Curfews Strip Protests of Their Power

Tell me why lockdown protesters got a platform and endless police patience, while BLM protesters get curfews and endless police violence.

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Photo by ev on Unsplash

As a resident of Los Angeles County, I began receiving alerts this past Sunday with the same jarring tone I attribute to emergencies. When I looked at my phone, I saw that a curfew was being imposed in parts of Los Angeles in response to the widespread protests that have erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. As the days passed and unrest increased, the curfew was extended to the whole county.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva issued a statement that curfews for Los Angeles County will continue “until the organized protests are gone.”

Now just stop and think about how problematic of a statement that is — observe the verbiage. Many people are merely brushing off the implementation of a curfew as due diligence, assuming that this is the best course of action to stop the riots and looting that have detracted from the movement and harmed the legitimacy of peaceful protesters. But Sheriff Villanueva didn’t say that the curfew will continue until riots and looting stop — he said that curfew will continue until the peaceful protests stop.

A sheriff of one of the largest metropolitan cities in this country proudly declared a clear attempt to violate the constitutional right of the people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

People might continue to brush this off by being appeased that protesters can at least peacefully assemble during daytime hours, but the power of protests is not derived from neatly and yieldingly scheduling protests to convenience those we are demanding change from. Peaceful protests derive their power from being able to obstruct the system, and the very nature of obstructing a system means it can not be confined within time limits, geographic limits, or any other kind of limit that seeks to give the state control.

Feel free to protest, they may say, but only when we allow you to do it. Why, that’s no protest at all.

And that’s just one way this curfew is problematic. Curfews allow police to arrest people indiscriminately. The executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, Hector Villagra, has spoken out against the curfew citing selective and biased enforcement and risk of harrassment to the unhoused as potential dangers. The Associated Press says that “a curfew allows police the ability without any other reason to threaten to arrest or detain crowds of protesters that linger or groups that appear to be a danger to order.” It’s a frightening thought that the same police officers who have been outed on social media as using excessive force and violence to subdue protestors are given complete control of the streets after a certain time every night.

But in the true spirit of protest, many people have chosen to flout the curfew, remaining in peaceful protest on the streets after nightfall. Days, perhaps weeks will pass, and my fear is that police departments and government officials will grow weary of putting up with these protests. Pressure will mount from a variety of sources: right wing pundits who want to see an end to the BLM movement, business owners that don’t want to worry about their stores anymore, bored boomers who want an end to curfews, probably (most likely) even the President will begin to demand that the protests be put to an end at all costs necessary.

The curfews may be tolerable for now, but what will happen when ending the protests aren’t up for negotiation any longer? What will happen when the state will no longer tolerate us and our demands?

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I enjoy writing about society and culture, especially of the internet variety.

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