People do not have the right to riot
Protesters in Gotham and other cities around the nation are so used to getting their way, they’ve been spoiled. Their illegal occupation of our streets and parks has become so routine that the protesting class throws tantrums when it faces consequences, however rarely that happens.
Last week’s arrest of Nikki Stone, wanted for alleged serial vandalism of police cameras, was a case in point. The 18-year-old homeless woman was marching in a “peaceful,” though non-permitted, march down Second Avenue when plainclothes NYPD officers arrested her and put her in an unmarked van.
Stone had been filmed on multiple occasions painting over NYPD security cameras around City Hall Park during the last month’s occupation. Her alleged actions suggest a flagrant lawlessness and enmity against the public good.
Yet Stone became a cause celebre, with supporters claiming she had been “disappeared,” as if by a right-wing regime in Latin America circa 1982. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “There is no excuse for snatching women off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans.” Cable host Chris Hayes called it “kidnapping.”
The City Council’s Progressive Caucus claimed that “this arrest was a tactic meant to intimidate protesters and discourage civil disobedience.” Lawmakers accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of failing to hold “the NYPD accountable for the brutality unleashed on those exercising” fundamental rights.
Back in the real world, plainclothes officers with unmarked cars arrest wanted suspects like Stone every day, because it is the most effective way to approach them without tipping them off and letting them escape. It is only “kidnapping” if one believes that law enforcement, operating with judicial warrants, has no authority to bring criminals to court.
Moreover, progressive councilmembers radically confuse “civil disobedience” and “First Amendment rights.”
The First Amendment protects the right “peaceably to assemble,” but that doesn’t mean you can block traffic any time you want to. Ask Chris Hayes if you can sit in his MSNBC office or studio for a week in the name of your favorite cause.
Civil disobedience means intentionally breaking the law to draw attention to the (alleged) unfairness of the law. But de Blasio has been so spinelessly indulgent of anti-cop protests, allowing wildcat marches to take place every day, all over the city, that the protesters have come to believe that they have the right to break the law. When confronted, they exhibit the outrage of a pampered toddler denied a toy at nap-time.
Similarly petulant, VOCAL-NY, a government-funded nonprofit, is stamping its feet because the city is no longer planning to pay for the construction of its new headquarters. VOCAL-NY was the prime mover behind the “Defund the Police” encampment, marches, and protests that dominated downtown in the run-up to the city budget deal. The group’s chief organizer, Jawanza James Williams, proudly declared: “We will occupy. We will not leave here until the mayor listens to us!!!”
VOCAL-NY receives about $500,000 from the city each year, mostly for drug-abuse-prevention and other health programs. Taxpayers didn’t allocate money to the group so it could establish an illegal campsite, stage marches across the Brooklyn Bridge, harass and attack law enforcers, destroy public property, or demand abolition of the police. Members of the group went to the homes of local politicians, and even the home of Speaker Corey Johnson’s boyfriend, screaming at them.
When Johnson removed several million dollars in capital spending that had been earmarked for VOCAL-NY to build a new headquarters, the group shrieked that he was being spiteful and violating their constitutional rights: “There can be no place in New York City’s politics for this kind of attack on our First Amendment rights.” Yeah, cry more.
VOCAL-NY, like many other ostensible “charities,” is used to taking millions of dollars in taxpayer funding for explicitly political activity. They’ve gotten used to it — because no one in charge says no.
Johnson insists that the money was removed as a fiscal measure and had nothing to do with the way that VOCAL-NY portrayed him as a cop-loving bootlicker during the budget process, embarrassing him ahead of a possible mayoral run, or that they threw paint at his boyfriend’s front door. But VOCAL-NY, and the protesters who want to dictate the time and manner of their arrests and the clothing of their arresting agents, need to relearn a key lesson of toddlerhood: Actions have consequences.
Seth Barron is an associate editor of City Journal.