“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Looting, rioting, intimidation, impeding the public.
What do these behaviors have in common?
They make reasonable people like me oppose you and everything you want to accomplish, even if under other circumstances we’d be sympathetic to your cause.
Protest is an important part of the American tradition. Allegedly, it is protected by the 1st amendment’s freedom of association and assembly. I say allegedly because with recent legal constructs like “free speech zones”, where protesters are only allowed to demonstrate in certain out-of-view areas, I’d say that the freedom of assembly has been unduly restrained. But that’s a topic for a different day.
The problem with the above behaviors is that they victimize uninvolved parties. They represent the unprovoked initiation of force against others.
This is unacceptable in a free and just society.
The evil of looting is self-evident. No matter what you are upset about, nothing gives you the moral authority to break into some private business and start robbing it. Looting has a special word because it is even more brazen and socially abhorrent than other types of theft. The looter steals not because he is specifically needy, the looter steals because he revels in lawlessness; in the depravity of the act, and the sense that there will be no consequences against him for his wrong doing.
The evil of rioting is also self-evident. No matter what you are upset about, destroying cars, houses, storefronts, and other private property, of people you don’t even know, and who certainly aren’t involved in perpetrating the grievances you’re protesting, is morally unacceptable.
If you are turning over cars and setting them on fire, whether it’s because cops shot someone in your neighborhood, or because your sports team just won the big game, there is something wrong with your judgment facilities.
Intimidation of others for socio-political change can be wrong, depending on the circumstances on the context.
For instance, there are laws that control where abortion protesters can stand in relation to abortion clinics. Without getting into the specifics of each law (because they vary widely), I think we should all agree with the following statement:
No citizen has the right to prevent another citizen from going a place they have the right to go.
It’s fine to protest outside of abortion clinics — provided that you are not actually blocking the door to the clinic. That would be a violation of the property rights of the clinic owner. In fact, that would be trespassing.
Furthermore, it is fine to protest outside of abortion clinics — provided that you are not impeding a private citizen trying to go about their business. If you build a “wall” around a person, or around a business, you are violating the rights of another human being. This behavior is not acceptable. You are making your preferences someone else’s problem.
Intimidation comes in all kinds of forms. Intimidating voters outside of polls has an ugly history in this country, and there are laws to try and prevent it. On the other hand, intimidating employees outside of job sites where unions are striking is an unfortunate reality of American history, and has a shocking amount of legal protection written into our laws.
Irrespective of what history of the law might say, your union does not have the moral authority to physically impede or intimidate someone else who wants to go to work and get paid.
An additional form of unjustifiable intimidation is when activists intimidate not in front of a business address, but instead in front of a residence. These protests are insidious because they threaten the safety one is entitled to feel in their own home. This situation is slightly different from the others, because in this case, the mob at least thinks they have identified a specific person who is responsible for their grievances.
This intimidation is problematic because someone’s home is by definition not public. The mob has no right to be there.
Finally, you do not have a right to stage your protest by purposefully impeding the general public.
This week, fast food workers who want higher wages and perhaps a union, are apparently taking a cue from the Vietnam era playbook, and are staging sit-ins in the middle of roads to force traffic to come to a halt. It is not clear what they hope to accomplish via this tactic, but it is clear that what they ARE accomplishing is upsetting the general public.
Many people will not find the evil in this situation because they haven’t thought about it critically. People have the right to move freely. People have the NEED to move freely, and in some cases those needs are acute. If there is an ambulance that cannot make progress because your group is sitting in the middle of an intersection, for the express purpose of blocking that intersection, and the hurt person in the ambulance dies, shouldn’t you be held liable? I think you should.
More generally, the one asset that all humans have a fixed supply of is remaining life. Currently, neither the poorest nor the richest man in the world can meaningfully increase the amount of lifetime left to him via any effort undertaken on his own. The reason I hang up on telemarketers and shut the door in the face of solicitors is because my life is valuable to me, and I do not grant them the right to take my life from me for their purposes. You may think this sounds rude; I think wasting the lifetime of others against their will is much more rude.
My life is valuable to me, your life is valuable to you. Each of us should decide for ourselves how we wish to spend this precious resource. Accordingly, I reject the idea that protesters should decide for me how I spend my life time.
When you choose to impede others, without any consideration for their circumstances, you do society a tremendous harm.
The person dying in the back of the ambulance may or may not have any ability to control your wages. Odds are, they do not. So why are you hurting them indiscriminately? From what moral authority do you grant yourself this power?
Part of living in a civilized society is respecting the rights of others. You don’t respect the rights of others by hurting them or their property without even knowing who they are.
Society should take an extremely dim view of group protests which indiscriminately harm society. Whether it is looting, rioting, group intimidation, or group impediments of individuals in the general public.. society should not tolerate these degenerate behaviors, because all of these activities represent unjustifiable harm against innocent parties.
For now, we still have the freedom to assemble and protest. Don’t misuse that freedom by hurting the innocent.