Thoughts on Chicago: Violence in demonstrations for equality is never justified

August 11, 2020 • 10:00 am

I am a firm adherent to both peaceful protests and civil disobedience as a way to change laws, and that means protesting peacefully, even when your protests are breaking the law. (See my earlier arguments here and here.) That also means that if the police are brutal to you, or drag you away, you cannot attack them, though of course you’re justified in trying to protect yourself and fend off blows. Further, I don’t believe that violence against property, like burning buildings or cars, or looting stores, is justifiable.

Nonviolence was Dr. King’s way and Gandhi’s way, and in both cases it worked. And it worked for a reason: the sight of innocent, nonviolent people protesting wrongs is very unlikely to turn people sitting on the fence against the cause of the demonstrators. This is particularly true when the police or authorities attack or drag off the demonstrators, or, as in the case of lunch-counter sit-ins in the Sixties South, dump milkshakes and ketchup on them. It’s certain that King’s people in the Sixties expected and welcomed police violence as a way to move people toward their cause. Many of them trained in advance about how to deal with violence against them.

Nonviolence shows the seriousness of the cause and the intent of the demonstrators to change people’s minds through moral suasion rather than forcing change by destruction and rage. And indeed, there are some data showing that violence is counterproductive compared to violence. For yes, perhaps violent riots can effect change compared to no riots, but the data show not as much change as nonviolent ones (see data and arguments here and here, for instance). So far, it looks like when you have a choice between violence and nonviolence, you should go with nonviolence. And of course watching Trump and the GOP emphasize violence associated with demonstrations suggests that many—not just liberals or whites—are turned off by rioting, destruction, and looting. This plays directly into Trump’s hands.

But you may not have a choice about the nature of your demonstration, at least these days. It’s a certainty that many of the demonstrators who assembled to protest police killings of blacks, whether it was in Portland, Seattle, or Chicago, intended no violence, and practiced none, but there were some in the crowd (this may have been orchestrated) who were intent on looting, shooting, wounding, and damaging property. Their goal may not have been social change, but acting out rage and/or enriching themselves with purloined property.

Indeed, there are those who justify this. In an earlier post I pointed out a few people who seemed to justify violence. And I firmly believe that the liberal media, while justifying the violence, also downplays it lest it cast a bad light on people of color, many of whom were involved in the recent lootings in Chicago.

This morning a friend emailed me that she heard on Chicago’s NPR station that Black Lives Matter justified the looting as a form of self-garnered “reparations.” I couldn’t believe that, but, sure enough, the Daily Fail reports it as well:

Black Lives Matter Chicago said early Monday’s looting of stores was a form of ‘reparations’ as the group held a protest Monday night in support of the more than 100 people arrested after an evening of violence.

. . .Ariel Atkins, a BLM organizer, called the looting ‘reparations’.

 ‘I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats,’ Atkins said. ‘That makes sure that person has clothes.

‘Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.’

NBC5, a local news station, verifies the story and the quotes.

I need hardly add that these quotes are not going to go down well with anybody but those who favor violence. The Republicans will make hay of them, most black and white people will deplore them, and they’ll turn people against the Black Lives Matter movement. While I’m still confident that Trump will lose in November, statements like these won’t help defeat him. Nor are they statements that comport with morality or reason. Looting a Gucci store doesn’t ensure that a person eats unless they sell the goods to buy food, and even so there is no justification for this kind of theft.

At least our hardass black Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, knows the difference between peaceful protests and felony violence: “This is straight-up felony criminal conduct.

I cannot imagine a situation in which violence is justified in a peaceful march for social justice, but perhaps readers can suggest some. But surely there is no justification in what happened in Chicago the last two nights. Here’s a video from the Channel 9 news of some of the destruction:

51 thoughts on “Thoughts on Chicago: Violence in demonstrations for equality is never justified

  1. I can’t help but think the ease with which BLM leaders can portray looting as “reparations” is a result of the hold Wokeness and Critical Race Theory has on the Left. They don’t see the need to convince the rest of country that their crusade has merit. In their minds, that has already been decided and it is only a matter of everyone else “listening”. In taking this attitude, they are blowing a big opportunity, IMHO.

