The United States has seen its share of confrontations between police and crowds of protestors. We sit, shocked, in front of our phones or TVs or however we consume news, and sometimes marvel that more people weren’t killed in these acts of violence such as the Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021. And we make choices about which side is right and which is wrong based on a completely subjective metric that is usually influenced by the very media that tells us the story in the first place.
One particular confrontation still rankles many today. And you know the two sides—the protestors marching against unpopular government action verses the miliary called out to keep the peace and protect the general populace from the possibility of violence from the marchers. In this particular case, five Americans died and eight were severely injured when the government opened fire on the protestors.
The military’s side of that story was told at the trial of the men who fired on the crowd. To hear the soldiers tell it, the mob had hit them with clubs and threw rocks and other projectiles at them. The young troops felt endangered by the attacks.
As you can imagine, the actions of the troops in the taking of lives and severely wounding others in this confrontation led to calls that the military be disbanded and defunded. After all, doesn’t every American have the right to protest?
There is definitely such a thing as mob mentality. Ordinarily sane people will often act completely counter to their personalities when surrounded by other angry people. There is something both empowering and emboldening about being in a crowd. Perhaps you have been in a sports crowd and booed mightily at some play or some referee’s poor call—an action that you would never normally do on your own. Magnify that by several exponents, and you have the idea of what mob mentality can do to a normally placid person. So, while the accusations that the crowd pelted the soldiers with objects was generally agreed to have happened, the people in the crowd said they were only responding to a threat they felt from the soldiers and that they, not the soldiers, were acting in self-defense.
The crowd was made up of people from all walks of life, albeit mostly male, but also from all social and economic groups as well. So, it was not that only certain members of the crowd felt threatened while others did not. If anything, almost all members of the crowd argued, seeing the troops called out only made things worse, not better. No one felt safer having a group of soldiers with guns being pointed at them.
In response, the attorney for the soldiers caused a public outcry when he claimed that the mob was made up of foreigners and added that the word “mob” was too respectable for this rabble who attacked the brave soldiers who, after all, were only doing their duty against these foreign undesirables.
Perhaps it was this not-so-subtle appeal to the jingoists in the jury that caused them to acquit most of the solders and find only two of them guilty of manslaughter. When the jury verdict was announced, that’s when the media increased the churning out of its anti-government propaganda that, in turn, stirred even more people to get out into the streets and protest. The newspapers, especially, exaggerated the violence of the soldiers and minimized the actions of the crowd. They falsely labelled what the soldiers did a massacre.
The Boston Massacre, in fact.