The right to demonstrate.
It’s an American birthright.
What isn’t is what some believe is their absolute right to disrupt the lives of others so they can make a point.
When two dozen New York City council members went into the street in front of city hall on Monday and blocked traffic creating a massive traffic jam to protest the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, they made their contempt for others’ rights very clear.
They even said as much. Councilman Andy King was quoted as saying, “We have a responsibility to wake you up, and the only way people get woken up is if you disrupt their everyday normalcy.”
It is the “I-count-more” belief that drove more than 1,500 protestors on Monday to shut down Interstate 80 in both directions through Berkeley at the height of the commute hour by blocking all lanes. Of course, they were simply doing what anarchists in Oakland have been doing for the past several years which is shutting down freeways whenever they have an excuse to do so.
And it is the same mentality that prompted Berkeley protesters to trash a Radio Shack store, break a Trader Joe’s window and destroy a number of ATMs while their cousins in anarchy back in New York City took over stores, blocked bridges and escalators, even even disrupted parents and and kids taking part in the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
Besides the fact people have a right not to care about anything protestors are all riled about when it comes to the issue du jour, it is fairly tacky to act as if everyone in America is complicit somehow in grand jury decisions.
Perhaps the most self centered of all are law students at Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown. They are demanding that final exams be delayed since they had been protesting grand jury decisions and many students haven’t had time to study.
It’s a disturbing request not only given that we are a nation of laws and without them we would have chaos but because the students are pursuing careers in fields that are supposed to work within those laws.
It’s not to say excessive force by some police officers isn’t an issue. Nor does it take away from the tragic deaths.
But the grand jury system, like the end result or not, worked.
By worked, I don’t mean whether they came up with a decision one approves of. It worked because they took information presented to them by the prosecution and made a decision.
Berkeley likes to paint itself as a hotbed of free speech and tolerance.
It is clear that means vigorously protecting the free speech of people you agree with but not the so-called sleepwalking hordes trying to get to and from work so they can feed their families.
Back in 1990 when Berkeley was a tad more conservative, I made the mistake of making a joke in a restaurant just off Telegraph Avenue.
We were getting ready to order and the wife of a friend told the waitress I was a vegetarian.
Forgetting where I was at which wasn’t in the Central Valley, I joked that “I’m not that type of vegetarian” and that you could machine gun down Bambi if you wanted to as I didn’t really care.
It was kind of a callous joke but one I felt compelled to make over and over again 30 years ago when people looked at you like you were some type of hippie freak for being a vegetarian in the Central Valley.
Almost as the words left my lips, a diner at the next table jumped up with a butter knife in her hand and virtually screamed, “how dare you call yourself a vegetarian.”
After about 15 seconds of her tongue lashing, we got up to leave. She followed us out to the sidewalk continuing her verbal assault. She followed us for a good minute or so.
The incident fits right in with the mentality of those in Berkeley and New York who feel it is their absolute right to get in everyone’s face to express their opinion.
Some like to say there is a fine line between civil disobedience and breaking the law or that the difference is in the eye of the beholder.
When you hold someone hostage when you protest it is not civic disobedience. It is trampling their rights.
Democracy and republics do not operate well on mob rule or intimidation.
Your pain or indignation is not a carte blanche check to ransack the constitution taking what rights you want while disregarding the rights of others.
The ironic thing is that such actions as blocking freeways and breaking windows detracts significancy from whatever cause protestors are championing.
You can bet those in the Radio Shack store ransacked by protesters view them as thugs first and foremost.
And if you think 30,000 plus people caught in the Bay Area traffic jam on I-80 spent their time after the freeway was turned into a parking lot for two hours contemplating what constitutes excessive force, I have a $250 pass I’ll sell you so you can protest by scaling the Brooklyn Bridge.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.