When it comes to civil disobedience in this country, there’s nothing new under the sun. Law and order are both a prerequisite to peaceful protest and a requirement for addressing legitimate grievances.

President Trump clearly understands this.

As he said while announcing the availability of federal resources to stop rioters and looters, protect protesters expressing their anger at George Floyd’s death, and end the chaos in America’s cities, the president said, “America is founded upon the rule of law. It is the foundation of our prosperity, our freedom, and our very way of life. But where there is no law, there is no opportunity. Where there is no justice, there is no liberty. Where there is no safety, there is no future.”

That position is not in conflict with the right to protest and the First Amendment — as some have repeatedly asserted — but rather represents the ultimate defense of that fundamental American freedom.

I know this all too well. I was there in 1960, sitting in at a Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro in a peaceful protest movement that would — in the space of only about five years — see the entire system of segregation dismantled. What did not help that movement was rioting and looting by people more intent on violence than justice.

Then, as now, most of the violence was perpetrated by white “radicals” more interested in living out their revolutionary fantasies than actually helping black people. Back in the 1960s, the actual bravery and personal sacrifice of white people who risked arrest or even murder at the hands of violent racists to register black voters and break down the machinery of segregation was sullied by spoiled groups of white student revolutionaries. Group such as the “Weather Underground” used the legitimate struggle for black civil rights to justify planting bombs and murdering police officers.

In the 1960s, as now, timid local mayors and prosecutors gave these violent infiltrators the benefit of associating them with peaceful demonstrators and refused to hold them accountable for their actions. That never helps the cause that is being exploited. America is united in its outrage over Floyd’s killing. President Trump has commanded his Justice Department to make a federal investigation a top priority and reaffirmed that “equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, color, gender, creed.”

That is our goal. It is the goal of peaceful protesters everywhere. It is the goal of the president, who stands with them. It is only a threat to those who make peaceful protest impossible in order to live out violent fantasies.

Those who stand up for law enforcement and peace in our communities — including President Trump — stand firmly on the side of protest. Those who want to “defund the police” while criminals burn and loot disproportionately black communities with impunity stand on the other side. I have given too much to the struggle of the peaceful side to tolerate sympathy for lawless anarchists who are once again undermining the message of justice and equality.

N.C. A&T alumnus Clarence Henderson is a civil rights activist and recipient of the 40th Anniversary Sit-In Participant Award. He also serves a member of the Black Voices for Trump coalition advisory board.

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