Protests: A waste of time?

constitutionPeople are gathering in cities across the country – New York City, Washington, Berkeley – to protest decisions by grand juries in Missouri and Staten Island against bringing back indictments in cases in which cops were responsible for the deaths of unarmed petty-crime suspects.

Admire the moxie and spirit behind the protests. What good they will ultimately do, not too sure about that.

No question the grand-jury decisions are injustice at its ugliest. At worst, the case in Ferguson with police officer Darren Wilson shooting unarmed black teen Michael Brown is something that a jury in a criminal trial should have had to vote up or down, and that at most now Wilson might one day face federal civil-rights charges is only a small consolation. The case in New York with the death of Eric Garner was about as open-and-shut as you can imagine, given the video evidence that exists in that case.

So, OK, we have two god-awful decisions by grand juries. And we have protests, which are oriented toward, what, exactly?

The protests are good for blowing off steam, primarily. Plenty of folks are beyond upset by the grand-jury calls, and if taking to the streets to commiserate with others who are pissed off about the lack of justice, go for it, it might make you feel better to get out there and say your piece.

But if that’s all you’re going to do, take to the streets to protest, you’re not going to accomplish much.

If you feel the issue is police departments not respecting the rights of American citizens, and let me be clear here, I feel this way, standing in the street chanting about wanting justice and wanting it now and after a little while of that getting arrested for blocking traffic isn’t going to do a damn bit of good.

You know what will? Organizing yourself to have an impact on the next city council elections wherever it is that you live. Because guess who hires the cops? If you can have an impact on who gets elected, you can hire the cops. How’s that for effecting change?

Don’t like the laws in your state on how killer cops are prosecuted? Organize yourself to have an impact on the next elections for DA and the state legislature. The DA is elected, so if you can get enough like-minded people together to back the right candidate, you can make sure that the next killer cop gets the same book thrown at him that is thrown at others accused of serious crimes. And state legislatures are the ones responsible for setting up the legal system that defines how they can go about doing their jobs. Elect the right people to the state legislature, and you can have a hand in setting up a system that works to ensure justice is fair for all involved, not a privileged few.

It’s a fair bet to assume that most of those out on streets across the country tonight protesting the Brown and Garner decisions didn’t bother to cast a vote in the recent congressional midterms, and also that those same folks skip out on midterm elections and legislative and local city council elections. But those folks will be out in force again in 2016 when it’s time to vote for president.

Reality check: whoever ends up being president is a lot less important to your day-to-day life than who is your mayor, who is your DA, who is your state legislator.

I’m not telling you not to protest. Get it out of your system. You need to be angry before you can start to figure out how to turn that anger into action.

The important part to this, though, is not the anger, but the action. Don’t lose sight of that.

– Column by Chris Graham


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