Protests have dwindled in America since the onset and passing of the holiday season. This time of year has a way of breaking up our worst behavior, no matter what cultural persuasion we celebrate from. That is why it might be a good time to shift our focus from protest to discussion, and that discussion needs to bridge our split worldviews. It is the same bridge that humankind has failed to construct since the dawn of civilization, but that does not mean we should give up.
In December, two NYPD police officers were killed on duty. They posed no threat to society or protesters, yet they were targeted by a lone armed assailant. In all the reports that have come out on this topic that I have read, none have tied the assailant to protesters in a credible way, but this did not stop police officers and especially union executives all over the country from blaming protesters. “Blood on their hands” rallied so many talking heads, as if to forget that this is the very same complaint of the protesters in the first place.
Blood is blood and it doesn’t matter “who started it,” in the manner that we defend ourselves in childhood. Retaliatory language is more threatening than stopping and looking at the situation carefully. Retaliatory language might be sufficient to induce fright and slow down the protests or at least weed out the half-hearted, however, we need to focus on commonality between those hearts. When a police union boss states that we are in ‘wartime’ and those who rally in support of police killings by holding placards that “I Can Breathe”, then we really are in wartime with words, because that just mocks the situation.
It also exposes an attitude. When police are killed, police grieve. When citizens are killed, police defend their action, shedding no tears. Protesters show the attitude that all lives matter, denouncing police killings, expressing that all people belong to humankind and that a civilian death is a loss for everyone.
The assailant who had no will to live, killing himself after the fact, was not a compassionate progressive person holding a placard. He was a frustrated, poverty-class criminal whose life had already been destroyed by negative influences, from prison to street life. He was not a protester, he was simply desperate and confused.
Empathy both ways is possible, but it is a fine line. New York Mayor Bill De’Blasio straddles that fine line like a jockey on a race horse, upsetting many police officers, highlighting what protesters are up against. If the Mayor was elected in part because the people are tired of police harrassment and even the less-oppressed class supports his campaign promise to reign in out-of-control policies, then police officers need to be conscious of this and not treat it simply like a political trend. As Mayor, he is the representative of the people. When police officers turn their backs on the Mayor, blaming him for the death of these two officers, they are turning their backs on the people—the very people they are sworn to protect.
It is important not to call these anti-police protests, because when police forces are present at these protests and are protective, helping citizens practice their 1st Amendment Right, then it becomes a pro-police, anti-violence protest. In fact, protesters need that protection. The language of anti-police or pro-police must disappear, to weed out the agitators, to enhance the quality of protests.
I joined the Don’t Shoot Portland protests in my neighborhood, downtown. I have video documenting agitation from a small portion of those involved, chanting “Rest in peace Michael Brown, every cop in the ground!” But the majority yell louder and inevitably squash inciteful behavior. The police force needs to be very discriminative in these cases and allow self-policing to take its course. They also need to work directly with protesters, to be sure leadership can manage policing.
Early last year, I began to sense tension ratchet up in America and so published an article to denounce protest movements. I had been observing lessons learned from Kiev, Ukraine, and Homs, Syria. When protests reach a certain level, all kinds of agitators get involved. In Kiev, covert European agitators (and some neo-fascist nationalists) got involved and toppled the government. The backlash was a Russia-backed separatist movement that has taken thousands of lives ongoing and crumbled two major economies. In Syria, the regime (backed by Russia and Iran) has killed hundreds of thousands of citizens and opened the gates of hell to al-Qaida and now, even worse, The Islamic State (ISIL). In Oakland, CA, police officers were identified on at least two occasions at Ferguson-related protests as undercover, posing as anti-police protesters and possibly spreading anti-police sentiment. This is unproductive if not entrapment.
— NBC News Pictures (@NBCNewsPictures) December 11, 2014
In Ferguson, Missouri, West Florissant is a poverty-stricken commercial district. At best, citizens feel that law enforcement and National Guard simply allowed for the burning of that district to persist while devoting all energies to squash a very lively protest within close proximity. At worst, there are accusations that various officers actively started the fires and stopped firefighters from getting involved. To make matters more confusing, accusations of white supremicist groups participating in the chaos have also surfaced. Evidence is difficult to mount in general, but the police force who is responsible for investigating is known to hold an adverserial wartime attitude, making it even more difficult to discover with certainty who is agitating.
These are the covert agitators to be avoided if the people move from protest to dialogue. That said, it is not always an option. When a regime gets violent against peaceful protesters, the people can not just take it—you can expect they simply won’t. The greatest threat to peaceful protest is guns and dark money streaming into violent, self-interested factions. If chaos struck America even further, there would be more appearances by al-Qaida, because that is their business model, to insert themselves in to protest movements. This is something we must avoid.
Sit-ins are a classic means of peaceful protest. The present spin on this method is the so-called “die-in” where protesters lie down for a length of time, often equivalent in minutes to the time in hours Michael Brown’s corpse lay on the street. But I would suggest a new approach: enlight-ins. This method does not obstruct or reference any particular tragedy. This method is simply the act of having free and open public discussion. It would not side one way or another and thus can not be seen as anti-police, just anti-division, anti-violence, pro-speech, and pro-unity. It would also avoid resembling the “open mic” method common to the Occupy protest movement, where division seems to be highlighted. It would be genuine civil engagement with a relaxed agenda. Those involved would have to admit together that there is a problem before moving on to solutions.
Perhaps Ambit Magazine will be the first to host enlight-ins, because so far, protesters and police have only become more contentious and activists seems to be trying all the old tricks that produce the same results: marginal political progress at the edge of deep chasms in consciousness. Media outlets profit from disorder, highlighting violence. So long as we are in the business of producing content that affects consciousness, we hold ourselves responsible, even if the status quo asks us to pretend we are simply objective journalists, when we all know that is a farce and every journalist carries their agenda.
To better punctuate my point, especially to the media, we need only look at the recent tragedy of Charlie Hedbo. Although a satirical magazine and hardly taken seriously by journalists, their content is influential at shaping mass consciousness. The result of unproductive cartoons designed primarily to ruffle feathers, especially religious feathers, was the death and injury of dozens of their own employees at the hands of al-Qaida members. Ultimately, we are all responsible for being neighborly and respecting one another’s boundaries. Knowingly publishing content that is sure to inspire Jihadists comes off as irresponsible. We can defend the ideals of free speech and expression all day long, but the bottom line of a civil society is cohesion and understanding. The ideals of free speech are best expressed through investigative journalism and intelligent cartooning, in which our own bias is explored as if equal to the bias of those being investigated or satirized.
For us, it starts today.