First and foremost, McGowan makes interesting points in his column and I commend it to readers to consider. He first and foremost objects to the university’s criticism of the destruction as “mobe rule.” McGowan insists that the mob that formed around the 105 year old statute was the “antithesis of mob rule” and the destruction was “obviously well-planned and carried out with care.” McGowen seems to believe that so long as the mob acts with “targeted precision” rather than wanton destruction, it is a “principled and disciplined collective act of civil disobedience.”He states “civil disobedience entails breaking the law. It does so when the established modes of redress for a wrong have proved unavailing, and it does so in the name of a good that it claims the law is flouting.” It is certainly true that civil disobedience often involves breaking laws like parading without a permit or refusal to disperse. However, there is a difference between violent acts and intentional property destruction and the type of non-violent civil disobedience embodied in Martin Luther King.
McGown position is heavily laden with subjectivity and relativity in the definition of moral action. Because he agrees with the mob, he simply declares the mob had no other choice but to turn to criminal acts. He insists that, because society did not simply cave to such demands, “established modes of redress for a wrong have proved unavailing.” Would the same justification apply for a white supremacist group tearing down a statue of Martin Luther King — arguing that “established modes of redress . . . prove unavailing.” The answer is obviously no because McGown can pick and chose between mobs and declare one wrong and the other right.McGown does compliment the police in saying that “the police (like the crowd itself) showed admirable restraint. Obviously, a decision was made that the welfare of a statue was not worth harming a single, real living human being.” I am not sure about the restraint of the mob since they destroyed the monument but again McGown seems to credit them with not going wilding through the city in a rampage of destruction. I was more critical of police in standing by as the statue to toppled. McGown does criticize the police as perhaps too caught up in the crime that the mob was committing and missing “the moral point the protesters are making.” So police, according to McGown, should decided which crimes to prevent based on whether they agree with the criminals or their motivations?
McGown appears to suggest the same approach taken earlier by Durham District Attorney Roger Echols who caved to the pressure in dropping all charges against protesters who destroyed an earlier statue. McGown writes “If it comes to actual prosecutions, the question of deciding what side you are on, and what are the ultimate values that you want the law to embody.” I chose the side of neutral and equally applied law rather than distinguishing between popular crimes and unpopular crimes.
McGown’s implied position easily devolves into highly biased, outcome-determinative logic. It is mob rule dressed up as moral imperatives.