Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dear Charlotte protesters ...

While I support your right to protest and speak out on social injustice, please let cooler heads prevail when you approach that fine line that distinguishes a protest from a riot.

I was a ‘60s kid. I have felt the sting of tear gas in a packed park.

I was in Chicago in 1968 when 10,000 young folks tested the grit of the National Guard. It was August. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April. People were so bereft, so shocked. Hundreds of cities saw protests.

It was, like this year, a presidential election year. In my mind, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy should have been the Democratic presidential nominee. I was rabid about it. To my horror, he was shot dead on the campaign trail after winning the California primary in June – just a couple of months after the death of Rev. King. At the Chicago Democratic Convention, Hubert Humphrey was chosen to top the ticket and he was defeated by Richard Nixon.

It was a year we learned what Black Power meant and what a Tet offensive was. We also learned how to recite the phrase “get your hands off me unless you intend to arrest me.” 

I believe in objecting, dissenting and making an enormous life-sized fuss over it.

But I am urging you, Charlotte protesters – don’t succumb to the potentially destructive power of a crazed mob.

Many of you were not born when an Arkansas trucker named Reginald Denny was pulled from his International tractor and nearly beaten to death during a time of riots in Los Angeles. That was 1992, and the outrage was sparked by the acquittal of four LAPD officers for beating a black man named Rodney King. One of the men who beat the truck driver said later that they didn’t target him for anything, but were just caught up in the moment.

When huge numbers of passionate hearts become a crowd infiltrated with raging looters, the message is completely lost. Emotions spill out on to the interstate, traffic is stopped, your intentions are obscured. Protesters do NOT tear into the trailer of a terrified trucker who, while driving on the interstate, is suddenly stuck in a disturbance. Protesters do NOT burn cargo and loot property.

We’ve watched this happening a lot here in the U.S. lately. Chaos takes over and others tramp along behind, mindlessly. Soon, a few of the legitimate demonstrations have a message but all others are looters, troublemakers, gawkers. Some are from out of town (i.e., what happened in Ferguson, Mo.). Why is that? OK, so we are herd creatures, like any flock, any pack, any horde. The difference is we can reason. So why don’t we?

In cases of mob mentality, people acting in a group are capable of losing their personal accountability in an instant. Brain on. Brain off.

I am reminded of the quote from the “Men in Black” movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Jones’ character said: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”