15 October 2005

The Toledo Riots

There was a riot in Toledo today. A few dozen members of the American Nazi party marched through a predominantly black neighborhood, and the residents struck back at the police charged with defending them. Sixty-five people were arrested, tear gas appears to have been used (based on the TV footage I saw), and a curfew has been imposed.

Locals were outraged that the mayor had permitted the Nazis to march, but he had little choice. The rules governing such requests were set in an almost identical case, where Nazis sought to march through a Jewish neighborhood home to thousands of German concentration camp survivors in Skokie, Illinois. Collin v. Smith, 447 F.Supp. 676, aff'd 578 F.2d. 1197 (7th Cir. 1978), cert. den., 439 U.S. 916 (1978). Citations to legal authority have a tendency not to make angry crowds any happier, however.

Riots that vent the rage of black neighborhoods at police actions are nothing new. Cincinnati's Over The Rhine neighborhood has seen several in response to unchecked brutality by the police there, and ultimately, this was what was behind the famous L.A. riots, as well. But, here, the initial cause of the riots, at least, was police defending people whom most clearly (and not without good reason) feel are the bad guys who set out deliberately to inflame the neighborhood, although one suspects that police mishandling of neighborhood discontent probably contributed to the problem as well.

Collin v. Smith was ultimately a case about rule of law. It says that speech, no matter how offensive, does not suspend the duty of individuals, and the communities that speak for them, to tolerate these people non-violently and without government coercion. But, in neighborhoods where an inability of government to impose it to stop crime, rule of law is a sometimes thing, and the choices government makes about when to enforce the rule of law, and when to let mayhem slide, can seem riddled with racial bias.

Indeed, in light of the principle most recently made clear in a U.S. Supreme Court case of out Castle Rock, Colorado, holding that the government has no duty to protect people or provide them with security, even when a temporary restraining order appears to impose such a duty and the police are on notice of the danger, the Mayor could have told Nazi marchers that no police protection would be provided because the city had higher priorities in deploying limited police resources, and the District Attorney could have simply decided that he "didn't have the resources to prioritize some cases in which it would be very difficult to obtain prosecutions", when Nazi marchers were assaulted. Such a reaction would have been in bad faith, indeed, despicable, but would probably have resulted in no liability to the city if done subtly, and could have resulted in bloodshed or deaths if the Nazis turned out to be packing heat and used it to defend themselves.

Is there middle ground? It isn't easy to find it. But, perhaps a little leniency towards the rioters, who were understandably inflamed by the situation, might be in order.

1 comment:

Sotosoroto said...

Even in hatred, argue with words and not violence. Lock up the rioters.