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.  


And I remembered…

As I sat down to write this post, I was fuming, over an unkindness, one of those malicious events that are all too common where children are concerned.  What was it about?  Ignorance.  Blatant stupidity on the part of a parent which dictated the inexcusable behavior of several children towards someone I love dearly.

The rage inside of me was escalating.  I was so ready to blast each of the individuals involved but then stopped.

And I remembered…

Ten years ago today, ignorance, anger and the quest to destroy innocent lives played out in front of our eyes as surreal images stared back from our television screens.  The Twin Towers became a heartbreaking and painful realization for the civilized world who watched, cried, and tried to understand why.  We couldn’t fathom how could anyone be so cruel and have no respect for decent human life, we couldn’t understand the intense hatred against our country.

I won’t try to analyze the mentality of the common terrorist, to do so would be an attempt to make sense of, or even excuse, the psyche and subsequent actions of a murderer.  The anger churned inside my chest as I thought back.  Again, I stopped.

And I remembered…

Ten years ago, I sat with my middle daughter and held my two year old granddaughter as we watched a nightmare unfold; we knew from that point forward our lives would never again be the same.  I looked down at my squirmy, bubbly little grandchild and my heart was overcome with fear for the future she would face.   Her rightful freedoms would now be challenged at every turn, for the rest of her life.   I wept as she looked up at me. 

And I remembered…

Today, on the anniversary of this horrific event, my husband’s club held a yearly camping event for its members and children; something that is always planned around 9/11.  Families and friends gather to enjoy quality time together and thank God that we are able to do this, that we are alive and together.  Some of the kids who attended were toddlers or just entering school ten years ago, they were insulated from the pain that we witnessed.  Last evening, the children ran around club grounds, playing and having fun while the adults sat around the bonfire and recalled, once again, where they were on that fateful day ten years ago.

Early this morning, I prepared breakfast for everyone and a group of teens gathered in the clubhouse as Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” played on the radio.  I listened to the kids as they talked and one asked me where I was that day and what it felt like as I heard the news.  Another boy explained that his parents didn’t talk about it much, what he learned about 9/11 was through conversations in school, on the Internet and television.   So I sat down with them and shared my experience of that September day,  how I drove into work, more focused on the car radio than the trip itself, one hand on my cell phone talking to my husband about his only brother who was at Five World Trade Center. 

Immediately, the boys wanted to know if he made it out alive.  I told them that he did but we didn’t know that fact until hours later; my brother-in-law somehow managed to walk away from the collapsing towers, for more than 16 miles, to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where he was found, sitting in a state of shock.   The boys around the table just shook their heads and almost all asked at once if I thought the United States would ever be attacked again. 

How do you properly address those fears?  How can you assure anyone that they will be safe from any type of disaster?  All I could say to these boys was that there are no simple answers other than to trust that our government will exhaust every means of security to keep us from harm and to preserve our freedoms.  The hatred and jealousies of outsiders cannot be stopped but we must never allow ourselves to succumb to the bullying tactics of such militant extremists.

This morning, I was angry over a petty childhood incident.  It doesn’t matter now and those involved aren’t worth losing sleep over.  This morning, a small group of young people made me realize things that truly are significant; they reminded me of the importance of this day.

And, with them, I remembered.




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