There have been many words used to describe what happened at the nation’s Capitol last week (Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021). There has been finger-pointing, admonitions, accusations and comparisons.
The comparisons have related the Capitol demonstration to the demonstrations around the Black Lives Matter movement and then to past demonstrations at the Capitol and other places.
Just to put some limits and some context on this topic and discussion, let’s focus on Trump-era demonstrations. The first being the demonstration brought on by the protest march for and against removing Civil War monuments in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017.
The demonstration and counter-demonstration spawned confrontations, violence and even a death midst the initially peaceful march. It also spawned heated criticism of the president when he didn’t condemn the actions of the white supremacist groups that participated and had their symbols on full display. The president said there was hatred and bigotry displayed “on many sides.”
Many conjectured that the lack of a full-throated condemnation of the supremist groups gave tacit approval of their actions. This criticism would continually recur during President Trump’s tenure. His wink and a nod to those elements was overtly revealed in his comments at the first presidential debate where he explicitly told the Proud Boys, a white supremacist militia group, to “stand back and stand by.”
In an attempt to be balanced in looking at demonstrations from both ends of the political spectrum, recently defeated Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s husband was cited for brandishing a gun when demonstrators rallied on their front porch. Increasingly, demonstrators have taken their protests to the homes of elected or appointed officials they have differences with.
Again, in Los Angeles, BLM protestors had an extended siege outside Mayor Garcetti’s home when he was being considered for an appointment to the Biden Administration. There have been demonstrations throughout the country at elected official’s homes. The tactic, meant to pressure and embarrass said officials so they’ll change their positions or change their tune, was once considered out of bounds.
Demonstrations have always pushed the boundaries relative to civil disobedience and freedom of speech and expression. It is a badge of honor and an expression of one’s commitment to get arrested at a “sit-in” or other form of peaceful civil disobedience.
But boundaries are being broken by the few in the midst of otherwise peaceful demonstrations. These limits are being smashed like the windows broken by those intent on destruction, not the non-violent expression of one’s views.
Yes, pitched battles with police have raged on. Rocks and bottles of frozen water have been thrown at police. Lighting fire to barricades and even burning and vandalizing police precinct buildings have happened. Police have responded in kind with their own methods.
But the recent demonstrations at the Capitol invoked the idiom “beyond the pale.” “Pale” is derived from the Latin word “palum,” a stake for fences. In other words, beyond the fences or boundaries.
The demonstration and actions at the Capitol have also been dissected relative to the response from the Capitol Police. Not whether they were up to the task or not but how they would have responded differently had they faced BLM demonstrators.
Even with demonstrations always challenging the boundaries of the “pale,” so to speak, any demonstrator on the left knows there are limits. If you cross them it won’t mean being arrested after the fact. It means being pepper-sprayed, maybe struck with a baton or rubber bullet, wrestled to the ground, handcuffed, placed in a paddy wagon, left waiting in a holding cell, arraigned in court and then released to share the experience and plan the next demonstration over a cup of coffee.
The demonstrators at the Capitol seemed like they were operating under different rules. It was as if they were entitled to “go beyond the pale.” They had permission, direct or tacit, from the president and others who spoke at that morning’s rally. The speeches urged them to basically breach the norms of civil disobedience. Normal disobedience, an oxymoron.
When, no matter the issue or historic time, have you seen a massive demonstration, be it the “Poor People’s March” on Washington, the anti-war demonstrations on the National Mall, the Million Men’s March, the Million Women’s March or any demonstration breach the perimeter of the Capitol? Let alone the doors, windows, lobby, chambers, offices and the sanctuary of the People’s House!
There will never be enough police to stop a society from breaking the rules, laws or norms if they see fit. What maintains that boundary is the belief in the rule of law and that it should apply to everyone. Yes, to be challenged at times, which is the “right” we have in this democratic society.
But a healthy democracy knows when to say enough is enough. Now’s the time for all who believe in this democracy to say ENOUGH!
Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. He is a senior advisor to Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.