Twenty-five people were arrested in Portland, Oregon on Monday after protests gathered in honor of May Day turned violent. Police say they were forced to revoke demonstration permits after the crowd started throwing rocks, fireworks, and even Molotov cocktails at law enforcement gathered near the rally.
Though May Day originated as a celebration of the transition of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, it took an ugly turn in 1886, when socialist and communist groups took to the streets in Chicago on May 1st to call for a uniform eight-hour workday. After days of mostly peaceful protests and demonstrations, isolated pockets of violence erupted into a full-blown catastrophe on the 4th when law enforcement gathered to disperse the crowd at the completion of the day’s events. The police captain ordered his officers to stop a short distance from the wagon the final speaker delivered his address from and issued an order to the remaining crowd to disperse peacefully.
At that moment, an explosive tore through the delegation of 180 police officers, killing seven and wounding 60 others. The remaining officers opened fire in response to the attack, killing a handful of protesters and injuring 200. The event would become known as the Haymarket Tragedy, and would shape May Day demonstrations for years to come.
Somehow, radical Leftist groups saw this tragedy as a call to arms, and in 1889, the International Socialist Party declared May 1st to be “International Worker’s Day,” in commemoration for the protesters that lost their lives after their group needlessly killed seven police officers tasked with keeping the peace. Although many would accuse the police of using violence to disperse protests, it was ultimately the socialist protesters themselves that initiated the tragic events of the day.
While it can certainly be argued that labor unions played an important role in shaping the future of our country from that point, and that employee rights are important and a cause worthy of demonstrating for, the decision to turn to violence as a part of a concerted effort to force political change comes with a different designation entirely: terrorism.
On Monday in Portland, law enforcement officials could be heard on loudspeakers instructing the peaceful protesters to separate themselves from those who came to commit acts of violence against law enforcement and their community. A local jewelry store and a Target were damaged as police were forced to don riot gear to protect themselves from Pepsi cans, lead balls, and rocks being hurled at them. They then proceeded to use nonlethal means to force the riot to disperse, including gas and rubber bullets.
Though some may have come to Portland’s May Day protest to voice legitimate grievances or to peacefully participate in the democratic process, others came to the event with the aforementioned fireworks, lead balls, and materials needed to put together Molotov cocktails with the intent to engage in violent activity against the very community they claimed to be protesting on the behalf of.
“It’s frightening, and I think, moreover, it’s just disgusting and depraved behavior,” Keely Bottcher, who witnessed the protest turn violent, told reporters on the scene. “I just wonder what happened to the idea of democracy and being American. And (it) seems like everything is turning very political. You can’t like democracy only if it goes your way.”
By 4:30PM on Tuesday, law enforcement was already advising any protesters with children to flee the area as the crowd grew increasingly violent. By 5:00PM, the event was declared a riot. Police asked all law-abiding citizens to leave the area via sidewalk and informed the crowd that anyone that remained would be subject to arrest.
Similar events took place in Seattle, Washington, when protesters began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police as well. Although a peaceful march took place earlier in the day, the events that will permeate in lasting memory will almost certainly be of the people being arrested and five officers being injured in the ensuing scuffle. One officer sustained a facial laceration and another had to be treated for a bite he received from a protester.
Despite the injuries sustained by law enforcement, no injuries have been reported from the Seattle protesters thus far.
“It is unfortunate and deeply regrettable that in a city that goes to incredible lengths to respect First Amendment rights, there are some who disregard our values and engage in senseless acts of violence and property destruction,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said. “My thoughts are with the officers who were injured.”
Nine protesters were ultimately arrested in the Seattle demonstration.
Once more, assembling for a peaceful protest is not only well within the rights of each American, but some would argue it can even be a social responsibility for those who feel their plight is being ignored by the system in place. Peaceful protests have brought about a number of important changes in the United States, and likely will continue to help shape the way we, as American people, are governed. However, it seems apparent that many of the protestors attending these events did not come with idealistic hopes of eliciting change through political discourse; they came armed to violently engage the men and women tasked with protecting their community as a means to force an ideological change; a tenant of violent extremism demonstrated the world over by terrorist organizations.
A protest can certainly turn violent in the same way an individual can when committing a “crime of passion,” brought about by overwhelming emotion and difficult circumstances, but bringing things like lead balls and Molotov cocktails to throw at the police speaks to premeditation and betrays the actual intent behind these demonstrations. While some protesters may have had the best of intentions, others came looking for a fight – and at least 34 of them have found themselves in a cell as a result.
It’s important to note that May Day protests took place in cities all across the country without erupting into violence, intended to draw attention to political causes held dear by the Left, though they have been all but glossed over in the minds of Americans today as a result of those who chose violence as their means to communicate their concerns.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press