    1. These folks may be couching it in terms of BLM, but this excuse has been used for long before BLM even existed. I remember this same argument was made about the looting that occurred in some riots in Berkeley during the ’90s. I.e. it was okay because the looters were poor and disenfranchised while the stores were rich and it would all be covered by insurance anyway.

      I’m not surprised we’re hearing this. But I don’t think ‘wokeness’ is to blame, given that these arguments are older than the woke movement. It’s pretty much always the case that some subset of the population thinks looting is justified if they empathize with the looters and consider the ‘lootees’ to be evil capitalists.

      1. If the BLM members that justified the violence are representative of most BLM members then the movement has become revolutionary. Through mindless violence they think they are landing a blow against not only racism but capitalism. As pointed out, revolutionary groups with such a mindset are not new. The proliferated in the 1960s and were crushed. My conjecture is that the same thing will happen here. This is because the American national character has from its founding to the present day been conservative at its core. One way to interpret the Civil War was that it was fought for conservative reasons, although it had radical results. The North fought to preserve the Union. The South fought to preserve slavery. Americans are not opposed to change; they just like it gradually and orderly.

        The BLM requires white liberal support to achieve its anti-racist goals and economic opportunity for African-Americans. Violence will erode this support. Apparently, they are not aware of this or don’t care. The radicals of the 1960s thought that the revolution would break out any minute. Instead, they were rudely shocked to find that Nixon won in 1968 and was re-elected by a landslide in 1972. Today, of course, the circumstances are quite different than 1968. Hopefully, BLM will not help Trump get re-elected. But, whatever happens over the next few months and years, violent radicalism is not the way to power in the United States. For the BLM to remain being a “player” in American politics, it needs to condemn violence, not to rationalize it. Lori Lightfoot’s condemnation of violence was exactly right.

        1. Well, Lori Lightfoot’s response will be a ‘rude shock’, but after Seattle’s response we’re sort of 1 for 2; I think we need a lot more liberal city leaders to give a Lightfoot-like response before they’ll get the message that no, they are not the liberal vanguard they see themselves as.

        2. It does not seem to be the case that these views represent the majority.

          BLM, unlike what the wording of the post suggests, does not have centralized “leaders”, and many of those under its banner have indeed chosen to condemn violence done in the name of the movement.

          I’d be careful of falling into the same trap many “woke activists” fall into, which is to characterize the opposition as a monolith and respond preemptively based on it.

        3. On the flip side: Even as an anarchist who sees nothing wrong with giving evil capitalists a kick in the custom tailored pants *metaphorically,* I am a rational anarchist who opposes violent protest except in cases of absolute, unequivocal necessity.

          If Trump were to order that lethal force should be used on peaceful protesters, for instance, I would qualify that as necessity – but he hasn’t done that, and so nonviolence remains the best and only reasonable option. But even then, collateral damage directed at innocent third parties is inexcusable. Anger should be directed at perpetrators. Not haphazardly scattershot according to vague guilt by association.

      2. One of the more disturbing trends to arise from these riots in the past few months, to my eyes, is the surge of signs in shop and restaurant windows in urban areas declaiming “black-owned business”, “minority-owned business”, and the like. If there is just a BLM sign in the window, it is more than likely that ownership is white. Six or seven years ago, I would have taken such signs as a benign encouragement to support these businesses, but their rapid proliferation this summer in the current political climate screams of “Please don’t hurt us, go hurt those bad people who deserve it”, the way Korean businesses were targeted in the ’92 LA riots for supposedly exploiting poor black communities. Healthy societies are not ones in which people feel the need to display their racial/ethnic affiliation so that threats might pass over them, including threats of violent destruction.

    2. “I can’t help but think the ease with which BLM leaders can portray looting as “reparations” is a result of the hold Wokeness and Critical Race Theory has on the Left.”

      I agree 100!

