Muhiyidin d'Baha flag protest

Charleston Black Lives Matter leader Muhiyidin d'Baha, whose legal name is Muhiyidin Elamin Moye, was arrested on Wednesday after attempting to take a Confederate battle flag from an individual during a protest. Deanna Pan/Staff

Six teenagers from North Charleston high school got into a brawl on the bus last week, beating on each other, the driver … and the police.

The scene was pretty out of control. These students – all of them 15 and 16 – were cursing and screaming, kicking and punching. They charged at the officers, ripped off their body cameras and resisted arrest.

Eventually, North Charleston officers got them cuffed without seriously injuring anyone. And soon after that, Black Lives Matter posted a video online purporting to show “North Charleston Police Department in action abusing our children.”

No, they weren’t.

Those officers were doing their jobs.

Just as Charleston officers were doing their jobs Wednesday night when they arrested Muhiyidin Elamin Moye outside the Sottile Theatre.

Moye, a Black Lives Matter organizer who also uses the last name d'Baha, crossed a police line, grabbed a Confederate flag held by a member of the S.C. Secessionist Party and tried to run off with it. This happened during competing protests outside a talk by Bree Newsome, the activist who climbed a Statehouse flagpole and ripped down a Confederate banner in June 2015.

The oft-misunderstood sentiment behind Black Lives Matter is that their lives matter, too, not to the exclusion of anyone else. But that message quickly gets lost in stunts like these.

These protesters need to understand that not every arrest of a black person is a civil rights violation.

And freedom of speech extends to everyone.

The right message

It was good to see old-school civil rights groups rush to the defense of the cops.

James Johnson of the National Action Network and Pastor Thomas Dixon, founder of The Coalition: People United to take Back our Community, praised the police last weekend for a job well done in the school bus incident.

“We're asking the parents and school of these kids to discipline these kids, to discipline them to the fullest,” Johnson said. “I commend those police officers in how they conducted themselves. We want the public to know when our kids or any kids are wrong, we will not support wrong.”

Amen. That’s how you do it. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously needs to acknowledge what’s right, not just what’s wrong. It’s called diplomacy, moderation and putting things in perspective.

The police have a tough enough job without ginning up controversy where none exists.

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In 2015, when out-of-town protesters tried to stir up things after the Walter Scott shooting, Johnson and Dixon were the ones who told them to go home, that we don’t do things that way here. It was a strong message that helped this community a good deal.

These are serious people, fighting good and just causes with important things to say. And we should listen.

But it seems the younger generation isn’t getting the message. Crying wolf and pulling stunts does nothing but hurt their cause.

Old school

The secessionists griped for nearly a week about Newsome’s scheduled talk.

They don’t like what she did to the Confederate flag, and that’s their right.

But it’s her right to speak, and they don’t get to shut her down.

If they had wanted to protest something, it should have been how much the college paid her to speak - $9,000 for honorarium and travel expenses from student activity fees. That was ridiculous.

Ultimately, the secessionists opted for a peaceful protest outside the Sottile. Yes, many in the crowd did not approve of their flag – but hey, that’s free speech.

What Moye did was trample their free speech. Sorry, disagreeing with someone’s message is not a valid reason to shut them up. It works both ways. He wouldn’t like it if the reverse had happened.

As it was, all he did was garner sympathy for the secessionists.

So way to go.

In the 1960s, civil rights leaders routinely got arrested – but for things that mattered. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Ala., for protesting when white officials tried to make protesting illegal.

That was a denial of basic First Amendment rights, and it was important to resist. It certainly stood for something bigger than jerking a flag out of some guy’s hands.

This new generation of activists needs to figure out which fights matter because there is no shortage of injustice today.

Instead of going after headlines and flags, they should listen to - and learn from - their elders.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.