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Right and Left-Wing Protesters Begin to Clash

             7/4/2018

Protesters clash

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Over the last several days, right and left wing protestors have clashed in various cities across the nation with each other and the police, leading to injuries and arrests. The increasing number of Americans willing to resort to violence to achieve a political outcome may still be very small, but their negative impact is felt throughout the nation, with consequences that strain the ability of the United States to remain together.

On June 30th, the Oregon-based right-wing group called “Patriot Prayer” was given a permit to hold a rally in the Terry Schrunk Federal Plaza in Portland. There were about 150 of the original group at the rally while counter-protesters, declaring themselves to be “anti-fascists,” attempted to throw objects and even firecrackers into the protests. Four participants and one police officer had to be taken to the hospital after being struck by thrown projectiles, and the police were forced to fire pepper spray-filled paintballs into the crowd to subdue the violence. As the assaults continued, the Portland police were forced to declare a riot and bring an end to all demonstrations, forcing both sides to go home.

In the morning prior to the demonstration, the Portland police had already made arrests and confiscated various weapons ranging from knives to pepper spray.

Around the same time, protests against the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” anti-illegal immigration policy erupted in various cities, most notably Philadelphia, Atlanta and the nation’s capital, Washington DC. The left-wing protesters were demonstrating against children being separated from the families of illegal immigrants in order for the government to swiftly incarcerate and prosecute the adults. The protests were mostly outside offices of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and often resulted in scuffles and fights with the police, including throwing objects in some cases.

In Philadelphia, protesters blocked vehicles and doors. After three warnings, the police began making arrests, which ended in nearly 30 people being taken into custody. Most injuries were minor scratches and bruises, but one person had to be taken to the hospital.

In Atlanta, a similar crowd was protesting near the city jail for the complete abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. They used similar obstruction tactics to block the transfer of prisoners, which prompted the police to threaten to begin arresting people. The warnings were enough to cause the crowd to disperse. Fortunately, the actual clashes with the police were minimal and mostly verbal, and only one person ended up being actually arrested during the whole incident.

Since the 2016 election, partisan violence definitely appears to be on the rise. And while the perpetrators and instigators on both sides remain a radical and very small minority, the consequences of such actions for the national political dialogue are sweeping.

Civil discourse is widely regarded as the best way to end national issues, but when people fear violence and retaliation, there is less conversation between opposing viewpoints and both sides reinforce their disdain for each other. This makes them susceptible to what is known in psychology as “group polarization,” where similar-thinking people confined to their groups will gradually become more radical. Eventually, if two sides absolutely cannot reach an agreement, which is more likely the more polarized they become, the country could fragment, as has been seen in the 19th century, which resulted in the deaths of over six hundred thousand Americans.

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