I remember the riots of the ’60s. I remember students gunned down at Kent State. Protestors beaten — mercilessly. Marchers attacked by police dogs. Cities looted and burned. And later I learned what a long, long history of civil violence in America this was part of.
Innumerable commentators inevitably cast American civil violence in terms of racial conflict. Black rioters are incensed by systemic racism and police brutality. White rioters are white supremacists. And there is truth in this. But there is also a truth overlooked.
Protest is not always orderly, nor entirely peaceful. Yet it is still protest. You don’t expect people enraged by yet another police killing of an unarmed member of their community to come together in the street just to sing kumbaya. You protest because you need to send a message, and you can’t send a message to people who don’t want to hear it without making them feel uncomfortable, even threatened. This is the nature of protest.
The overlooked truth is the evil of the mob.
There is something buried in human nature that from time to time erupts in mass insanity. This is indisputable. From the Christian mob rampaging through Alexandria in the fifth century, down through the ages to Jim Crow lynch mobs, and this week the mob rampaging through the US Capitol, this is indisputable. It is real. And we don’t truly understand it, except that it must be suppressed.
It is also a truth that has been conveniently forgotten in recent decades, particularly among political and intellectual leaders blinded by their own moral sentiments, but in positions of trust and responsibility.
But it is a truth we need to remember — and act on, appropriately. On many levels, legal and political. But especially legal.
Maybe we needed this.