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Inquirer Op-ed by Professor Tabatha Abu El-Haj Ties Ferguson Unrest to ‘Venerable’ American Traditions

August 28, 2014

Protests that followed the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo. are in line with the nation’s hallowed political traditions, along with the Boston Tea Party and the Occupy movement, Professor Tabatha Abu El-Haj said in an op-ed published by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 28.

Public protest allows citizens to engage directly and personally in the political process, Abu El-Haj wrote, contrasting it with the limited experience of going to the voting booth. 

“Most importantly, disruption is frequently central to the efficacy of public protest,” she wrote. “The ability to bring a city to a standstill is the ability to make elected officials take notice.”

The shooting death of Michael Brown sparked weeks of protest that led to looting in the St Louis suburb and put an international spotlight on the militarization of police forces in U.S. cities.   

While rioting may not be permissible, “there is an inherent and productive tension between peaceable and unlawful assembly,” Abu El-Haj wrote, adding that “the founders singled public assembly out for explicit constitutional protection.” 

Abu El-Haj is an authority on the right of peaceful assembly whose scholarship has appeared in publications including the UCLA Law Review and the New York University Law Review.