If you learn anything from Gandhi and Dr. King, et alia, it’s that the power of peaceful protest is to demoralize those who are doing violence against them. Only the most psychopathic souls can keep abusing people day after day, even if they are ordered to and have sworn some duty.
We are seeing the first faltering of that moral house of cards.
There are National Guardsmen in DC who are too ashamed of what they have done to talk to their own families about it. There are police who don’t just do symbolic gestures when the cameras are rolling. They are starting private conversations with politicians and even protesters, thanking them for what they are doing. Ex-cops are speaking up, some years later because it was too traumatic or they still fear retribution. It’s a different kind of “I can’t breathe” for them. But the protests — PEACEFUL protests — at such a previously unseen scale, are slowly letting the air in.
I saw this in Project Chanology, the global protests against the human rights abuses of the Church of Scientology in 2008. Up to that time, the press would rarely touch it. Victims were easily silenced by the thousands, some celebrities. Even with a public record of Operation Snow White, the truth was not allowed to be part of the public brand. But then cities around the world were flooded by protestors making a LOT of noise. Admittedly, many were hacktivists looking for cause, and the Church’s chilling effect creeping into online censorship was enough to spark the world’s first online-organized global protest. Sure, there were some religious bigots, and some kiddies had nothing better to do than thrill-seek, given the dangers of a “church” that had its own prisons, military, and intelligence operations that would challenge the KGB in their tactics.
But who the protestors were didn’t really matter. The point was that wave after wave of people previously silenced or afraid came forward once they saw the powerlessness of their oppressor against the volume and commitment of allies. Any attack on the press (temporarily fast-forwarding to hundreds of press being arrested or assaulted by police in the last few weeks) was under public scrutiny. Every undercover staff member risked their harassment antics being publicized on the then still-budding social media platforms.
In the words of a current protester I know personally and wholly respect as a human being, the protests aren’t about being against cops (though for some it is, especially earlier on when tensions were much higher). The protestors are in part protesting FOR THEM. It’s about saving the good cops from the oppression they suffer continually as complicit violators of the public trust just to keep their jobs and try to do good in spite of it all.
I must say it again: Law enforcement officers are privately thanking the protestors for what they are doing. Soon, hopefully, law enforcement voices will not need to be so hushed.
But there is more than hope. An institutional problem needs institutional solutions, and there are very specific reforms being pushed forward. These include not just “whistleblower” protection, but a process and MANDATE to report unlawful actions by other law enforcement. This not only could change the face of America (it’s real face, not the one many of us folks want to believe we see), but restore trust to a level it may have never truly had before.