It’s getting to the point I don’t want to turn the news on. Where have protests and rioting broken out today? A contentious spirit is sweeping through our country, and it shows no signs of easing up. What started out as perhaps a legitimate peaceful protest quickly morphed into something else—angry people looking for a fight quickly jumped on the bandwagon and instigated unrest in their own cities.
A majority of the people in these riots and “protests” have no idea why they’re there, but it’s a chance to break the rules, have some fun wreaking havoc, and “blow off steam” about whatever it is they’re mad about that day.
Unfortunately, such behavior is nothing new. Let’s go back to September 14, 1910. On that day in Pittsburgh, a crowd of young people were angry and took to the streets to protest the fact that people were wearing straw hats in late September.
You’re probably as surprised as I am. Everyone knows you only wear a straw hat between May 15 and September 15.
It’s a petty part of our human nature, but people always seem to be looking for something to be mad about. Young people in 1910 got their dander up about men wearing straw hats after September 15. Wthout social media and memes to tell the world, “I’M MAD AS HECK, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE,” word spread. Smashing straw hats became the thing to do before there were Tide Pods to eat.
This week marks the 98th anniversary of when this trend really got out of hand. On September 13, 1922—two days before the official close of straw hat season—teenagers in New York City were eager for an early start to hat-smashing season. These hat-hating teenagers began destroying the hats of factory workers. They moved to the docks to do the same thing, but the dock workers fought back. Things got really out of hand when the youth made weapons out of nail-studded boards.
Even though the police were called in, the rioting continued for two more days. Those who didn’t surrender their $1.49 hats were attacked and beaten. Not surprisingly, people began to resist and fight back.
A local judge made a ruling that there were now no restrictions on when a man could wear a straw hat. The teenagers ignored the judge; after all, what does a guy in a black robe know about good fashion?
Why did the riots stop? I’d like to think the police quelled the riots, but the truth is it was now September 15, and the good citizens of New York simply abided by the rules of fashion and put their straw hats away until next May.
I ran across the Straw Hat Riots last October and because they began September 13, I tucked it away to share with you this week. Then 2020 turned into the year of the protest. At first, this event from 1922 seems so small—so silly—compared to the violent protests happening right now. But then again …
I’m not comparing the protest of the death of a black man to the subjective opinion on when you can—or can’t—wear a straw hat. Just note it doesn’t take much for people to get angry. It doesn’t take much to get a mob going and stirred up. It doesn’t take much to turn a mob into a violent mob. I venture that the majority of those rioting teenagers in 1922 couldn’t care less about straw hats or fashion fax paus. They just joined in the fun of smashing hats … which gradually turned into smashing people.
The violent protests of 2020 no longer have anything to do with the unfortunate death of George Floyd … or the death of Breonna Taylor … or the injuries to Jacob Blake. Their deaths were simply the flags people waved as they let the baser part of themselves take control to riot, destroy, wound, and kill. Violence has never brought about justice. If you want to see justice done, do something productive: talk, call for action, work for justice, and yes, protest peacefully. But the rioting we’ve watched each night on our TVs is the 2020 version of smashing straw hats. It’s violent, destructive, and may make you feel good, but in the end, you’ve accomplished nothing.
One Black Panther said in the 1960s, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” I’ll go one step further: violence is human. It’s not right, but it is human. Violence and hatred come from the darkness—the sin—that lies within every human heart. Most of us may “control” it to a degree—like only resorting to angry yelling at other cars—but we are evil, rebellious sinners at heart.
“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12)
And only Christ can change that.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
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