The ongoing protests in Laramie against systemic racism, police brutality and other racially motivated actions by police forces across the country have been mostly peaceful and non-confrontational up till the past few days. We are also impressed that most participants are wearing masks out of concern for the current health emergency.
But threats and aggressive actions by protesters and those holding opposing views have started down a potentially dangerous path. Fortunately, the Laramie police officers have shown professionalism, patience and understanding in dealing with these situations. We understand that the LPD is in a tough spot, but after what took place Wednesday and Thursday, both sides may need to be reminded of what is and is not protected in their right to assemble.
Protests by their nature tend to push the envelope. The whole purpose is to attract attention, raise awareness of the issues, and to share concerns, and there is almost always an element of inconveniencing others. That puts a lot of pressure on officials, including the law enforcement officers charged with maintaining public safety and protecting property.
But violence and confrontation are always a possibility when disparate groups are interacting in a stressful situation. It is the responsibility of protesters, counter-protesters and the police to keep these events free of violence and threat
Good police practices do everything possible to avoid needless confrontations between the various groups seeking to express their opinions. Overly officious police actions have often caused an escalation of violence and threats that serve neither side. Obviously, the police must maintain order and protect the people involved as well as non-participants.
One aspect of protests and demonstrations that has become evident through the years is the tendency for one side or another to resort to violence. What starts out as a peaceful march disintegrates into rioting. While blocking intersections and marching in the streets are non-violent acts, they are potentially dangerous, are still illegal, and put the police in a difficult position.
We are even less accepting of threatening behavior by counter-protesters using vehicles and, reportedly, exhibiting firearms in a threatening manner. We have no problem with people expressing their views on either side of this issue. But threats, intimidation or attempts to provoke a confrontation are never productive or wise. And it’s clear to those who observed what happened that these counter-protesters are looking to agitate the protesters and send a message of violence with their firearms.
And let’s remember that protests may feel good to the marchers, but it is frustrating that these individuals never realize that the only real change comes through exercising their right to vote. Protesters tend to be younger people who want change, but every election year we learn that this demographic is woefully absent from the polling places.
The protestors and counter-protestors have successfully placed issues of race at the forefront of all our minds, but without holding our elected officials accountable, what change can be expected from their efforts?