  2. Nary a protest or demonstration in sight directed toward crime or criminals. Perhaps we should reform endocrinologists for the surge in diabetes.

    “…killers of black homicide victims are overwhelmingly other black civilians, not the police. The police could end all use of lethal force tomorrow and it would have at most a negligible impact on the black death rate. In any case, the strongest predictor of whether a police officer uses force is whether a suspect resists arrest, not the suspect’s race.” — Heather Mac Donald

    1. The idea that because more black men are killed by other black men than by police means that police behavior is not to be questioned is just wrong. And, the statement that “the strongest predictor of whether a police officer uses force is whether a suspect resists arrest, not the suspect’s race” is problematic, since we’ve all seen (if we pay attention) that police reports where force is used inevitably cite resisting arrest, but the report doesn’t always match up with videos that show what actually happened.

  3. I would not overlook another aspect of this that has been covered some, although to a much less degree than it should. The Chicago demonstrations took place very quickly and then turned to vandalism and looting quickly as well. The various social media platforms allow various groups to act quickly as well. This makes peaceful demonstration very hard to take place anywhere today without intrusion by others with different ideas. It all gets mixed together and everyone is blamed and everyone at fault. There is also a know factor about mobs. It is just like the dog. One dog by itself seems to behave well. But add 3 or 4 more dogs and you may have trouble.

  4. ‘There’s something happening here, / what it is ain’t exactly clear. . . .’

    You’re right, Mr. Stills and Mr. Young

    ‘There’s something happening here, / but you don’t know what it is, / do you, Mr. Jones?’

    But neither do you, Mr. Zimmerman

  5. The question is not just of violent vs non-violent tactics.

    The question is if the average American can support the ideology behind the protests.

    Almost everyone supported the principles of the civil rights movement in the 60’s.

    I cannot support the BLM movement because it is partly racist and anti-enlightenment.

    1. ‘Almost everyone supported the principles of the civil rights movement in the 60’s.’

      I find this a peculiar thing to assert. Surely if it had been true there’d be no need for Black Lives Matter today.

      1. “Surely if it had been true there’d be no need for Black Lives Matter today.”

        IMHO the “Black Lives Matter” movement with it’s ideology should not exist.

        It is not in the interest of poor black people, nor any other working class people.

        1. Which is?

          You seem to be making many claims against a decentralized movement with no formal structure or leadership, that imply a sense of universal blanket judgment. And yet you do not substantiate any such claims of racism, for instance.

          How are you any better than the average Woke Twitterite if you can’t even quantify the broad generalizations you make, that are by their nature already shaky and difficult to justify?

      2. “Surely if it had been true there’d be no need for Black Lives Matter today.”

        I don’t think I am particularly dimwitted, but I cannot think of a single way in which BLM helps Black communities, Black individuals, or anyone else.

        Besides all the points others have made here, I have to think that what we cannot help seeing is going to promote actual racism. Some people have racist ideas taught to them. Others just passively engage in normal and subconscious pattern recognition.

        1. My initial comment was to express puzzlement over the assertion that there was consensus in the 1960s that ‘almost everyone’ supported full civil rights for African-Americans. This was hardly my understanding at the time, nor have the decades since supported it. So we are where we are today.

          As for BLM: with the sentence ‘black lives matter,’ to be sure they do! Concerning the organization, however, much to disagree with.

    2. Actually, in so far as I understand the theoretical perspective of some of the founders of BLM, I would argue it is an extension of the Enlightenment: I see the chain going-Rosseau, Condorcet, Toussain’t L’overture, Hegel, Marx, Dubois and then from there.

      1. “I see the chain going-Rosseau, Condorcet, Toussain’t L’overture, Hegel, Marx, Dubois and then from there.”

        You have a point!

