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The Idiocy of Demonstrators Getting Violent

I haven’t seen any footage of today’s protest in Ottawa. Apparently it was largely peaceful, but marred (as these vents so often are) by an aggressive and idiotic few:

Police officers in riot gear pushed back a thick crowd of anti-war activists, some of whom were shouting at the security forces and trying to jostle them with the sticks of their placards. At least three protesters were pushed down onto the ground and arrested as CBC Newsworld television cameras recorded the action.

Some police in riot gear could be seen pulling on gas masks, suggesting that they were ready to release gas to control the crowd.

Hasn’t the last 100 years demonstrated that violent protest is a fool’s errand? Think of history’s most effective protests–they were all non-violent. I’m not talking about rebellion or revolution here–I’m talking about a mob getting hostile and destructive. As we’ve seen everywhere on the globe, hostile and destructive mobs get put down, whereas peaceful ones are effective.

I’m reminded of the overblown pepper-spray incident at the APEC conference at UBC in 1997. The event was mismanaged, and the police and government deserve the blame. However, I’ve seen the footage from the front lines. The demonstrators were pushing their way through a roadblock, and the police acted correctly. The lesson? In a democracy, violence is an ineffective method of rendering social change.

8 Responses to “The Idiocy of Demonstrators Getting Violent”

  1. California Yankee

    You are absolutely right about the effectiveness of non-violent protest. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and the current events in Ukraine come to mind.

  2. BKB

    Couldn’t agree more. I was really, REALLY hoping that Canada could pull it off and set an example of who we are. It’s sad that the saying about a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch is true. It would have really been a feather in our hat had we been able to pull off a nice set of demonstrations without them being marred by violence. Canada’s better than that.

  3. Andrea

    At least 5,000 people involved in the protest at one point and ten people get arrested? That’s 0.2% of people in attendance. More people get arrested at the Celebration of Light. It was a very peaceful, respectful protest. Those who were arrested had pushed their placards into the faces of police officers (and very much deserved to be arrested), but they were not throwing rocks, punching cops, or going along the lines of The Riot at the Hyatt. The police did a great job of controlling the crowd and the crowd did a great job of controlling itself.

  4. donna

    Andrea: Alas, it’s always one or two bad eggs that spoil it for everybody. :/

  5. NetChick

    Hmmm… Anti-war protest, with violence… Kinda defeats the purpose of the message, doesn’t it?

    /shaking my head

  6. Todd

    I really have little sympathy for chuckleheads who get rowdy at protests, though every situation should be evaluated to make sure that police aren’t being antagonistic. They can be violent assholes who start shoving first just as much as protesters can. I do, however, reject the ‘bad eggs’ myth. This is a phenomenon of a crowd, and if you look at the footage closer you’ll see that the people at the front are often being physically shoved into the police line by people behind them. That people change radically in large, anonymous groups is a fact of human behaviour, and trying to say that the ones that end up fighting are somehow abstracted from an otherwise peace-loving crowd undercuts the reality of mob action.

  7. Jason

    What I don’t understand is when protesters don’t make a distinction between the police providing security and the thing that they’re protesting.

  8. donna

    Todd: Agreed, but someone has to START it. Large groups of people are perfectly capable of being peaceful, until one or two people get rowdy — and it spreads. But the “trigger” point is always a small group of people.

    Take a look at the Stanley Cup Riots we had — it wasn’t that everyone was walking down the street saying “Dang, I’m mad, lets throw a bench through a window.” It was “Hey, look at that guy, he threw a bench through a window. Let’s do that.”

    Interesting sidenote: People change radically in many situations — take a look at Milgram’s experiements of what authority can do to people…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    The idea was, get a regular guy to think he was shocking a stranger with a heart problem in another room to death, complete with shrieks, begging to stop, moaning, etc … and see where they’d refuse to keep shocking them. (See the above site for more details.)

    “Before the experiment was conducted Milgram polled fellow psychologists as to what the results would be. They unanimously believed that only a few sadists would be prepared to give the maximum voltage.

    In Milgram’s first set of experiments, 65 percent of experimental participants administered the experiment’s final 450-volt shock, though many were quite uncomfortable in doing so. No participant stopped before the 300-volt level.” The results have been repeated all over the world.

    This supports the idea that there’s a “trigger” to make most ordinary people do awful things. :)

    Although, one could say that Bush is enough of a trigger all on his own… ;)

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