There was some kerfuffle this morning again at Great Siege Square. Around 8am my wife and a friend went to put some flowers and candles at the memorial. As they do. I sat down to watch their bags at the cafe’ across the street.

Within about 2 minutes some 5 people came from different directions to shout at them, rip away the notes and pictures they were leaving and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Not that they needed any saving but I felt a bit of a coward sitting with my coffee at a safe distance so I crossed the street to stay with them. I recognised one of the squealers from an earlier episode and he was looking busy speaking to “someone important” on the phone. I suggested he called the police and he proceeded to shout all sorts of abuse.

I’m about a foot taller than he is and he barely weighs half as much as I do so I don’t think I ever was really in danger. But in the midst of the misguided patriotism, his confusion about what he believes to be the law, his uninformed slander and the prolific abuse there were rather explicit threats of violence before he was dragged away by some friends of his that I suspect started to think he might be tempted to live up to some of his bluster.

I was actually in Valletta on the way to some other engagement so I suspect there wasn’t much left of our protest soon after the noise died down. Between us activists there was some discussion about whether this incident and others like it should be reported to the police and I think it might be interesting to share here the considerations that go into a decision like that.

Perhaps we can get some refreshing insight from your comments below.

The first consideration I would make is that having to face small mobs shouting abuse and mouthing threats is in and of itself not normal. It shouldn’t be normal and it shouldn’t be acceptable. If you think about it, it should be seriously odd for anyone to cross the street to shout at someone else because they are placing flowers and candles somewhere, anywhere, for whatever reason they might want to do that. However ridiculous they might find that reason to be.

Even if people are putting a flower and a candle with a picture of a cat, or even a chameleon, you might think their behaviour is odd and disproportionate. But in a civilised context you still would not cross the road to shout abuse at them, threaten to physically hurt them and throw the stuff they put up in the bin in front of their eyes.

Second consideration: physical violence is no longer merely an unlikely theoretical possibility. It has happened already. My wife was at the wrong end of physical blows from a man and a woman. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s father was also physically assaulted in a separate incident. It is clear that these bullies will shout abuse at anyone, but a target they would not expect to be capable of hitting back — a waif like my wife or an elderly man — some of them are prepared to hit and hurt. Therefore however immune to physical harm I may have confidently felt this morning, the potential of violence can and is converted if an opportunity is perceived.

Third consideration: we have no intention of stopping. The protest will go on for as long as we feel the protest is justified and we are going to let no bully take a decision for us on when we should be stupping. If that’s the case and if it’s clear — as indeed it is — that the abusers and the bullies will continue to escalate their threats and their heat and their violence, then it is also clear that at some point someone is going to get hurt.

Now let us be clear. Knowing that someone is likely to get hurt is no reason to stop the protest. It’s a reason for those who are seeking to suppress it to stop doing so. Because this takes me to the fourth consideration; and you will notice how these things tend to get complicated when you try to think them through.

You see this is not some feud where people quarrel interminably and neither side remembers anymore what started this. That schoolyard logic is how things tend to be explained away in this sick culture of ours. The authorities are too biased or too lazy to take a decision on the basis of right or wrong. They fit ‘both sides’ in boxes of mutual annoyance and reciprocal provocation and by pronouncing both guilty, the responsibilities of each cancel the other sides’ out and nobody is guilty.

This is maddening because it is wrong and unjust. Putting flowers and candles in the form of a protest is a right even Owen Bonnici reluctantly acknowledges. He says that the right of the protest to occur undisturbed is not disputed as — he wrongly continues to argue — should be his duty to remove everything when protesters have left. So let’s just stick to the first half of that argument with which we should be agreeing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in getting on your knees in Great Siege Square to light a candle putting up a protest message and laying down some flowers. Not only there is nothing wrong in that. It is an affirmative action, positively protected by constitutional rights. It is not just that a protest is something that must be tolerated. The government is actually in duty bound to encourage it to nurture democratic life in the country. A protest is positively desirable in a democracy.

Then surely that must mean that disrupting protected action, using violence, oral or physical or of any other sort, is not the exercise of some equivalent right. It is a suppression of the first one. What they do when they shout abuse is wrong because they stop an action which is not wrong and therefore by its very nature is not only permissible but protected.

The police understand this. Last time the lout who threatened to beat me today, bullied a woman activist while she was on her knees — telling her he wanted her to take her clothes off, bizarrely — he did call the police to come on site to harangue them into making her remove the candles she put down.

The police told him she was doing nothing wrong. Which they were right to do. But they stopped short of fulfilling their duty. Which takes me to my fifth consideration. On that occasion the police should have had a firm word with this gentleman and not only told him that the activist was not doing anything wrong in putting flowers and candles but also that he was breaking the law by seeking to intimidate her to stop her from doing so.

The police have this intuition for calming things down which I suppose is sensible if something flares up and a little bit of reassurance can smooth things over.

But this keeps happening. Every single effing day. And it keeps getting worse.

You would worry this is wasting police time (sixth consideration) but if the police cannot use sufficient resources to protect the exercise of a basic constitutional right to protest in Republic Street, Valletta in front of the Law Courts, ostensibly one of the most secure buildings on the island, then what are these people for at all?

It is legitimate to ask this. Even if Ian Abdilla, incredibly, told Jacob Borg yesterday that he was not accountable to the public, he bloody well is. The police bloody well are accountable to the public.

What would reporting to the police a threat of physical violence achieve? If things kick into motion the individual is charged for threatening behaviour. Assuming he speaks to a lawyer he’ll probably file a counter-claim to argue he had been provoked. Much as the police might intuitively seek to bring “both sides” together to seek appeasement, a Magistrate faced with a charge and a counter charge might react in exactly the same way.

Seventh consideration: the equivalency reinforces the perpetrator to feel they are at least equally in the right. It forces the victim to say to hell with this and just walk away. Perpetrator wins. Your rights? Down the drain.

You come to a point where the only real answer is ‘go on’. Smile at the abuser, sometimes turn the other cheek, sometimes stand tall, sometimes ask for the authorities to intervene, always keep your expectations low.

At least, for the few minutes that they’re still there, those flowers and candles are a reminder to you and your friends that for some of us at least this behaviour we are faced with is not normal, it is not acceptable, it is not just. That’s when you remember — consideration number eight — that what we are fighting for here is justice and we feel we must do this because we are swamped in exactly the opposite.

And then, in an unjust world, a crowd of louts feeling entirely justified to threaten to beat you up because you ‘provoked’ them with a candle and a €4 poinsettia pot makes perfect sense. And you go back to doing it again the next day.

Look at me.