Online Exclusive

The Difference Between Protesting & Rioting

As a police officer I know that we often have to see things in absolutes. An action is either illegal or it's not. A person is either a suspect or they're not. A crime has been committed or it hasn't. But we also have to see the infinite shades of gray. The easiest example I can think of is the common speeding violation: ONE mile per hour over the speed limit is "illegal" but it's both challenging and inconvenient to enforce. When one MPH becomes ten MPH then it's easier to identify and take enforcement action. Everything between one and ten is a different shade of gray.

With that all said, I type this blog entry today to voice my objection to calling RIOTERS protesters. I LIKE, appreciate and agree with a citizen's First Amendment right of peaceful gathering and protest. The key word in that sentence, though, is peaceful. Once a 'protester' breaks the law or disobeys a lawful order then a crime has been committed. Protesters don't break the law. RIOTERS break the law.

Now I can just imagine some readers asking, "Does it really make a difference what we call them?" My answer is an absolute YES it does. Words and labels carry weight.

Protesting is an inalienable right, recognizd by the Constitution. RIOTING is a crime. Referring to rioters as protesters infers that their actions aren't criminal when, in fact, they are. When law enforcement professionals take action against protesters then we are seen as government agents oppressing the people. When law enforcement professionals arrest rioters, vandals and looters, we are seen as protecting lives and property; doing our job and justified in it.

Identifying RIOTERS as 'protesters' severely misleads the public, yet many media representatives - in writing, on the Interent and on television - are calling May Day RIOTERS 'protesters.' While there isn't much we in law enforcement can do to alter how news gets reported, we CAN alter how we release information. Rather than issuing statements that indicate our intentions to manage the challenges of lawful protests, how about if we start issuing press releases indicating that protests are legal but rioting is not. The difference is criminal activity and as law enforcement professionals we'd be negligent in performing our duty if we simply ignored crimes committed by 'protesters."

This isn't that difficult to understand and I'm SURE anyone with a degree in journalism can grasp the concept: Protesting is only protesting if no crimes are committed. The moment the protesters commit crimes, then the protest has become a riot and law enforcement action is mandated.

Do you agree?