Freedom of Speech…just choose your words carefully!

The riots recently in Charlottesville have created a climate of political turmoil and the questions on how any protest takes a turn into violent rioting.

Aside from what took place last week-end in Virginia, not all protesting ends in violence, in fact, the majority of protesting is done in a non-violent manner. With the right of free speech for citizens of our country, the chances of a peaceful protest do increase with the ability of people to protest freely. If you live in an authoritarian or oppressive environment, frustration and anger may tip any protest into a riot and become completely out of control.

Crowd psychology may also play into how protests grow into riots, and how those riots expand to other cities. When you are in a crowd, you are more likely to behave as others do, even if it is against your own personal belief system. And others’ behavior can be contagious–people get wrapped up in often bad behavior. Those with ulterior motives (looting, for example) take an opportunity in the midst of chaos to commit an anonymous act.

Then, we have militant, even subversive, groups like the KKK and any other so-called white supremacist organizations engaging in reprehensible behaviors under this given banner of both free speech and said right-to-protest, spewing hatred and racism with their actions. While protests are sometimes triggered by a social injustice towards an individual or group, what these militant groups are founded on go against the rights of all humans living in our country. Still, our constitution guarantees this right to protest and the results often bring a lethal outcome from groups for which antisocial behavior is the norm.  A sad commentary indeed for a country founded on freedom for all.


Taking into account this crowd psychology, those few violence-prone individuals can trigger a crowd of violent behavior. Groups afford people the anonymity to engage in behavior they wouldn’t engage in otherwise. A group’s behavior is more likely to help an individual justify going outside of their moral code.


As Americans, as decent human beings, we must condemn such behavior and come to the understanding that there is always fault on both sides of any issue based on behavioral psychology. The loss of any life is tragic but we all need to realize that any riotous situation can quickly become a war zone and the consequences can turn deadly. People rush to defend their right to speak and act freely and, with that, sensibilities and calmness are overtaken by anger.


From my perspective, the most damaging part of these situations is the fallout directed at our government and with each other, as differing opinions reach epidemic proportions in a quest to challenge so much of what cannot be changed. People demand political impeachment and resignation of our country’s president without truly realizing that they themselves are becoming engaged in this same crowd psychology of those haters who thrive on racism and violence.  


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