August 17, 2017

THIS BIT FROM ROBERT SHIBLEY’S PIECE ON CHARLOTTESVILLE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT FAILURE IS WORTH BREAKING OUT:

This must stop. Freedom of expression is what gives us the ability to hash out societal issues through argument instead of physical conflict, but it is only meaningful when people are reasonably confident that they will be physically safe while they speak and listen. When the authorities simply stand by and let political violence occur, even in the hope of the conflict somehow “de-escalating” itself, they send the message that both sides have a free hand to violently attack their opponents. This makes a mockery of the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.

After the riot that successfully prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at the University of California, Berkeley, in February, many reported on the conspicuous lack of police involvement despite the injuries and destruction. I personally spoke to a woman who had come to see the speech. Having been pepper-sprayed and nearly blinded by a violent protester, she told me she crawled over three layers of crowd barriers to reach a building with dozens of police inside. Yet when she reached the door, the police refused her entry.

Likewise, CNN reported that in Charlottesville, “both sides agree that one group didn’t do enough to prevent the violence as the crowds grew and tensions flared: the police.” The organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally complained that “police purposefully created the catastrophe that led to a melee in the streets of Charlottesville,” while a Black Lives Matter leader attending the counter-protest remarked, “It’s almost as if they wanted us to fight each other.”

It’s hard to think of a more thankless task than riot policing. But when authorities fail at the basic task of preventing mob violence, both political and policy questions need to be asked. When the Huffington Post reports that “Several times, a group of assault-rifle-toting militia members from New York State … played a more active role in breaking up fights” than the police, law enforcement’s response needs serious rethinking.

There is one group of people who have so far consistently benefitted when political violence has been allowed to take place: the politicians who lead our localities and the de facto politicians who run our campuses. They avoid the political fallout from images of police confronting violent protesters (who may also be their supporters), they get to blame whichever side they like less for causing the violence, and get to pretend to fulfill their responsibility to keep people “safe” by making it harder for controversial viewpoints to be expressed.

And they allow people to be injured — or in this case killed — by their opportunism. As I’ve said, the DOJ should closely investigate the timeline here.

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