Dueling protests between political activists have now become common in the United States. Most are peaceful, often due to effective police work. Many officials have learned how to better control demonstrators bent on violence ever since the 2017 tragedy in which a neo-Nazi rammed a car into anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one.
Yet street brawls have once again erupted in the U.S., this time during a June 29 clash between left-wing and right-wing groups in Portland, Oregon. Many people were injured, notably journalist Andy Ngo who sustained a head injury. Three people were arrested. Police promised to examine videos to make additional arrests. They also want to learn how to prevent such political hate crimes.
“The acts of a select group of violent individuals do not define Portland but do have a negative impact on all of us,” said Portland police Chief Danielle Outlaw. Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted that those who “committed violence” should be “held accountable.”
Like other American cities, Portland continues to provide public spaces for free speech despite some ideologues seeking to deny any public forum for the expression of ideas they oppose – and who also justify attacks on journalists.
As divisions have grown in the U.S., so has hatred of “the other side,” leading to incivility and often physical attacks. President Donald Trump was rightly called out recently for praising an assault on a journalist at a rally.
Democracy will continue to improve only by peaceful persuasion instead of intolerance and intimidation. The public dialogue needed to end inequities in society requires a respect for each individual’s freedom of conscience.
Such freedom extends to public places, where peaceful rallies should remain peaceful and only as we examine our own attitudes and actions. A nation must move from a reliance on barricades to keep people apart to all citizens upholding safe spaces in which they start to listen to each other.