Preventing Charlottesville

At a recent event about the racist and counter-protest events in Charlottesville, organizers asked how we could prevent similar events from unfolding here.

It’s a good question: nobody wants a repeat here, but nobody should want to deny First Amendment rights either.  And while it’s great to talk about standing in united opposition (and we should)… the counter-protesters were doing that, and it helped to produce the terrible images we saw in Charlottesville, and contributed to the loss of Heather Heyer’s life, as well as two Virginia state troopers whose surveillance helicopter crashed.

So, yes, we should stand united in opposition… but exactly how?

First, the city should enforce the limits of its permits: the marchers had a permit to demonstrate in the park, and that was and should have been allowed.  They did not have a permit to march throughout the town, and that should not have been allowed.  With such a controversial gathering, for either left or right views, establishing and enforcing boundaries is key.

Second, there have been various reports suggesting Charlottesville police were and felt out-gunned.  Nothing credible suggests that caused them to stand aside… however, there are suggestions that changing to riot gear from street uniforms may have caused some delay in response when the situation deteriorated.  We should be prepared.  And, although Georgia law prohibits stopping anyone to ask about their firearms permit, once stopped for something else–such as disturbing the peace outside the permitted bounds of a demonstration—such an inquiry is allowable, and violation carries penalties.

Third, although the government may not infringe on free speech, the civil society itself can and should regulate hate.  We do not condone violence, and even a counter-protests can escalate, as we saw two weeks ago.  However, there have been several examples of strategies to shame, embarrass, or just befuddle these movements.

For example, if we were to collect pledges now, pledges for donations of whatever amount from citizens and businesses around Athens, to organizations like Black Lives Matter (or, dare we suggest, Democratic candidate committees and PACs) on a per-attendee, per-minute, or per-foot-marched basis of any such demonstrations here… then let them come.  Cheer them on, even.  Dress up to mock the occasion.  Embarrass them, and make their actions also provide support to their opponents.  Peaceably, and in cooperation with responsible policing, we can bring all the social pressure we can against them.

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