Riots and Protest

By Stephanie Stanavich

Today the news, social media and streets seem to be filled with violence. They’re filled with individuals voicing strong opinions and sometimes leading in riots or protests. Is there a difference between rioting or protesting? Are they effective or only causing more harm?

Shawn Varso is the chief for Youngstown State Police. He feels there is a distinct difference between rioting and protesting.

“Peaceful protests are a part of our democracy, which allows individuals to voice their issues,” Varso said. “Rioting is destructive and takes away the focus from the issues at hand.”

Varso explained that there are challenges every officer has to face and deal with in the line of duty, including riots and peaceful protests.

“Our department will accommodate anyone seeking to peacefully express their first amendment rights on campus,” Varso said. “However, if individuals wish to cause harm through violence and destruction of property, we do have an operational plan.”

Keith Lepak is the coordinator for peace and conflict studies on YSU’s campus. Lepak’s courses focus on international government and international relations.

Lepak said that the media gives audiences the wrong idea about rioting and protesting, which is often misleading.

“Such images either tend to present what many see as the worst of police behavior or confusion,” Lepak said. “Black Lives Matter is a necessary movement, but it is not covered well by many media outlets.”

Khaled Abu-Ghannam, a recent YSU graduate of the Criminal Justice program, said that he thinks that the media has a large impact in how riots and protests are portrayed.

“I feel the media plays a big role in the police vs. Black Lives Matter splurge. I am not saying the media is purposely doing this. I know everyone has a job to do and rules and regulations to abide by, but the media being there constantly is making it worse than bringing peace,” Abu-Ghannam said. “In a perfect world we would all agree, all the time.”

Lepak explains that peace requires great effort, and people should be more aware of ways to make an affective change instead of violent rioting or protesting.

Some suggestions Lepak has for students wanting to make a change is to become good writers, establish a blog, run a podcast and get to know people in your community who make decisions.

“When making statements, students should be calm, cool and collected, and have made the effort to think carefully about what it is they want to present,” Lepak said.