Reflections on the Charlottesville Riots: Using History to Better Understand Civil Unrest and Emergency Management
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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
During the summer, the nation heard about a shocking event in Charlottesville, Virginia: a Ku Klux Klan rally that turned violent. The United States hasn't seen racism quite like this in the last few decades and it left many Americans wondering what exactly is happening in our society.
This type of event is certainly concerning for emergency management. That concern stems from the notion that emergency managers and personnel would effectively need to control an unruly crowd, manage a mass casualty situation, and avoid infringing on the civil liberties of individuals as stated in the United States Constitution. The Charlottesville situation touched on a variety of different management and policy considerations.
The questions remain: What does this mean for society if such a rally took place again? What does it mean for future events, especially when emergency management in the United States is handled with an All-Hazards Approach?
Some studies have shown a decline in the middle class, and social scientists tend to see a correlation between a declining middle class and civil unrest. Emergency managers need to look at history to better understand where the hot spots may be within their own communities.
The French Revolution: The Classic Example of Civil Unrest that Became a War
Some political scientists argue that a loss of the middle class can trigger civil unrest in a society. Numerous political scientists and historians say that a good example of civil unrest is 19th-century France, when the middle class disappeared and there was a large gap between the poor and the wealthy. Civil unrest began to stir and escalated into the French Revolution. These forms of civil unrest have happened repeatedly throughout history, marking community unrest and causing future concerns about safety.
Is Charlottesville Symptomatic of Future Problems?
The situation in Charlottesville is beyond concerning. It not only represents a rather disturbing trend in our country's history surrounding racism, but also signifies some of the problems that arise from troubling economic times. One article published by the New York Times highlights a "contracted middle class" in the United States, while the Pew Research Center published a similar study with research detailing a shrinking middle class. Accordingly, the problems that inspired Charlottesville could be symptomatic of the shrinking middle class to which numerous articles and research studies allude.
Civil Unrest and Emergency Management
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States adopted the All-Hazards Approach to streamline how emergency professionals manage emergencies. This concept has worked extremely well.
Where civil unrest is concerned, theoretically speaking, emergency management professionals will be able to handle surges of violence because of the overall policies associated with the All-Hazards Approach. However, emergency managers can gain insight into better management of these situations from closely studying how Charlottesville was handled by authorities and looking for other signs of civil unrest in their own communities.
The Connection between Prevention and Collaborative Leadership
Working to prevent these events before they start is also an important consideration for emergency management and falls into one of the general emergency management phases. Collaborative leadership between emergency agencies (i.e. police, fire, emergency medical services and emergency management offices) will be particularly helpful in preventing or planning for these types of events.
Emergency managers must plan for future violent events similar to Charlottesville. Because of the increased pressure on the middle class in the United States, it is likely that other events will occur in the future. To mitigate injuries and prevent fatalities, emergency managers will need to make effective preparations, while also collaborating with other agencies to prevent these events from occurring.
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