Two nights ago, George Floyd protesters tried a new tactic in New York City. Thousands of peaceful demonstrators remained on the streets after the curfew went into effect, and NYC cops arrested about 180 of them. No one resisted. All the detained protestors passively submitted to being hauled off to jail.
Passive resistance is an excellent tool for opposing injustice. Mahatma Gandhi used it and drove the British out of India. Martin Luther King preached the doctrine of nonviolent protest and galvanized the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, and she ultimately saw the end of segregated public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.
But passive resistance only works if there is a baseline of humanity in the hearts of the oppressors. Mahatma Gandhi would have been strangled with piano wire if he had challenged Adolph Hitler. Rosa Parks would have disappeared into the Gulag if she had stood up to Stalin. Martin Luther King would have vanished into a concentration camp if he had opposed the Chinese Communist regime.
Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks displayed great courage--physical courage. The police departments of the South during the 1960s showed themselves to be ruthless, brutal, and lawless. But Southern racists finally bent to the national will for justice and racial equality, which the federal courts enforced.
Passive noncompliance with the New York City curfew is the perfect tactic for protesting the death of George Floyd. Why? Because the New York City Police Department, the courts, and the municipal government are basically liberal and humane institutions.
We should also remember that most people arrested for defying NYC's curfew will not spend much time in jail--if any. And this is a good thing. Locking up peaceful protesters in crowded detention centers cannot be justified given the risk that demonstrators could contract COVID-19 while incarcerated. I wouldn't do that, you wouldn't do that, and Major De Blasio won't do that either.
Violence and looting will dissipate in New York City in the coming days, but the nation's largest metropolis will pay the price for all these nights of civil unrest. The coronavirus may return because thousands of people congregated on the streets with no thought to social distancing. Foreign tourists will decide to cancel their vacations in the Big Apple. A significant number of law-abiding New Yorkers will leave the city for warmer climes, lower taxes, and less social turmoil.
But for now, the spirit of Mahatma Gandi prevails in the City of New York, and the urban protesters who passively defy the city's curfew will win a victory over the police. As we pass through troubled times, let us remember to be thankful for the remarkable fact that Americans can engage in peaceful protest because America has a First Amendment that guarantees our right to free speech.