Protesting is “exercising constitutional rights” only if you’re right-wing

Protests reveal a double-standard, where the peaceful are met with violence while the violent are met with peace.

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Michael Swan

Anti-lockdown protesters claimed measures to control the spread of COVID-19 are an infringement of freedom.

By Gwen Langi, Opinion Editor

Unarmed Native protesters were met with teargas and rubber bullets while gun-wielding protestors against the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order in Michigan were left untouched and unharmed. 

The different treatment of different protesters draws into question the safety and efficiency of protesting. When we compare the unfair treatment that protestors of color have faced when “peacefully assembling”–as the First Amendment allows–to the lenient and harmless consequences that White protestors are given, we feel the need to be silenced. 

We are scared. We are hopeless. We want change but when we see our fellow minorities being beaten, bruised and maced for exercising their First Amendment we withdraw our voice. 

Groups gathered to protest the stay-at-home order all over the country with protests occurring in Michigan, North Carolina and even California, which is in the top five states for coronavirus cases. 

These double standards of protesting aren’t new. 

Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. These are the names of four college students brutally shot and killed 50 years ago for peacefully protesting the Vietnam War on Kent State University’s Commons. 

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe gained national attention in 2016 for protesting the building of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. When completed, the pipeline would threaten the tribe’s primary drinking water source and disturb their cultural sites. Native Americans and environmentalists protested the construction of the pipeline bearing no arms but were met with violence from law enforcement. Teargas, water cannons and other weapons labeled as “less-than-lethal” were used against peaceful protestors.

The Sioux tribe expressed that they had not been properly engaged and informed about the permitting of the pipeline project although it is required under federal law. These protestors were defending their home, their culture and their rights. Still they were beaten on and attacked for doing so. 

But where was interference from law enforcement when an Ohioan woman protesting the COVID-19 stay-at-home order harassed and spat on a news reporter for wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing? 

Where was interference from law enforcement when armed Ohioans protesting the stay-at-home order angrily marched outside the home of Ohioan Health Director Dr. Amy Acton while waving anti-Semitic signs?

Those protesting for their right as the Black Live Matter protestors did, or their land such as the Sioux tribe participants were faced with violence while those protesting for personal needs like a haircut or teeth cleaning were not only left unharmed but praised. President Donald Trump referred to Black Lives Matters protestors as “looking for trouble” while urging Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to cooperate with Michigans protesting the state’s COVID-19 lockdown. 

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal,” he tweets on May 1st. 

This tweet echoes his response to Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 where white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied waving Confederate flags to which he described the ralliers as “very fine people.” One rally participant drove their vehicle into a crowd of peaceful protesters against the rally, taking the life of one and injuring 28 others. 

We see these men and women protest orders put in place for their safety while armed. They have no intention of keeping matters peaceful and make it clear that they will fight for what they want. 

They are dangerous, menacing and threatening. Most importantly they are White. They are White men and women who know no limits because they’d rather have their personal needs of a haircut or a restaurant meal served to them than be saved from a pandemic that has killed over 5,000 people worldwide. 

When minorities protest for their right to live they are handled without care but when radical right-wing Whites protest for wanting to be served while putting lives at danger, they are exercising their constitutional right. It is the double standards such as this that make minorities feel small and hopeless. It makes us feel marginalized and scared to speak up for ourselves because we fear the repercussions, whether it be facing rubber bullets or being ignored entirely. 

The difference in treatment of protestors based on their skin color and the purpose for the protest is what’s stopping us from feeling hear, seen and understood.