Here is the video:
5/5/15: To everyone sharing this story --- this was posted four years ago. We didn't take it down; it's still here. We're unsure why it's being shared again, but for those of you asking/calling/emailing, it didn't happen recently.-------------------------Video of Failed Protest at LSU; Thanks to WBRZ for the video
Posted by KATC-TV 3: Acadiana's Newschannel on Wednesday, May 11, 2011
The thing that bothers me here is not the counter-protest -- that is completely appropriate. You meet speech you dislike with more speech; you meet protests you disagree with with more protest. What bothers me is the efforts at intimidation, the way the crowd moves in on the silent protester, the need for police to protect him, the up-in-your-face verbal assault by the uniform-clad member of the military and the tossing of what I assume are water balloons (can't be sure) at the protester.
The police escorted the protester away and ended the protest, to protect his safety, so it never descended into outright violence. But projectiles were being thrown. Counter-protesters were getting ansty and aggressive. One has to wonder what would have happened had the police not intervened.
And this raises an interesting question: How different is this than what we saw happen in Baltimore or Ferguson, where anger did spill over into violence? Would we have seen the same kind of gleeful dismissal of the protesters we witnessed after Baltimore and Ferguson, especially from conservatives who used the violence as an occasion to call into question "ghetto culture" and the like? Would they, in particular, have used this flag protest to liken the counter-protesters to Nazi Brown-shirts, or attack Southern patriots as a somehow lesser race of people?
My guess is no. My guess is that the folks at Fox News and throughout conservative media would have hailed the counter-protests and patriotic Americans and would have blamed the handful of lefties who planned the initial protest for any violence that might have occurred. My guess is that, rather than the "no-excuse-for-violence-there-is-a-right-way-to-protest" line they have been pushing over the last month, we would have heard some variation of Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" -- conveniently ignoring the second half of his quote in which he says "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." (The line echoes Martin Luther King Jr.'s defense of protest and "extremism" in "Letter from Birmingham Jail.")
As I said, there are differences between what we see on this video and what occurred in Baltimore and Ferguson that go beyond the descent into actual violence. On the one side, we have a crowd representing a majority point of view, a largely (if not completely) white crowd using intimidation to enforce political conformity, seeking to silence dissent, and essentially sacralizing the flag. On the other, we have a people who live in some of the worst poverty conditions in the United States, in a city that has been gutted by political and economic systems that have no use for the city's residents, a people who have been beat down and denied not just their rights but any sense of their humanity for hundreds of years and who still deal daily with the kinds of sleights and assaults that white Americans do not have to endure. One side's patriotism and sense of entitlement are being challenged, the other side's very existence.
Even if we do not tie this video to what has happened more recently in Baltimore and Ferguson, we should be offended by what takes place in this video -- and not by the flag-burner.
Flag burning is a provocative act, a symbolic act designed to underscore our national failings. By burning the flag -- our national symbol -- the flag-burner raises questions about American provenance, about American exceptionalism, about our role in the world and our inaction at home. It is a symbolic assault. It is extreme, to be sure, but it is extreme in the way Goldwater and King use the phrase -- an action designed to wrench us from complacency so that we can see our own failings. (Whether it works, in a pragmatic way, is another discussion.)
As such, the burning of a symbol like the flag is protected speech and protected protest. You don't have to like it. You don't have to agree, but we live in a country in which this is allowed -- as is art work like "Piss Christ," as are cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed (whether presented in satirical publications like Charlie Hebdo or by avowed Islamaphobes and racists like Pamela Geller).
What is offensive and scary to me, in the end, is not the counter-protest itself, but the form it takes, the intimidation and the sense that it is OK to berate (and possibly beat) people into silence, and that this sort of violence in the cause of the status quo seems OK to too many.
Send me an e-mail.