What does looting Walmart and shutting down the Interstate have to do with Protesting? I’ll tell you.

There have been a lot of conversations and posts about what’s been going on in Charlotte the last few nights, and I’ve seen some interesting points. One Facebook friend posted a question:

“What does looting Walmart and shutting down Interstate 85 and looting and destroying 18 wheelers have to do with protesting?”

It seemed a fair point at first, but then another friend raised the question (paraphrasing) “What does throwing tea in the Boston Harbor have to do with a Revolution?”

I’ve been giving it some thought and come to the conclusion that these two protests have more in common than they did at first glance, but their distinctions are actually something conservatives should applaud rather than criticize. Here’s why:

Before the American Revolution, a series of taxes were implemented that colonists opposed, primarily on the grounds that they should not be taxed when they had no say in the implementation of such taxes. Among other restrictions and taxes, these included the Stamps Act and the Tea Tax. Tea was also a symbol for British Imperialism, with one company owning a worldwide monopoly on the beverage. It was a symbol of British power, and a perceived source of the Colonists’ unrest. So, a group of colonists destroyed it in a non-violent but destructive protest we celebrate to this day.

Today, the grievances are a bit different, but primarily center around the use of police force against people of color at a rate disproportionately higher than is used against white people. This has created a similar unrest, though it is distributed along racial lines rather than along ideological ones.

So the background for these protests actually seems stronger to me for the modern movement: When your life is under threat on a daily basis, that is a bit more serious than having to pay a stamp tax in order to mail your business contract to the lawyer to get it finalized. If anything, the Boston Tea Party and Revolution are best justified by the Boston Massacre, in which British soldiers killed 5 non-compliant protesting civilians — a close parallel to today’s problem. So how are they different? I see two main ways:

The first is that because the Boston Tea Party happened nearly 250 years ago and history has glorified it, we don’t necessarily see the anger that the Sons of Liberty had. We can consider it a dispassionate show of civil disobedience thanks to the lack of cameras, tweets and mothballs of history, whereas we see the anger and the pain of protestors and rioters today. But we have to think of this anger and pain is an invitation, not a threat, to try to understand and fix the problem.

The second difference is in how closely the destruction represents the oppression. The Boston Tea Party was spot on, while today’s rioters are destroying walmarts and 18-wheelers while blocking traffic. To me, as a white male, I don’t see these actions as representative of oppression — and there is only one symbol I can think of as a finer target: The Police. Their stations, their cars, their weapons, their property… All of these are better symbolic representations of the source of oppression than walmarts and 18-wheelers and interstates. But I certainly do not advocate targetting them for several reasons: We need police to respond to emergencies, to enforce our laws and keep us safe. No reasonable person will dispute that without making overtures to some utopian society that seems impossible today.

This is an important conversation, yet one we often ignore until someone dies every few weeks. I haven’t spoken about it enough, and I hope that everyone who reads these thoughts will think and talk about these issues. There’s much to say, and these problems are not going to go away without constantly discussing them.

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