Protests are an American tradition, with protective rights enshrined in the Constitution, and a distinguished legacy that includes the Boston Tea Party and Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches and rallies. They are also perhaps the most misused and abused device in national politics. Most of them are useless, many of them are stupid, and too many of them do tangible harm.
The Obama Administration’s crisis of the hour is the Ethics Trainwreck in Ferguson, Missouri, where a perfect storm arose when an an inept, distrusted and untrustworthy police force and a poor and frustrated African-American population clashed over the Rashomon shooting of an unarmed black teen. Now there are demonstrations every day in Ferguson; several people have been killed, and the demonstrations have spawned rioting and looting.
What is the purpose of all of this? It better be a good one, given its cost, and the protesters better be right. The problem is that the protesters can’t possibly be right at this point, because the facts aren’t known. We are told that the reason for the demonstrations is larger than mere anger over the shooting of Michael Brown; that it’s about police harassment, abuse and violence against African-Americans and their lack of accountability for it. That would only be a sustainable justification if in fact the death of Brown was an unequivocal, clear-cut example of the phenomenon being protested. It is not, not yet, and it may never be. So again the question has to be asked: is it ethical to be protesting in Ferguson at all? Continue reading →
I began work on a protest code of ethics a decade ago, periodically putting it aside, then adding to it, subtracting from it, and refining it. I regard the current version as a work in progress still, but the discussion here regarding the “Occupy” movement prompted me to complete this initial final draft, at least. This is the first time it has been published.
It has been a source of continuing amazement to me that there was no such Code had been proposed previously, or none that I could locate. When an activity such as organized protesting, activity that is obviously rich with ethical dangers and the potential for excess, does not have proposed or established ethical standards of conduct, the reason is usually that nobody wants to be limited by ethical considerations or to be held accountable for misconduct. I strongly suspect that is the case here. Well, too bad. Now we have proposed standards with which to measure the ethical nature of protests. Whether these 25 principles are the first or the last, or just begin the discussion and inspire something better, is of no import. They open the discussion. It’s time.
The Protest Code of Ethics
A. Guiding principles
All participants in protests and demonstrations should recognize and respect the important role lawful assemblies for the purpose of airing grievances and advocating change and reform have played in the history of the nation and civilization, must strive to uphold the best of that tradition by upholding these ethical principles. A protest without leadership and objectives is only a mob, and a protest without discipline and respect for others is a riot.
B. Public protests
Any protest involving demonstrations or other public conduct… Continue reading →