You can’t tell on the internet, but at 6’4” I’m in the 98th percentile for height in western males. I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, under the influence of the Ninja Turtles craze. In Kenpo class I was taught to be a protector, and trained in the use of violence for self-defense and the defense of others.
I was also taught restraint, and never to use violence to serve my own will.
And I was raised in a country that, in the First and Second Amendments, agreed to hold sacred the rights to assemble, to protest, and to fight back. I was taught about the process of Democracy, and that ours was a country born out of protest and strife, a country that would always guarantee those rights to its citizenry, to overthrow – by force, when necessary – a government that did not serve their interests. I was taught of the many times that protest, both peaceful and revolutionary, corrected the course of our nation when voting and legislation had failed or taken far too long.
Yesterday, I watched as our self-proclaimed president of law and order gave a speech in which he declared himself an “ally” of peaceful protesters. In the recording, the flash-bang and tear-gas grenades can be heard mere blocks away, scattering a legal assembly of peaceful protesters. And for what? A photo shoot, to hold up his own arrogance and ego. A week ago, I watched as three men, sworn to protect and to serve, pressed the life out of a non-violent citizen, while a fourth stood by and did nothing. All four of those men, had it been a civilian murdering George Floyd, would have been obligated to stop this. They were under no lesser obligation when the assailants were their peers. All four of those men betrayed their oath.
And for the past seven days, I have watched as the talking heads wring their hands and breathlessly decry the loss of, oh, ever so much merchandise. That poor, defenseless brick and mortar.
Not a month ago, we all watched as an armed posse chased down an unarmed man, and committed, at worst, a lynching, and at best an extrajudicial execution. For mere suspicion of the non-violent crime of burglary. Oh, yes, Ahmaud Arbery charged at them. He’d already tried to flee. I can’t imagine the exhaustion he must have felt when he decided to fight back, alone and unarmed, against the overwhelming force of his gun-toting assailants. I can’t fathom the terror that pierced his soul while he tried to outrun that pickup truck on foot. And I can’t believe any reasonable person would say, “One actually is obligated to stop and obey any armed wingnut who flags you down while you’re out for a jog!”
I don’t care what they suspected him of. That’s just it – suspicion. Even with CONVICTION, burglary would not result in an execution. SUSPICION alone under no circumstances should have been punished by death, not by the state, and not by these individuals. And people will say, “But he rushed them! They were defending themselves!” What do you think he was doing? When a group pulls up beside you, pointing guns, what are your thoughts? Do they “just want to talk?” How many of you said you would draw your own weapon, while hypocritically denying Mr. Arbery his own unarmed self-defense?
Oh, but it’s the merchandise that’s holding the hearts and minds of the nation right now, isn’t it? And people are using it to delegitimize the overwhelming majority of peaceful, law-abiding protestors. That’s the thing that’s really upsetting me. Do I believe the looting is constructive? No; although, I can’t help but wonder if moneyed America wouldn’t step up their game if, every time a black life is unjustly snuffed out by the police, a Wal-Mart burns. But do I agree with it? No. At the same time, do I decry it?
To bemoan the rioting is to bemoan the wind. It is a result of conditions, of unequal pressure between systems. It is inevitable, as long as power is out of balance. If you do not like the outcome, change the input, or change the processing.
I feel the current climate is best illustrated with two human figures. On one side, Alpha has held the whip for as long as anyone can recall. And as long as Alpha has held the whip, Alpha has beaten Bravo. One day, something changes. Alpha stumbles, or Bravo jukes aside and twists out of the way. Either way, Bravo seizes the other end of the whip.
Now the two both hold one end. The two both pull with all their might. The casual observer says, “Two are fighting. Both hold one end. This is equal footing.” Alpha thinks, “If I let go, I’ll be the one getting beaten!” Bravo knows, “If I let go, I die.”
I would rather things never come to violence. And in my time, in my assumed assignation of protector, in pursuit of “peace,” I have erred. All too often, my approach to deescalation would be to stand up and say, “Swing, then!” and watch the other party back down. All the while, deep inside, I was terrified that I would some day meet the one who took me up on my offer. That fear fed my resolve. I worked on becoming more intimidating, and all the while I just knew that only meant I’d one day be up against an even badder motherfucker…
Here, we go off on a very personal tangent, full of years-deep trauma and names that will need to be changed, but the yadda-yadda version is, I recognize this error in our current national policy because I have recognized it within myself. I am working to address it within myself. We need to do the same on a national level.
Yes, I hold complex and contradictory beliefs on violence. I believe that if it is ever acceptable, then it is always acceptable. No single party should be the only one “allowed” to inflict harm upon the other. But I also believe that no party should ever cause willful and avoidable harm to another. Thus, I feel it is always unacceptable. And it is this very same complete unacceptability that makes it both an inevitable necessity and a necessary inevitability.
The looting is unacceptable. But so is the systemic oppression.
This, too, is balance.