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Quiet, passive protests won't change anything


Do government officials get to tell the people protesting against them how, when and where they can protest?

I saw that concept taken to its absurd extreme in 2004 when I went to Boston to cover the Democratic Convention, where Bill Richardson was serving as chairman. About a block away from the convention center, police had fenced off an area of the street for a designated protest zone.

Each day as I went into and came out of the area, I passed a cage of protesters holding signs and chanting in unison. There were always more at night as I was coming out than in the afternoon when I was going in. But either way, they were easy to ignore. Which, of course, was the intent.

As I listen to government officials these days calling for "peaceful" protests, I suspect what they really want are protests that are easy to ignore.

Government officials demand that the protests against them be lawful, then they change the laws. Curfews that go into effect hours before the sun goes down make criminals out of those who only want to march and make their voices heard.

On Saturday, a small group of protesters in Las Cruces momentarily blocked traffic on Lohman Avenue, which was an unusual display of civil disobedience for our community.

I always worry tactics like that will turn people against the cause. And, there is always the potential for things to end badly. Those who decide to walk in traffic are putting their lives in the hands of others, and one person did drive through the group of protesters.

But, if the point was to be heard, they were on the front page of the daily newspaper the next day and led all the nightly newscasts. That probably wouldn't have happened if they had stayed on the sidewalk.

It is easy to identify the arson and looting that took place in the early days of the protests, and now gets played on a constant loop by conservative news outlets, as going way over the line. But there are other activities, like marching onto the highway, staying out past curfew and disobeying police orders, where the line may be blurrier.

The cell phone video of General Floyd's murder has unleashed a wave of protests against systemic racism and brutality that has existed in police departments across nation the since its founding.

In Kentucky, they're protesting for Breonna Taylor. In New York, they're protesting for Eric Garner. In Minnesota, it was Philando Castile before it was George Floyd.

And now in Las Cruces, we are protesting for Antonio Valenzuela. His death in a police chokehold on Feb. 29 has been ruled a homicide, and the former officer who was allegedly responsible has been fired arrested.

My hope is that these protests will continue to grow, and that over time police and protesters will come to a better understanding of how to manage them with fewer violent interactions. But they aren't partners. The intent is to force change on a group that has been stubbornly and successfully resistant to that change.

The number of protests, and their incredible racial diversity, have created a sense of optimism that I've never seen before. Maybe this really is the time things will change.

But we know from past experience that deeply entrenched systems are not overturned easily. We have to keep making noise.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com

Walt Rubel