Readers Write: Political violence has no place in a democracy

Readers Write: Political violence has no place in a democracy

Which was worse, the riot at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or the violent protests that recently took place at Columbia and other institutions of higher education throughout the country?  A recent editorial claims that it is clear-cut that the former was far worse.  The Jan. 6 riot was a direct attack on the seat of one of our three branches of government, and in that respect it was indeed worse.  However, that is one of several axes on which the two events can be compared.

The Jan. 6 riot happened in one place and involved a relatively small number of people, while the pro-Hamas protests involved much larger numbers of people and took place in numerous locations throughout the country.  The Jan. 6 riot was put down in a matter of hours, while the pro-Hamas protests were allowed to continue for weeks.  None of our major institutions held negotiations with the Jan. 6 rioters or made concessions to attempt to placate them.  The same cannot be said for those who occupied college and university campuses.  For all the talk of the supposed whiteness of the Jan. 6 rioters, they did not target a group of their fellow citizens on the basis of their race, religion, or ethnicity in the way that Jewish students have been targeted over the past few weeks.

We could attempt to determine how much weight to give each of these axes and reach a conclusion as to which was worse overall, but I believe that this misses a more important point.  Both of our major parties have problems with ignoring, downplaying, or even justifying political violence when it comes from their own side.  This is not unique to these two instances but includes other cases of political violence such as the riots on several campuses after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017, the violence in Charlottesville later that year, and the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020.  On neither side are the problems so minor as to deserve to be treated as negligible in comparison to what exists on the other side.

We are fortunate enough to live in a society that has given us greater peace and freedom than most that have existed throughout history.  A major component of how this is achieved is by giving us freedom of expression by peaceful means while taking political violence off the table as a way of settling disputes between citizens.  We have many ways of pushing for change that are protected by the Constitution.  We can vote, raise our voices in peaceful protest, sign petitions, call our elected officials, and write letters to the editor.

However, we cannot be allowed to threaten our fellow citizens, occupy shared spaces and deprive others of their use, break into buildings, or poke a Jewish student in the eye with the pole of a Palestinian flag, landing her in the hospital, as happened at Yale.  The prohibition on political violence must be viewpoint-neutral and apply to all equally, no matter how worthy or unworthy their cause.  The First Amendment requires no less.

Our democracy will remain under threat so long as political violence is tolerated by either of our major parties.  We ought to provide a resounding electoral victory to whichever party is first to do the right thing and adopt a policy of zero tolerance for political violence.

David Golub


No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here