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Freedom of speech fused with the right to protest

by Joshua De Costa September 20, 2016
Freedom of speech fused with the right to protest

Violent protests are inciting further chaos instead of looking at the root cause of the problem

Last month on Aug.  26, while the American national anthem was being played at an NFL preseason game at California’s Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand.

He told the media after the game that he sat out the anthem to protest the recent acts of police brutality in “a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” Last week, USA TODAY reported the union of police officers who normally patrol the 49ers’ stadium threatened to boycott in response to Kaepernick’s protest.

The exchange adds tension to an already strained relationship between police and those associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, according to an article from the BBC.

BLM supporters long been calling for systematic reforms amongst police forces in the US. Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, police view these supporters as violent criminals who wish to incite violence against organized authority.  

Some BLM supporters have resorted to violence— but such acts are cases of the few spoiling it for the many. Profiling every supporter as violent is no different than blaming every police officer for the heavy-handed ways of the trigger-happy few.

Last July, I attended a Black Lives Matters gathering at Cabot Square— one of the first of its kind to be held in Montreal. Organizers were careful to call the event a “gathering,” a “rally” or a “meeting”—anything other than a “protest”.

It shows just how explosive the word “protest” is— not only here in Montreal, but around the world. The word elicits fear in the hearts of police who have watched protests snowball into riots—something those officers have every right to be afraid of. Unfortunately, there are some radicals and anarchists often spoil what should be a peaceful practice.

Instead of finding workable solutions, these individuals only worsen the problem. Violence only leads to more violence.

Earlier in the summer, six police officers were killed at a BLM rally in Dallas, Texas, which was widely reported in the media. The violence against the police force did not help the BLM movement and in fact spurred further debate and anger against those on either side.

According to a CNN report in late August, 6 U.S. police officers have been fatally shot this year. Needless to say, killing cops hasn’t fixed a corrupt system. It’s only torn apart families— whose only crime was having a police officer for a father, a mother, a daughter or a son.

Real change is hard because it takes time—something that radicals and anarchists are unwilling to understand. There is no get-rich-quick scheme for social change. It takes continued patience and resilience in the face of opposition.

As students, as teachers and as civilians, a protest is our only way to voice our pains. When we are violent, our voices become distorted and no one can hear what we have to say.

In 1955, when Rosa Parks was ordered to the back of the bus, she didn’t kick and scream and set fire to the bus. She quietly and stubbornly refused, making enough noise for Martin Luther King Jr. to hear her and carry her protest out into the streets and onward to revolution. She is the kind of protester we need to emulate today.

It is good advice to be flexible in our form of protest —be it sitting out during a national anthem or taking to the streets—but we must remain inflexible in our way: always peaceful, patient and persistent.

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