Protest: An event at which people gather together to show strong disapproval about something.
Riot: A situation in which a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way.
It appears the “protesters” in Ferguson have forgotten what constitutes a “protest.”
On March 7, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. 600 marchers were met with police clubs and tear gas. Young people, the elderly, men, and women were struck down, attacked, and beaten. The second march, two days later, resulted in a standoff between law enforcement and marchers until officers stepped aside. They allowed the people to make their way to church. The protesters never shouted curses at law enforcement. No one smashed a window, marchers did not harm one another, no one stole anything; nor did they set fires as they marched. The fires were in their souls; the violence not necessary on their part, and destroying property would defeat the purpose.
In Ferguson, Missouri after a candlelight vigil for a black man shot by a white officer, people protested the shooting by smashing windows, stealing and looting, and destroying property. On November 24, 2014, the Grand Jury elected not to indict the officer who shot the man. “Protesters” again attacked Ferguson as a response, leaving it in physical and emotional shambles. They attacked one another, they attacked law enforcement, and they attacked property. Now innocent people have lost their family business. Cars, property, buildings – all gone in the time it takes to light a match or throw a brick.
Perhaps the “protesters” of 2014 lack leadership. Perhaps the protesters do not remember the definitions of “protest” and “riot.” Maybe they were never taught the words of Dr. King, Harvey Milk, Gandhi, or any of the great leaders who knew the difference between a protest and a riot, how the latter defeats all.
In the protests of 1965, law enforcement officers were all white males. This was the law, one of the laws eventually changed as the result of the protests by Dr. King and so many others. In 2014, law enforcement officers are black, white, brown, male, female, homosexual or transgendered. We have learned law enforcement must reflect the community it serves, thanks to working together rather than fighting one another. Thus the power of communication, of “protests.”
It is not a “black thing.” It is not a “white thing.” It is an “education thing.” Somewhere, we the people have forgotten the ideals of creating change with peace. Or maybe now it seems peace makes no change. Definitions have become skewered or forgotten. No one has taught us the art of peaceful discussion in a country where face-to-face communication is secondary. The “weapons of mass destruction” we so feared a few years ago are not overseas or hidden in bunkers. They are within us, and have the ability to destroy our country without any foreign invasion.