Criminals are not protesters

I am not certain what happened in the Staten Island incident that resulted in the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police officers, or in the Ferguson, Mo., incident that ended in a police officer shooting and killing Michael Brown. Even eyewitness accounts of the two fatal events are confusing, at best, and it is almost certain no one will ever know exactly what happened in either case.

Both events ended in tragedy for the families of Mr. Garner and Mr. Brown. They suffered a loss that will never be replaced through any grand jury hearing, court case or financial settlement. They lost a person they loved and a person who was a piece of them. That loss can never be replaced and I cannot imagine the pain with which they deal each day. The police officers involved have also had their lives irrevocably changed, and will live each day for the rest of their lives knowing they were involved in the death of another human being. This is also a heavy burden that cannot be minimalized.

The details of both cases were investigated by grand juries. Their findings were announced and almost instantaneously, protests were begun by those not in agreement with the decisions. One of the rights we enjoy as Americans is to be able to protest against things with which we do not agree. America was founded on an act of protest in Boston Harbor. The civil disobedience of Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers resulted in the success of the Civil Rights movement. Professional sports were changed forever when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson were able to join forces to defeat the status quo in baseball. In fact, protest is often an important catalyst for positive growth and change.

In the Staten Island and Ferguson cases, some feel that justice was not served. Some feel that someone needs to be held accountable. Some feel racial profiling is in play. Some feel police protocols need to be changed, and there are other Americans across the nation with myriad feelings about what happened and what needs to be changed so that it does not happen in the future. Some of these people are making their feelings known by taking action. They are called protesters. I respect their actions and am grateful the laws of our nation allow them to protest the actions of government officials with an eye toward making positive change for all.

There are also some who are masquerading as protesters. While I champion the actions of the former, I look with disdain upon the actions of the latter. In addition to the meaningful protests in light of the matters outlined above, there have been a number of individuals who used these events as an excuse to go on a crime spree. Arson, looting, robbery and violence against people and property do not constitute protest; they constitute crime. Those who perpetrate this type of behavior need to be treated like any other criminal by being arrested and brought to justice. They are not motivated by the desire to improve the human situation. They are no better than street thugs looking for an excuse to be violent toward people and to damage property, leaving devastation in their wake.

Unfortunately, they do what they do in the name of protest, which defiles the actions of the true protesters who are committed to bringing about meaningful dialogue that will result in needed change.

We need to be sure not to judge the actions of the protesters by the actions of the criminals and vice versa. They are truly on opposite ends of a very complicated and delicate spectrum.

John Metallo, a retired teacher and administrator, resides in Slingerlands, Albany County.