violent and destructive rebellions against non-representative governments. In my state of Texas, we have a battle cry, "Remember the Alamo." And, Texans do remember it, proudly. They showed up armed to protect it from those who would seek to damage it during the recent protests. Rebelling against governments that overstep their enumerated powers has deep roots in Texas and U.S. history.
Is it okay to damage government property, but not private property? Is it okay to damage property, so long as it's our military attacking other countries? I quickly learned that telling people the right and wrong way to protest is completely subjective and unique to every situation. Lol, is there some official government-sanctioned manual on how to petition our government for a redress of grievances?
We cannot argue the political "leverage" these protests created with the relatively speedy indictment of a killer cop. We can only hope this "leverage" ushers in justice and substantial, measurable change.
How can we move forward?
Making a few policy changes or tweaking police training is not going to fix a problem that’s systemic. If we crave real change, we should consider dreaming up a better way.
You want to contribute? You want to do something? Come up with a better way. Come up with a better way to organize ourselves. Come up with a better way to police ourselves. Come up with a better way to educate ourselves. Come up with a better way to stay informed.
Wars never ended with Obama, and the swamp wasn't drained with Trump. Government as we know it cannot be a part of the solution. For this type of change, we have to be willing to accept that all levels of government, from the president down to the police, are the same: they rely upon the use of force and coercion to attempt to change and modify behavior.
We’re better and smarter than this. Come up with a better way. Am I to believe that using force is the only way to interact peacefully with people with whom I disagree? Come up with a better way. This is not about black vs white or red vs blue. This is about the state vs you.
The Tom Woods Show Episode 1664 tackles looting and police brutality from the libertarian perspective. Tom and Eric July analyze the riots and real issues at play. They describe a few things we can do to move forward. Of course the libertarian in me wants to go full-on libertarian where each city could contract-out a security company to replace their police force, but perhaps we approach this pragmatically.
Eric makes a great point about how we must be free to look at cops as what they are, just individuals like the rest of us. Badges and funny costumes shouldn't mean cops are above the law. They're individuals providing a service. We shouldn't be fearful when we look at cops, and many of us are.
He continues that if instead of 3 police holding down George Floyd, it was just 3 regular individuals, bystanders would have jumped in to help out. They wouldn't have brought out their phones; they wouldn't have tried to plea; they would've jumped in. But, instead they just stood there and watched it happen because you don't put your hands on a cop. Come up with a better way.
Cruising through my Facebook News Feed, some other liberty-leaning friends brought up a few other things we could do:
Can you think of more ways we could fix the problem of unaccountable police violence? I accept there is a major education element required to completely understand the effects racism play in these tragedies. But, attempting to end racism will prove to be futile. It sounds like another big government plan to rid the world of racism....good luck. Being a moron, being an idiot, and being racist are not illegal. Please don't try to make them. There are plenty of things that are legal that are wrong, just like there are plenty of things that are illegal and shouldn't be. Legality should not imply morality.
Watch this video of a man explaining why we need to find another way.