Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Mass Tolerance

Today's trick question is: which one of these is correct? 

The AP  reported

Protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war blocked northbound traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle for several hours Saturday.

Additional demonstrators on a nearby overpass cheered in support of the blockade, which began around 1:15 p.m., the Seattle Times reported. The state transportation department said on the social media platform X that traffic at one point was backed up more than 6 miles (9.7 kilometers), and the agency asked drivers to use alternate routes.

Demonstrators chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go.”

Seattle police posted on social media at 3:40 p.m. that officers gave a dispersal order, though protesters disputed receiving any such orders. Stormy weather, including hail, moved through the area, and protesters left the freeway around 4:45 p.m., according to the Times.

Neither tweeter is correct. 

It's not surprising that Seattle police would condone, or be ordered to condone, lawbreaking on such a massive scale. The massive scale is precisely what compels the Police Department to try to contain the protest and avoid an outbreak of violence that would become the main story of each broadcast on MSNBC and CNN for days. Thus, illegal and dangerous obstruction of traffic went on for several hours until stormy weather intruded because principles are principles but do we really want to get wet? (Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd was grotesque. Killing him in late May, the time of nearly the best weather in the upper Midwest, was peak stupid.)

It's not as if the authorities in the area were taken by surprise. The Seattle Times noted "Seattle-area demonstrators have taken to the streets nearly every weekend since the Israel-Hamas war began in October."  Innocent, law-abiding citizens have had their lives disrupted frequently the last few months by lawbreakers  and either the political or law-enforcement powers (or both) were unprepared- in the age of social media chatter.

Of course, the disregard for the rights of the innocent and unsuspecting will take its toll elsewhere.

Over 300 protestors reportedly were arrested by New York City police who as with Washington, D.C., police have extensive experience with huge demonstrations. However, the vast majority of local police departments, even in major cities such as Seattle, do not have adequate personnel to arrest individuals en masse. Even with assistance from the Washington State Patrol, officers remained on the opposite side of the barrier from demonstrators. Fortunately, there are other resources, inasmuch as 

The guard can be deployed by state governors for law enforcement purposes. Many states activated their National Guards in response to historic anti-racism protests across the United States after George Floyd was killed in May 2020. In January 2021, the DC National Guard was deployed in response to an assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob backing President Donald Trump while lawmakers were meeting to certify the presidential election. The guard was later quartered inside the Capitol building, evoking comparisons to the Civil War.

Yet, despite the justified and inevitable anger these protests stir in ordinary citizens (and especially affected motorists), it is not clear that they've accomplished nothing and that they will accomplish nothing.  They not only put pressure on policymakers, they have the capacity to trigger less controversial but more effective tactics, such as boycotts.

Besides being apologists for homicidal terrorists, the activists may promote an impression within the public of government officials and enfeebled or feckless. If an isolated lawbreaker committing a minor or major offense of a political or non-political nature is confronted by police, he is arrested.  If dozens or more individuals are brazenly breaking the law, police should follow the example of New York City and promptly arrest the offenders. There should be no safety in numbers.

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