Darrell Berkheimer: Enforced rules can limit rioting at protests | TheUnion.com
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Darrell Berkheimer: Enforced rules can limit rioting at protests

I have difficulties understanding why communities cannot do a better job of handling protests and marches. After all, it’s not as if we’re dealing with something brand new.

We have seen sit-ins, marches and protests of all sorts throughout our nation’s history. So you would think that we should have well-developed procedures for minimizing their unwanted results.

We know in advance that protests often bring counter-actions and are used as excuses and cover for vandalism, looting and violence. But I think our cities have allowed much more of that than necessary.



Protests need guidelines and rules just like any other mass gatherings — and even more so. But those guidelines and rules must be written into local ordinances and laws.

The tools are there to keep such events from becoming widespread — but those tools must be used.

Initially, a permit should be required for all protests — and counter protests — of any kind. Most protests are pre-planned, and cities have a right to expect some advance notice. Not just the city’s officials, but citizens and businesses in the community also have a right to expect some advance notice. The news media — both print and broadcast — almost always are more than agreeable to provide that.



But cities should make it relatively easy to acquire such permits — at little or no cost.

OK, so that sounds all too idealistic. But cities do have the power to enforce such legislation.

Of course, there will be some spur-of-the-moment protests. That’s to be expected.

But cities have the right to legislate some form of punishment for failing to obtain a permit and give advance notice. Most likely a scale of fines would be appropriate for the instigators and initiators of such protests — with bigger fines for repeat offenders.

And the same legislation should make protests after nightfall illegal — with stiff penalties.

From experience we know that the vast amount — probably 80% to 90% — of the vandalism, looting, arson and violence occurs after dark. I believe it’s obvious to everyone that the bad actors and criminals responsible for such destruction think they have a better chance of not being caught at night.

Just think about the various rioting and violence scenes you’ve watched on television. Weren’t the vast majority of them at nighttime?

I know some folks will accuse me of more idealism, because we know that protestors don’t always follow the rules, and some will plan for or continue protests into the night. But again, the cities have the power to end that problem, too. That’s when cities can, and should, invoke curfew laws.

Curfews are bothersome; they curtail our freedom and hurt businesses. But they work!

And isn’t the nuisance of a curfew worth the saving of damages and other losses to businesses, and maybe the loss of one or more lives?

I know curfews work because I experienced when they were necessary in my hometown during the rioting of the 1960s. Rioting had erupted on two different occasions back then. And both required curfews to end them.

I was night editor for the afternoon newspaper. My job was to process the community news sent in that day by our stringers and correspondents located in the smaller towns throughout the county, plus some of the nighttime newswire articles.

The late-working sports writers and the members of our small night shift were required to phone the police department just before we left work, and to report our route home.

The curfews were quite effective at putting an end to the rioting and associated criminal activity. They restored order by forcing contentious parties to discuss grievances, because all wanted an end to the curfew.

And because protests, by their nature, often involve vehement and nasty disagreement over the issues involved; I find it hard to understand why cities and police departments would allow people displaying firearms to attend a protest.

Allowing non-law enforcement people with firearms at a protest appears to be the epitome of stupidity. Isn’t that opening the door for potential bloodshed?

In legislating the rules and procedures for protests, all cities should ban the appearance of firearms at protests. Any persons who appear at a protest with firearms should know that they will be expected to surrender their firearms to police, and that they can then retrieve those firearms the next day.

Police, of course, must be prepared to enforce such legislation.

It also was noted in a TV report that 93% of all protests are peaceful.

That report was provided by a “talking head” identified as a university professor who has been studying protests for years. Unfortunately, I failed to get his name and title. But that percentage sounded plausible to me – only a slight bit high at most.

Regarding the recent protest here at Nevada City, apparently it began peaceful enough as numerous women and young children were participants. But as I watched the videos broadcast after that event, I failed to observe any women or young children among the counter-protesters.

With only men and older boys in that group, doesn’t that hint that they came prepared to provoke trouble?

And that’s a hint that should have been obvious to Nevada City police, who failed to act appropriately.

If our cities don’t approach the handling of protests with common sense actions and legislation specifying rules and procedures — for both protesters and police — we can expect to see considerably more vandalism, looting, arson, violence and bloodshed.

The tools are there to keep such events from becoming widespread — but those tools must be used.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has seven books available through Amazon. His sixth, Essays from The Golden Throne, includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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