Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Protests or Attempted Coercion?

My plans for a multi-part blog on moral actions kind of failed.  Not enough planning ahead of time, and I wanted to mix two theses that didn't integrate very well.  But in thinking about moral actions in the public sphere, I settled on a topic dealing with public protests.  I'll first state my thesis, then provide some definitions, and finally get to my arguments.

I don't like protests.  I'm not saying all protests are bad or that a protester is necessarily doing anything wrong.  Many may have admirable motives, and many protests may be pushing a good cause. But there are far too many protests that make the news where the protesters show lack of good judgment in behavior, and far too often are pushing a cause I do not believe in.  And way too many of those appear to break laws with impunity.

My preferred behavior is to vote, write letters to congressmen or local politicians, participate in your community's government, write letters to the editor, and post respectful social commentary. 

An alternative, in some cases, would be to bring a lawsuit.  I don't like that option as too often cases are filed that are trivial or depend on an off-the-wall legal theory.  And they are often misused to slow a process or bankrupt an opponent.

Back to my thesis.  Protests too often are coercive in nature or even lead to behavior that would be characterized as assault (and sometimes battery) if done by an individual.  As an example, protesting a company's factory that is creating noxious odors in the community is probably a good cause.  But blocking their parking lots, walkways, or entrance is coercive and despicable.  If they don't get out of the way when employees, who are trying to make a living, try to enter, it is the equivalent of assault.  If they push or shove employees trying to enter, it's battery.  If they protest on the company's land, such as their parking lot, it is trespass.

Now, we need some definitions. 

  • Google's definition of coerce is a fairly generic one: "persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats."  
  • The's definition of assault is "... an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm."  
  • The's definition of battery is "... an intentional unpermitted act causing harmful or offensive contact with the "person" of another. ... The punishment for criminal battery is a fine, imprisonment, or both. Usually battery is prosecuted as a crime only in cases involving serious harm to the victim."
  • Cornell's website states that trespass is "... defined by the act of knowingly entering another person's property without permission."
Assault, battery, and trespass are common criminal offenses, and when brought to the police's attention, the offender will usually get arrested and often tried for the offense.  Trespass is not usually considered a serious crime, unlike assault and battery.

Coercion is also found in criminal law, but is applied in different ways in different jurisdictions.  For the purpose of this article, I won't assume there is any criminal penalty for the coercive aspects of protests.  However, if the protests go so far as to commit assault, battery or even trespassing, I do believe protesters should be arrested and tried for those crimes.

On to the discussion.  It appears to me that protesters have a range of motivations.  1) Some may merely want to bring an issue to the attention of voters, government, or a corporation. 2) Some protesters may be trying to obstruct an activity or operation that they think should be stopped.  3) Some may be trying to actually intimidate other individuals or groups.  4) Same may be trying to express anger or rage about an action.  5) And a few may be trying to destroy property or injure and intimidate individuals because they feel wronged.  I'm not trying to be comprehensive here, and I may have missed a few motives.  But I think these five are pretty representative.

Protests primarily involving motive #1 (getting attention for an issue) can generally be executed in a non-coercive way and with no criminal behavior.  While handheld signs are only sufficient to convey the simplest message, most such protests will get TV or newspaper attention.  If they stay on public lands and get any required local permit, I have no problem with such protests.  However, if they were to tie up my local park during regular park hours, I still wouldn't be happy with them.

I'll jump for a moment to motive #4 (expressing anger at an action).  If there are no other motivations (and related coercive or criminal activities), this is a perfectly understandable motivation for a protest.  An example would be a peaceful protest against rezoning or use of eminent domain.  Unfortunately, protests involving anger often include other motivations and offensive behavior.  Examples of that would be anger at trail verdicts that turns to violence.

In the past, motive #2 (obstructing an activity or operation) was pretty common, and it still is.  Unions, or unionizers, wanted to obstruct a company's operations when they wouldn't allow a union to form or they wouldn't accede to a union's demands.   Protesters blocked abortion clinics or pro-life clinics.  Protesters tried to stop oil pipelines or nuclear reactors from being built.  Most of these protests involved physically preventing entry of employees or customers.  Most I would consider to have passed over the threshold of assault and often battery.  Trespass was common.  This behavior is detestable and way too often, the police seem to look the other way.  Since this usually involves physical action against individuals, I believe it is entirely coercive in nature.

In today's political environment, motive #3 (intimidating individuals or groups) is becoming more common.  Instead of trying to get their message across with signs, people, and the media (where motive #1 is primary), they get in the face of their 'opponents.'  These cases include the protest groups showing up at restaurants to intimidate Trump officials and Republican legislators.  In my opinion, the restaurant owner or manager should ask the protesters to leave immediately and should file trespass charges if they do not.  If the protesters are rowdy or a large group, the police should hold them for assault (unlikely).  Another example is cornering and screaming at Senator Flake in a congressman-only elevator.  Then there is the more generic example of so-called anti-fascist protest groups forming to objective to a speaker or another protest group.  In this case, they tend to get to the pushing and shoving stage, all the way to battery.  Too many police forces are looking the other way in all of these situations--mostly in blue (Democrat run) cities. All of these examples are attempts to coerce their opponents.

Motive #5 (destroying property and injuring individuals) is the most heinous form of protest.   In the past, such protests were called riots.  And in most such cases, the police tried to arrest individuals and stop the riot.  Today, we see Democrat city administrators tell police to stand down, even when the 'protesters' are destroying cars, places of business, and university property.  Black hooded Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters wielding weapons are somewhat common now on the West coast and in places like Baltimore.  Property damage, assault, battery, and obstructing traffic are all chargeable offenses.  But these rioters, in an extreme way, support the message of the democrat party.  To me, its despicable activity and a despicable failure to enforce our laws.

I think I've pointed out examples of many protests that are not 'peaceful and law-abiding.'  But I need to go further and say that I think you should let anyone speak on any topic and opinion.  If they were to encourage criminal activity (such as murder, assault or battery), any permit should be withdrawn and the protest disbanded by the police.  But one should not confuse hateful talk with criminal incitement.  If a speaker's words are not something you don't want to hear, don't listen.  If others think like you, no one will attend.  Heckling a speaker is to me particularly offensive behavior.  It may not be criminal, until the property owner asks the heckler to leave, but its uncivil, discourteous and any person with a sense of decency should abstain from that behavior.  That's my thoughts for public speaking and protests. 

But going into restaurants, or screeching outside someone's home, or intruding into their place of employment is going over the line for civil behavior.  Those types of protest should require immediate police response.

Most protests I see on TV or read about are not a group of well-behaved, respectful individuals just trying to get a message across.  Most are trying to coerce a group or individual to behavior they approve of, often times by behavior that is not lawful, and frequently by ridiculing or heckling opponents. 

My recommendation is stay away from protests.  Find other ways to express your opinions and get your message across.

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