The images from the riot on Fleming Drive are shocking, especially to someone like myself who spent more than thirty years teaching students at Fanshawe College. The destructive behaviour, even by heavily intoxicated youth, is almost incomprehensible.
But equally incomprehensible was the characterization of what occurred as “the worst case of civil disobedience."
These were the words of Police Chief, Brad Duncan as aired on the CTV news last night.
Perhaps he was tired; perhaps he was overwrought. But to describe throwing stones and bottles, overturning a media vehicle, setting fires, using sticks and bats to attack police and their vehicles as “civil disobedience” beggars the imagination and reason.
Civil disobedience: noun, the refusal to comply with certain laws considered unjust, as a peaceful form of political protest, according to the online version of the Oxford Dictionary.
When I was in high school, Henry Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience was required reading. It celebrated the practice of non-cooperation with immoral but lawful state requirements. Thoreau believed that people had to take responsibility for the actions of their rulers and to resist obeying laws which harmed others. Originally his 1849 essay was entitled, “Resistance to Civil Government” and later revised to “Essay on Civil Disobedience”.
There have been many laudable examples of civil disobedience or civil resistance since Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support a government which enforced slavery: Ghandi’s passive resistance to British rule, Nelson Mandela’s response to South African apartheid, Martin Luther King’s campaign against segregation during the American civil rights movement.
Even here in London we have seen examples of citizens participating in peaceful protests whether in the form of a Freedom Flotilla or Occupy London.
Civil disobedience is the act of those whose conscience will not let them support laws which they believe are unfair or unjust. It is the deliberate act of reason and morality of those who are prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.
In describing the actions of drunken hooligans as “civil disobedience” Chief Duncan has done a great disservice to the many thoughtful and conscientious citizens who are prepared to take a stand for what they believe is right, the very people on whom we depend to pave the way for a more just society.
Perhaps it is difficult to maintain perspective when one’s officers are under attack as the police and firefighters were at riot on Fleming Drive. But that’s the time when we rely most on those in charge to remain calm, in word and deed, so as to not inflame an already precarious situation.
Let’s hope Chief Duncan simply misspoke and did not intend to elevate hooliganism to civil disobedience. Or insult the many young people, at Fanshawe College and across the city, who from time to time challenge inequities that too many of us take for granted.