Op-ed: Some protesters are just narcissistic fools out to destroy for the sake of destruction

On a recent Thursday night, I waited for 30 minutes in downtown Oakland for a bus that never came.  The nightly round of protesters had blocked off portions of Broadway near Jack London Square, disrupting car traffic and public transit bus traffic. Rather than hop on a bus that drops me off a block from my home in Berkeley, I had to take a BART train to downtown Berkeley, walk a few blocks to a bus stop, and then walk half a mile home from where the alternate bus dropped me off.  So the expected 25 minute rush-hour commute turned into a couple of hours. One friend was stuck in the tunnel that runs between Alameda and Oakland through the estuary, and missed a meeting.

Around 6 p.m., I observed a crowd of mostly white people converge to stop traffic at the corner of 14th & Broadway in Oakland.  A “leader” was leading chants through a bullhorn about how “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” I managed to yell over the bullhorn and crowd, “THE BLACK LIVES WAITING FOR THE BUS AND STUCK IN TRAFFIC MATTER TOO YOU BIG PHONIES!”  In response, the “leader” walked toward me and blared the bullhorn right in my face! It became very close to a violent engagement.

So let’s look at some of the collateral costs of these expressions. A woman went into labor on a freeway, but was fortunate to get to a hospital in time to safely birth her baby. A man living on Kiitredge Street died because medical responders could not reach him in time, because of interference from demonstrators.

Does anybody get the irony that the Republican Party and the anarchist movement have the exact same goals – that is to end government as we know it? The most extreme Republicans want to do away with all regulation, legislation, and most important social services. Highway and air traffic safety be damned. They’ve shown a willingness to shut down the government, rather than allow legislation that would solve some problems, and stated that defeating the President is more important than the health of the nation.

In some ways, the GOP has been arguing for an anarchist agenda since Reagan.

The most recent expressions of the anarchist movement have manifested in ugly destruction of the property and bodies of people who are otherwise sympathetic to the cause of calling out police and government abuses. Oakland and Berkeley have seen some very ugly incidents in recent nights, including good citizens being brutally assaulted, for trying to stop looting.

It’s interesting to me that some demonstrators and reporters consider stopping a freeway to be “non-violent participation.” Last time I checked, interfering with federal transportation arteries was a crime – that includes interstate highways and railroads.

Somebody please explain to me how disrupting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people contributes anything positive to the dialogue? And these thousands of people are also sympathetic to the cause. I wonder how many children, dogs, cats and fish had to wait for their dinner because their parent or person was trapped on a freeway with no place to go? How many people were already on their last warning at work and were stuck in the freeway mess?

By now it’s obvious that any good cause for demos and protests is going to draw a perverse element of the so-called anarchist movement. Characteristically, there are so many schools and sub-genres of anarchist thought, that they have heated arguments about who’s right. I’ve overheard them in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, going way back. Some advocate collectivism; others advocate individualism – naturally those folks aren’t going to see eye-to-eye. Some advocate violence; others advocate peaceful expressions.


Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were two of America’s most notorious anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They tried to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, who was a real bad guy for instigating the Homestead Steelworks Massacre in 1892, among other crimes. Today’s anarchists are victimizing people and businesses that are already being victimized by the system. I’d wager most of them never heard of Emma Goldman.

Most of the people protesting police brutality don’t give a shit about Brown and Garner or the issues at hand, but look for any excuse to execute their narcissistic expressions of destruction. Let’s face it: anywhere in the world, if riot police give a dispersal order and you hang around; you’re fair game! If you interfere with an interstate highway or a railroad track, that’s a federal crime.

Eric Brown and Michael Garner are martyrs. But the people who try to make martyrs of themselves by taunting and confronting the cops are just plain stupid and deserve no honor.  They draw attention away from the true martyrs to the cause, to be opportunistic about bringing attention to themselves.  Isn’t that one of the traits of narcissism?

The oft-repeated, and nefarious demand is that, “We will disrupt transportation and commerce until people are free.” What is the threshold of “when people are free?” And what meets the demands of other vague slogans? I agree police abuses need to be called out and punished. Full disclosure is that I have a complaint pending against the Berkeley cops right now for a low-level thing. It doesn’t involve a baton meeting my shins or head, so no attorney would take an interest.

What I see is people using this as a pretext for narcissistic destruction and brutalizing good citizens. Did you read about the guys who got beat up trying to put out fires and protect businesses? Let’s face it; if riot cops say to disperse and you hang around bad things are going to happen. As I read it, the mindset of many demonstrators seems to be: “Brown and Garner were brutalized by the police; now let’s do something to get our local cops mad so they’ll hit us and illustrate how bad they are. Then we’ll raise more hell tomorrow night.”

For four straight nights, I altered my evening plans to avoid demos escalating into riots. In the early 70s one of my co-workers who got hurt at demos in the 60s told me, “A true radical is someone who has been in ONE riot.  If you’ve been in more than one, you’re crazy.” I’ve obeyed orders to disperse from riot police in Ann Arbor (Anti-Klan Demo), Nashville (Anti-Apartheid), Memphis (Fire & Police Strike with order given by National Guard), and Pittsburgh (outdoor concert that got out of hand).  Since it was the 70s I know I’m forgetting something.

I’ve also endured a few instances of police excesses in my time. I also have friends who are, and have been, cops, and one of my lifelong friends died by his own service revolver. Some say he wasn’t a good cop. Bad cops often self-destruct, but not before doing a lot of damage to others. Hence the central issue at hand.

It’s time for everyone to catch our breath and take a look at all these issues. That means a moratorium on demos for now. Even ardent supporters are feeling demo fatigue. The point has been made, and now good citizens are being abused and inconvenienced by superfluous and counterproductive demonstrations, which keep police officers from dealing with problems hurting real black lives. Yes, black lives matter; including the one who died waiting for medical services.

The media should do less to dignify these narcissistic fools who are out to destroy for the sake of destruction. Brown and Garner are martyrs; the people breaking windows and baiting the police into confrontations are not.

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H. Scott Prosterman is a Berkeley resident and veteran of many progressive causes, including marching with the Memphis Sanitation Workers before MLK was killed there in 1968. He is a professional editor in the Bay Area and served as an organizer for several organizations and causes in Ann Arbor.