On the same day that two New York City police officers were gunned down execution-style by a perpetrator who explicitly cited the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner as his motivation, Black Lives Matter protesters in the Twin Cities overran the Mall of America in an organized trespass on private property. Protestors were warned days in advance that their planned demonstration was not welcome and would not be tolerated. Naturally, the protestors proceeded anyway.
Only 25 people were arrested. There should have been many, many more.
More links the protest at the Mall of America and the killings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York than their occurring on the same day. The commission of rights-violating protest, its endorsement by many within the culture, and its toleration by lawful authorities invite an escalation of violence. Once you entertain the notion that a sense of grievance entitles you to tread upon the rights of others, the difference between overrunning a mall, blocking traffic on an interstate, burning down a business, and executing police officers is only a matter of degree.
Consider how protest organizers justified their behavior at the Mall of America, as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
Organizers and participants… said [the disturbance] was a necessary inconvenience to call attention to a critical issue.
“Our system disproportionately targets, profiles and kills black men and women, that’s what we are here talking about,” said Michael McDowell of Black Lives Matter, the group that organized the protest.
He cited the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York as recent examples of police brutality that he said is also happening in the Twin Cities.
“It’s not just Ferguson or New York,” McDowell said. “It happens right here in Minneapolis; we have our own Michael Browns and Eric Garners. We did this because corporations have a role in this, too.
“We wanted to show people who have the everyday luxury of just living their lives that they need to be aware of this, too.”
Put another way, McDowell laid claim to the attention of others, not earned thorough compelling argument and consensual relationship, but demanded through an organized violation of their rights. His grievance entitles him to your attention, to a mall as a stage, and to the disruption of innocent lives.
To the extent the Black Lives Matter movement has legitimate grievances, such tactics wholly undermine their advocacy. If you’re going to argue that black people’s rights are being systematically violated, you lose all moral credibility when your response is the systematic violation of other people’s rights.
When Al Sharpton goes out of his way to distance the Black Lives Movement from the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu, when he claims the Black Lives Matter movement is “committed to nonviolence and making the system work,” he needs to define nonviolence as no initiation of force whatsoever. It’s not enough to draw a line at cop killing. The line is properly drawn at any violation of rights, including trespass, looting, arson, unlawful detention, and similar activities which have defined the Black Lives Matter movement thus far.
Anything less than a hard line against all forms of violence provides tacit endorsement of escalated violence, since it removes the principled barrier between one man’s expression and another man’s consent. If those “who have the everyday luxury of just living their lives” aren’t entitled to do so without disruption, then what principle will limit the form which that disruption takes?
(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)