(Paul Jacob) – You don’t need to commit violence to conduct a large, effective public protest of perceived injustice. The many Tea Party demonstrations against our federal government’s latest socialist excesses prove that. But what if violent and nonviolent protests are equated in the minds of peace keepers?
In Reason magazine, journalist Radly Balko reports on several disturbing examples of crackdowns of persons assembled in a public place. In one incident, motivated by the occasionally violent protests of last fall’s G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, police ordered students gathered in public to disperse forthwith, though they had broken no laws. Anyone who moved too slowly was subject to arrest. Apparently, a few violent protesters hit town for the summit, but they were a distinct minority.
Balko isn’t impressed by a university official’s claim that the gatherings had to be busted up because of the “potential” for trouble. That’s a dangerous standard to apply to peaceful assembly that is not only constitutionally protected but also an important bulwark against tyranny.
Police can make honest mistakes like anybody else, especially when in charged and confusing situations. No doubt there’s sometimes a fuzzy line between a peaceful if rowdy protest and one that’s turning violent. But Balko suggests that police are increasingly harassing and handcuffing people only because they are peacefully dissenting.
Not only is that not right, it demands protest.
(Mr. Jacob is president of Citizens in Charge Foundation)