Protests have served as one of the key methods of public opinion for as long as the concept of the state has existed. It also happens to be one of the most effective methods of bending the government to the will of the people. There is a lot of conflicting information regarding the earliest use of the word in modern history. What exactly does the word protest mean? The dictionary definition of a protest is a public expression of disapproval, objection regarding a course of action. There are different types of protests and those involved can either make it violent or nonviolent depending on the nature of the cause. One of the most popular and earliest protests recorded in the United States is the Haymarket riot of 1886. This protest was led by the Anarchist Movement and it was violent.
The Haymarket Riot of 1886
The Haymarket Riot of 1886 was a violent confrontation between labor protesters and the police. It took place in Chicago on the 4th of May 1886. Until this day, the Haymarket Massacre serves as a symbol of the struggle of workers on an international scale. It is associated with the international worker’s day holiday on May 1st. The protest didn’t start on the 4th of May. It started a few days earlier. Workers went on strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. The primary objective of the strike was to force the company into allowing them to work for 8 hours daily. When police intervened on the 3rd of May, someone was killed in the protest and many others were injured seriously. The May 4th protest was in response to the police brutality as an intimidation tactic against the strikers.
A meeting was held the following day in Haymarket Square by the leaders of the anarchist labor movement. They gathered a crowd and started their protest. Again, the police showed up and asked them to go to their homes, but before they knew what was happening, one of the protesters threw a bomb forcing the police to open fire on the crowd. By the time the protest ended, eight protesters were dead and about 40 others were injured. Seven police officers who were present were killed and more than 60 were seriously injured. Subsequently, many of the anarchist leaders were convicted and subsequently executed for murder.
Black Lives Matter
Since 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has fueled several protests. It is an international movement by African Americans who are fighting for better human rights for black people in America and the rest of the world. The primary goal. Of the movement is to fight against the injustices African-Americans suffer because of the color of their skin. They protest against all forms of systematic and institutional racism. This includes, but is not limited to police brutality, unlawful killings of black people, racial profiling, and inequality in the criminal justice system. The movement started after the police officer who killed an African-American teenager called Trayvon Martin was acquitted of all charges. The decision sparked a global protest and social media was used to push the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It eventually became an internationally recognized movement in 2014 when two other African-Americans were killed in cold blood by the police.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement started, hundreds of African-Americans have been killed in cold blood. Only a few of the officers involved have been convicted for their crimes. The most recent protest by this movement is the George Floyd case which started on the 25th of May after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed him in public in the name of making an arrest. According to eye witness reports and videos that were taken on the scene, Chauvin was trying to arrest Floyd for allegedly using counterfeit bills. Chauvin roughed up Floyd, pushed him to the ground and shocked him to death with his knee while he was laying on his belly.
The video rendering of the entire thing showed Floyd begging for his life. Floyd kept screaming “I can’t breathe” until he eventually couldn’t keep talking. Eyewitnesses begged Chauvin to stop but he refused until the medic intervened. By then, it was too late. The 46-year-old Floyd was already dead. All efforts to revive him failed. Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes. The other officers in the scene prevented the onlookers from intervening after they helped Chauvin restrain Floyd. The murder of Floyd has caused international uproar thanks to the circulation of the video on the Internet.
Since Floyd was killed on the 25th of May, there have been a series of violent and peaceful protests in different parts of the United States. Protesters want justice for Floyd and they are not going to settle for anything less this time. The headline of the protest is “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe”. It reflects the frustration in the African-American community as they cry for justice not just for Floyd but for all the Black people who have died due to police brutality. They are protesting for a systematic change in policing toward minorities in the United States.
According to Fetal Encounters, one of the most reliable data sources in the United States, there have been a total of 28,139 police-related deaths since the year 2000. In 2020 alone, more than 854 people have been killed by the police leading to questions about the efficiency of the criminal justice system. If a police officer is a judge, jury, and executioner, why do courts exist? About 26% out of the 28,139 who have been killed are African-Americans in the United States. This amounts to 7, 612 black people who have been killed by the police since the year 2000. Most of these deaths were due to unjust police brutality.
Consequences of Protests
Everyone has a right to protest. There are no laws against protesting. However, protesting violently might lead to unintended consequences. As you can see above, those who led the Haymarket protests were treated like terrorists and hanged for murder. If you must join a protest, make sure that you join a peaceful one. If you’re caught vandalizing property or hurting others during a protest, you might end up in jail at best or killed at worst. The state has the right to hold you accountable for any violent behavior that you display during a protest irrespective of the reasons for the protest. For example, the George Floyd protest has led to a lot of vandalism and violence in different parts of the United States.
The protests started locally in Saint Paul metropolitan area in Minnesota. It wasn’t long until the unrest spread to every part of the United States and even internationally gained support online. Some of the protests have been peaceful with matches coming out with placards and chanting the words “I can’t breathe.” There have been reports of widespread looting, vandalizing, and street confrontations with the police. Washington DC and 30 other states have deployed the national guard to curb the unrest. About 200 cities in the United States have imposed curfews but people are still coming out in legions to protest the murder of Floyd. Keep in mind that the protest isn’t just among the African American community. Floyd’s death has sparked outrage in all the minority communities in the United States. White people in the country and other parts of the world have joined the protest as well. Over 11,000 people have been arrested so far and the number is growing every day.
Derek Chauvin and the three other police officers who were there when he murdered Floyd in cold blood have been arrested and Chauvin’s trial is set to take place. Derek Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. His bail has been set at $1.25 million and he has been fired from the police force. His wife has also sued for divorce. The protests have led to several legislative proposals. However, the Trump administration has received major criticism due to the militarized response they have implemented in a bid to put an end to the unrest. Keep in mind that the George Floyd protest is happening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the United States is struggling to curb the spread of the virus, health experts have warned that these protests will only increase the rate at which the virus is spreading. There has also been a strong economic impact of these protests as if the economic impact of Covid-19 isn’t bad enough.
Protests can take different forms and they will always be used to promote institutional reforms. Whether it is racism, labor, or human rights in general, the public will always have a right to protest. These protests come with consequences and you should be willing to face the music.