The Bruin Voice

Blocking freeways and NBA games not the way to peacefully protest

Aaron Tam, Opinion Editor

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A long line of cars stopped for what seems to be eternity on a busy freeway at rush hour, a horde of people block the path to a professional basketball game featuring the Kings v. Mavericks, where tickets cost [on average] $101, and angry, vitriolic shouting from both protesters and drivers describe a recent scene in Sacramento on March 22.

After 22-year-old Stephon Clark, a unarmed black man, was shot 8 times and later died in his grandmother’s backyard, people in Sacramento have protested vehemently by blocking roads, attending city council meetings and interrupting scheduled events such as the pathway to the Sacramento Kings game.

Such protests are a very understandable response considering the circumstances, but as a collective movement, such forms of protest are counter-intuitive to the movement by driving away its support.

According to “Riot. Strike. Riot: the New Era of Uprisings,” the history of blockades dates all the way back to the 14th century as a means to halt business to make a point that they are hurting society in some way.

Blockades have long been a very popular form of protest and it is no wonder that the BLM protesters have implemented them as a primary method of protest, but they are simply going about it the wrong way.

In a 2017 poll by Harvard-Harris, a Harvard University partnership, 57 percent of voters had a negative view of BLM while 56 percent of voters believed that police were too quick to use aggressive force. Such an odd difference between the two percentages leads to the question of why there is such a substantial disconnect between those who can agree with the movement and its mannerisms and those who can only sympathize with the cause.

The answer lies with the alienating nature of BLM protests, which is often said to be obscene, rowdy and leaderless despite being for an important cause.

However, BLM isn’t entirely at fault when the target of their protests is something as broad as “systemic racism.” Where can they place their focus? The location for protest?

One would think that the government and the institutions found at fault for not addressing systemic racism should be the site for protests. However, when unrelated public events such as the Sacramento Kings games are suddenly blockaded, the BLM movement’s organization and leadership truly come into question. To protest a certain institution that has wronged you—such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1960s — exemplifies a clear-cut directive and also sends out the message that discrimination will be punished; however, with the current unorganized protests occuring now, the efficacy and civility of the 1960s Civil Rights movement has been lost.

The problem spans even further than protests at the Kings’ game: the blockades on traffic-heavy roads and freeways are also an issue. With such an unfocused, unsystematic target for protest, blockades will negatively impact what is most likely an people with no ties to systemic racism. From the people rushing to catch their plane rides, to those commuting to work, school, dates and other events — all will be disappointed to learn they couldn’t get to their destination because others see their priorities as more important than everyone else.

Many would counter that inconvenience is but a trivial price compared to the life a young man just lost. However, the point is at the very core of the action; the idea that the priority of one group can usurp the priority of another group is a very troubling ideal. To selfishly disregard another’s wishes, another’s life, another’s happiness for one’s own egotistical desires, the very ideal the Civil Rights Movements worked so hard to fight against, is the same ideal that BLM seems to have forgotten was their original enemy.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., words this very idea so perfectly: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Disrupting the public can be a great means to let one’s message be known, such as March for Our Lives or the Women’s March, which focused on the area directly next to the Capitol. However, when the method of spreading a message intentionally disturbs the lifestyle of random people at some obscure location who have most likely never participated in a racist crime nor systemic racism, then the message these innocent people receive is not one to stand together against racism, but one of contempt for a crowd that selfishly interrupts their plans, jobs and commitments.

How can such a rowdy, unorganized method of protest work when it frustarates and alienates potential supporters within the same community?

Oprah Winfrey expressed the same sentiment in an interview with “People” magazine when she criticized activists “to take not of the strategic, peaceful intention if [they] want real change,” when referring to protests in New York, Ferguson and other places.

If the goal for society is to improve everyone’s lives, then it is instrumental to spread a message in a peaceful and meaningful way for everyone.
So stand up for your rights, stand up against racism, stand up against sexism, stand up against injustice, but do so with grace and civility or else risk becoming another embodiment of the hatred you seek to destroy.

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Blocking freeways and NBA games not the way to peacefully protest