It’s called civil disobedience for a reason
Many protesters — and their supporters in City Hall and the media — are angry that the police have used force to break up protests that are violating the law even though they’re peaceful.
These people don’t understand the meaning or purpose of civil disobedience.
For several nights of looting and mayhem, New Yorkers cowered in their homes while their neighborhoods were pillaged. Anarchist thugs and common thieves ran wild. Mayor de Blasio finally set an early curfew, and gave the NYPD the power to enforce it.
The rule was clear: Protests could continue until early evening, but then people had to go home. The last few nights, police began to enforce the curfew, blocking bridges, clearing streets and making arrests.
Criticism of the mayor has been savage.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has slammed the cops and the mayor for using force against “nonviolent protestors” who march down the middle of the street chanting, “We are peaceful, what are you?” to the cops who block them, order them to disperse, and then disperse them.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, playing to the cheap seats as he gears up his mayoral run, tweeted, “The penalty for protesting after curfew is not to be beaten senseless by the police.”
Councilman Ritchie Torres of The Bronx, who may be headed to Congress soon, tweeted, “Curfew or no curfew, New Yorkers have a constitutional right to protest.”
He may need to brush up on what the Constitution protects and what it doesn’t protect.
The First Amendment protects our freedom of speech and assembly and, yes, protest. But that doesn’t mean you are allowed to sit in traffic, or occupy a politician’s office, or chain yourself to a police car, even though none of those activities is violent, and even if you are doing them in the name of a cause. You will be arrested anyway.
And that’s the point of civil disobedience. If you believe a law is unjust, you can intentionally break it to call attention to its injustice. But civil disobedience only means anything if you are also willing, like Martin Luther King Jr., to accept being arrested and punished for breaking the law. Otherwise you are just throwing a tantrum.
The point of protesting is to demonstrate your willingness to sacrifice your own safety and security for a cause you believe is greater than yourself. Acting surprised when the people in power decide they don’t want protesters to conduct spontaneous, unpermitted parades in the middle of the street day after day, and into the night, is naive to the extreme.
It’s also unbearably sentimental, in the sense of wanting something for nothing. Protesting is not a state of sanctuary, nor does it exempt you from the law.
Socrates, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King all understood that protest only has meaning if you accept the consequences.
Oddly, de Blasio — a veteran protester himself — is the only one who seems to understand the nature of civil disobedience and the fact that something can be simultaneously “peaceful” and disruptive and against the law.
The mayor is getting a lot of heat for authorizing the cops to keep the protests from getting out of control when the sun goes down. But he should have done so sooner. And he deserves some credit for pushing back on the absurd idea that “peaceful protest” justifies unlimited freedom to disrupt life for the rest of us.
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