In my last blog, I asked what Charlottesville means to you. Today I want to ask you to think about what it means to be a law-abiding citizen. The violent rally in Charlottsville showed that there are multiple issues festering in our society. Sadly, most of the news is focused on simplifications. If we are going to stick to simplifications, the first question we must ask is: what is a law-abiding citizen?
When Christopher Cantwell, one of the leaders of the Unite the Right rally, was asked about the tragic death and the many injured people caused by the automobile attack, he said, “a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.” Cantwell is an alt-right talk show shock DJ. During an interview following Charlottesville, he stated he wants “to normalize racism.” Why would anyone think that is okay?
More importantly: why does he have that much hate? As a country, we need to figure that out. Then we need to find a way to heal that hate or reject it.
Cantwell’s actions rose out of that hate. According to several sources, he has been charged with illegally pepper-spraying individuals and groups of counter-protestors. When asked about these situations, he stated “I don’t think I did anything wrong, and I’m looking forward to my day in court.”
There are the key words: “I don’t think I did anything wrong.” He believes he acted as a law-abiding citizen; in fact, he made a personal judgment that he had done nothing wrong.
When asked to explain his conduct, Cantwell stated that he believed he was in danger. Under US law, people have the right to protect themselves, but the statutes are very complicated. As one attorney explained it to me, in most cases, a person cannot use more force than necessary to stop an assault. With the addition of “stand your ground” laws, things have gotten even more complex. I don’t know Virginia laws, and I am not an attorney, but I can review events and determine if they seemed to have been reasonable. In fact, pepper spraying an attacking individual would be an acceptable method of protection. However, spraying an entire group of bystanders would not be self-defense.
Yet, we are faced with Cantwell’s beliefs: he thinks racism is okay. Not only that, he believes it is fine to act violently towards people you hate or individuals who disagree with you. And he does not think his behavior was wrong.
Do you think Cantwell’s statements are those of a law-abiding citizen?
What is a law-abiding citizen? Is it someone that always follows the laws? What about people who live in an area controlled by terrorists or a despotic dictator?
During WWII, all of the atrocities committed by Nazis were considered legal. Should people have risen up against the Nazi racist euthenics or should they have followed the laws?
We don’t have to like everyone in our country. We don’t have to understand everyone in our country. But as law-abiding citizens, however we define that, we must allow each other the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As citizens of the US and the world, we need to consider these questions and decide what we should do — and what we will do.
— footnotes —
. Matt Stevens “Christopher Cantwell, White Nationalist in Vice Video, Braces for Charges” The New York Times (Aug. 21, 2017) online at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/us/christopher-cantwell-charlottesville.html?mcubz=0 (8/21/17).
. Southern Poverty Law Center “Christopher Cantwell” online at https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/christopher-cantwell (8/21/17).
. Under US law, people have the right to protect themselves, but the statutes are very complicated. As one attorney explained it to me, in most cases, a person cannot use more force than necessary to stop an assault. With the addition of “stand your ground” laws, things have gotten even more complex. I don’t know Virginia laws, and I am not an attorney. Pepper spraying an attacking individual might be an acceptable method of protection; however, spraying an entire group of bystanders would not be self-defense.