Message To Police: Non-Violent Protests Are Legitimate Means Of Expression

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Jumaane D. Williams

[Wednesday] New York joined Baltimore and cities across the country to once again demonstrate against police brutality and the larger issue of how communities of more color are treated.

Many police departments have come under fire for overly-aggressive behavior toward protestors, but last year NYPD did an excellent job managing demonstrations throughout the city. I'm concerned, however, because based on eyewitness accounts from advocates and elected officials, that was not the case last night.

I was not present during these demonstrations, but was extremely disturbed to hear numerous accounts and allegations of excessive force and aggression used towards non-violent protestors. As recalled by protestors on the sidewalk and streets, the arrests came as the march stepped off at Union Square.

To be clear, I hope the protests grow in number and to continue spread across the country until the underlying issues are addressed. And just as important, I hope and will continue to promote non-violent protests as the best means to do so. All sides must work to keep tensions down during the process, but to do that, we must find a balance between law enforcement duty and protestor rights who have voices that must be heard for real change to occur.

I believe taking to the street and blocking bridges or tunnels are a legitimate form of non-violent demonstrations. Still, as a result of those actions, police will make arrests. In fact, being arrested has always been thought of as a tool to protest when used properly. But the critical question NYPD must ask is when to make those arrests. After one hour? Twelve? Five days or two weeks? There is no right answer, though most would agree that the longer the action goes the more likely arrests will have to occur. I believe there is room for demonstrations to come before immediate arrests. Five seconds or one minute, or even worse no seconds or minutes, is not the right approach, but if or when those arrests come it must be done with respect-- even to those who are peacefully resisting by lying down or locking arms.

Those who believe change can come without protest or discomfort are wrong and should crack open an American history book. Still, law enforcement and protestors must find a balance or these needed demonstrations can quickly devolve. Finding a balance will help keep the few who wish to incite violence from gaining traction. From what I've heard about [Wednesday], that balance was not there.

But tomorrow is another day, so I hope we find it quickly. 

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