McCOMB — No matter what the subject, the true believers — the zealots — always are the worst to deal with. That’s what happened last week in Washington D.C., when a well-intentioned Black Lives Matter protest went crazily off the rails.
A march to protest the recent police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin made its way past some restaurants, where people were dining outside. The Washington Post reported that a number of marchers approached the outdoor diners, accused them of enjoying white privilege and demanded that they raise a fist in support of Black Lives Matter.
Almost everyone did, perhaps to make the marchers go away. But one woman refused, and video from the incident shows about 20 or 30 people, mostly young white people, haranguing her about it.
They surrounded her table and chanted, “White silence is violence,” and one even demanded to know if the woman was a Christian — with the obvious implication that only a hateful, selfish, non-religious person would decline to offer a symbol against injustice.
The woman who would not raise her fist said afterward that she supports the Black Lives Matter movement and has participated in previous demonstrations. But she said, correctly, that it was wrong for the group to surround a small number of diners and try to bully them.
That is exactly the point: You’re never going to convince anybody that your argument is correct when you beat them over the head with it. Further, while free-speech rights protect peaceful protests, the marchers either crossed that constitutional line or came very close to it when they started screaming in the faces of strangers who just wanted to enjoy dinner.
The thing of it is, any reasonable person who saw the video of the Minneapolis officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, or who saw the recent video of the Wisconsin man who ignored police and got shot seven times, recognizes that there are a disproportional number of these actions against Black people.
Everyone supports fairness and justice — until it gets thrown in their face, which is what the Washington protesters did to the outdoor diners. The marchers’ passion did not even permit them to think that somebody might respond to their tactics by telling them to buzz off, no matter how worthy their cause.
It’s probably useless for anyone with a little age and experience to interrupt the young people, but somebody ought to tell them that when both conservatives and liberals are criticizing your actions, you’ve probably done something really wrong. But that’s exactly what happened when video of this incident started appearing on the internet. Both sides said the tactics were likely to undermine the intended message of the protest.
It’s easy to cluck-cluck-cluck when the topic is Black Lives Matter and racial justice. But too often in today’s divided America, the same confrontations occur over many other mainstream issues. If an advocate wants to make a case and debate the topic, have at it. But if someone is just screaming, go bother someone else.
Jack Ryan is editor and publisher of The Enterprise-Journal in McComb.