03 September 2008

Democracy in St. Paul: Pre-emptive Police

For the last year, we learn, an organization called the RNC Welcoming Committee has been under surveillance culminating in a raid before the Republican convention opened. The committee is an anti-war, anarchistic group dedicated to disrupting the convention. Their plans allegedly extended to using caltrips to disable buses carrying delegates and using themselves in human chains to blockade traffic throughout St. Paul. These were probably the sort of grandiose plans that young people of radical mindsets discuss anywhere they congregate, but they made the RNC Welcoming Committee a criminal organization that needed to be disabled pre-emptively. The raid uncovered some knives, a machete, and stockpiles of urine, along with more ordinary equipment.

Dissidence doesn't entitle anyone to destroy property or endanger people. At the same time, I agree with dissidents' right to confront the objects of their protest, so long as their right to assemble doesn't contradict the delegates' equal right. A line has to be drawn defining the degree of civil disobedience that deserves police intervention. Part of civil disobedience, at least as defined by Dr. King, is a willingness to be arrested. To an extent, a dissident's willingness to be arrested could entitle him to go further. His willingness to be arrested is meant to illustrate how intolerable conditions supposedly have become. But the point of civil disobedience is to be civil, and I don't know if blowing the tires out of moving vehicles, if that's what the Welcoming Committee planned, counts as civil anything. It'd be one thing to try to fight one's way out of those ridiculous "free speech zones" and risk arrest in the process. It'd be another to wreck buses along the way. But lest I appear to be criticizing dissidents exclusively, civil disobedience can't have any constructive effect on society if it isn't allowed to happen. The ultimate question this time is whether the authorities were right to presume that the disobedience planned would be dangerously uncivil, or whether they erred on the side of security to the detriment of liberty.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."