Mob mentality

By David Rogers
By David Rogers

The history of Missouri is replete with demonstrations of the price of lawless mobocracy. In each instance violence and bloodshed were perpetrated in the context of a perceived just cause.

Fast forward to today, and the trouble seems to keep simmering. Students at the University of Missouri have ousted the President and Chancellor on grounds of a perceived just cause, using racism as the platform. There are two ways to look at these incidents. On the surface, liberal thinkers will applaud the students for organizing and remedying a perceived injustice. On the other side of the coin, lives and careers may be ruined with accusations that may actually be groundless in facts. But in an ever more politically correct world, facts seem to matter less than perception. Demonstrations that stretch the fringe of lawful decency garner action and reward.

Ferguson, Missouri riots went on for days, causing untold injury and property damage, under the mantra “hands up, don’t shoot,” mimicking the perceived violence against a supposed victimized black man. But a grand jury convened to hear the facts and found no such evidence to support the demonstrators’ story line. In fact, testimonies supported a much different set of events. But demonstrators rode the wave of emotion, justifying lawlessness and anarchy on the basis of their perceived wrongs. But how much more insidious is such action when the cause is created under false pretenses?

The student protests at University of Missouri smack of a similar specious justification, as the story line may or may not match up with the facts. In researching the history of the issues we find that a flash point occurred when a pickup truck filled with yokels passed by some minority students yelling racial epithets. In another incident a student interrupted a class using the n-word. In a third, someone made a swastika out of feces in a bathroom. Apparently, the President’s response was not swift or satisfactory enough despite public condemnations of the events. No mention is made of the thoroughness of the investigation or the probability of actually catching some of the unknown perpetrators.

Another set of circumstances is missing in the research, a much more troubling omission. I can find nowhere where students used established and appropriate channels of administrative appeal to voice their protests or outline what expectations over and above current policies would be satisfactory. Racism on its face is offensive and even dangerous at times. But can a university president be responsible for or control private individual perceptions and attitudes?

What did occur was a protest at a school homecoming parade by a group of minority students called Concerned Students 1950. The students blocked the parade and chanted and made speeches for about 15 minutes complaining that they only got e-mails and empty promises from the president.

One must ask realistically: What can the president or administration do beyond their legal powers? They publicly condemned racist actions, launched investigations and recognized the injustices to offended students, but apparently not with enough zeal. President Wolfe met with students, attempted to discuss the issues and find solutions, but the mob found no satisfaction.

Last week a student went on a hunger strike against the president, and this week the football team boycotted any further practice or play until President Wolfe was removed. Yesterday the president resigned, citing that he felt it was the correct thing to do under the circumstances. But was it?

This series of events sets a dangerous precedent. If lives can be ruined and power toppled by the perception of offense without any organized due process, we as a nation have a big problem. If President Wolfe was accused, judged, and convicted in a court of public opinion in the absence of any real facts that he had violated any law other than a sense of timing, then lawlessness and disorder take the upper hand. If anyone can be made a victim of political correctness just on perception, and race is the holy grail of correctness these days, then anyone can become the devastated subject of a witch hunt.

The problem with this entire scenario is that at no time did President Wolfe not sympathize with or rally to the cause of the offended. At no point did he actually exhibit anything remotely resembling racism himself. He was condemned without due process, judged by the mass hysteria of emotion, sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. And is it not coincidental that after his resignation, news channels aired footage of students making speeches with such language as “this is just the beginning of our fight over the white patriarchal oppressors.” Who exactly was the oppressor? Seems the bigoted idiots in the pickup truck are still at large. The guy looking for them has been ousted. Same old race-baiting, guilty by association dialog we have heard for years. Where is the fairness on both sides of this debate?

The specter of racism still exists in America, but it is fading. The current political climate is allowing the politics of divisiveness to emphasize and foment race issues wherever they can still be found. Missouri has become the latest hotbed of protest over perceived injustices. But in the case of the University of Missouri, just as in Ferguson, actual perceived injustices seem to be twisted or blown way out of proportion in relation to the facts. Thus student responses are more troubling than they are admirable.

While the students at the University of Missouri did not institute violence or destroy local property, the basic underlying premise is similar. The football players violated their commitment and privilege to play football until change happened. While justification of their actions remained in question, the mob-like disruption became real. So the establishment gave in, and the underpinnings of organized society suffered another blow. What we all should try to understand is that such protest can only be justified when all practical and lawful avenues have failed. And even then, one who steps outside the boundaries of ethical commitment or the law itself had better have a very plausible reason. The alternative is usually harmful and flirts with anarchy. In this case the facts do not seem to support the emotional temperature of the actions. That certainly would not be a first for Missouri.


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