    3. The Civil Rights Act only had a slight majority support of 58% in 1964 (1), while BLM, according to Rasmussen, has 62% support days after George Floyd’s murder (2). According to Reuters and several other sources I have seen, there is broad support for police reform nationwide (3). It’s too soon to say how much of BLM wil have a lasting impact, but it’s clear it’s a competitor of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. As for the principles, of which I find very progressive and politically feasible, of the BLM, it can be found on their website (4). We do have to take a step back is that the movement is not heirarchical or centralized. The founders of the BLM do not control the local chapters. So, if say, the Chicago chapter decides to defend mass looting for dubious reasons, then the Chicago BLM Chapter is responsible of their own statement and actions.

      I support the broader BLM movement because the anti-racist platform they represent is what I believe is needed to make lasting systemic change. As for any charge of it’s anti-Enlightenment stance, I don’t see the conflict. But I also find it suspicous if they are should be obligated to follow it as if that’s the only legitimate source of thought. Note, that I myself am a fan of that period in philosophy.





    1. Ah, the same distortion of Marxism ironically perpetrated by the authoritarian governments of nominally communist states like China.

      Marx had little interest in philosophical notions of equality in the sense being employed here. At most his conception was of equal access to goods and services, with individual consumption being based on need, and one’s contribution based on their ability. Equality of access is not equivalent to equality of outcome.

  6. There is a school of thought that advocates violence as a way to destablize government. The goal being then to step in, like the Bolshviks did, and pick up the pieces. It’s much easier to destroy the system and its protections in order to impose a new authority. These people are not interested in reform. I doubt that the majority of the people who were looting last night saw it that way, but the goal of destabilizing violence doesn’t require that. In other news, I heard on NPR’s Marketplace last night that firearms background-checks were up 80% over last July.

    1. The analog I keep thinking of is the French Revolution, particularly the Committee of Public Safety and Reign of Terror. No, nobody is executing anyone, nor do I think the wokes would ever take it that far. But the proliferation of student groups writing manifestos and making demands, what happened in Seattle, cancel culture – these things make me think of that bit of history.

      1. I think there are a mix of groups. The ones you’re referencing are young people who are, to my mind, are just programmed to go out and try to conquer things at that age, the way lions are programmed to find their own pride, sometimes by attacking the leader of an existing one. Highly speculative evo psych, ha ha, but that is my theory, especially since young brains seem to be wired differently than middle aged brains, with more emphasis on risk taking. Of course this doesn’t work so well in modern society where the accumulation of societal wealth relies on accumulation over many generations, and someone coming in and smashing things sets that process backwards.

        Looking at those involved in riots (not peaceful protests) I think this group is mixed in with:

        – Career criminals for whom this is a ‘kid in a candy store’ situation. Don’t bother stealing off the back of a truck and risk jail – do it out in the open and not only get better stuff, but get applauded for it! Seriously, I’m thinking they can’t believe their luck.

        – Liberal Bubble types who really had a doe-eyed worldview like “If only we had no police, peace would break out everywhere!”.

        1. Biological determinism? For shame!

          There are plenty of avowed pacifists among young activists, and a very old, very violently reckless, and very stupid individual in the Oval Office – although I suppose, by his utter lack of object permanence, it could be argued that he never developed cognitively beyond a very young infant stage.

          1. These seem to be common misconceptions about statistics (which is strange, because I am very, very bad at math, and even I easily see why they are false, so not sure why they’re so common.)

            A general trend is of course: 1. Not a form of predestination and 2. Doesn’t apply equally to all individuals in a group (So a cautious person might be relatively) more of a risk taker in their youth, but still overall less of a risk taker than someone wired for high risk, at any point in that person’s life.)

            1. Mm, see, by your wording it came across not as a statistical likelihood, but rather a general statement that defines a group, so I took it to mean something else.

              If you did indeed mean it as simply a general tendency and not a biologically fatalistic view, then I can see some merit to the statement. Although I would contend that a major factor in propensity toward aggression and risk-taking is individual genetics, the same way certain people are more or less predisposed toward religiosity or susceptibility to conspiracy theory.

              Also, the first sentence was meant to be facetious. I forgot to add the :^) face I usually put in to signify I’m not being especially serious, apologies.

        1. “The fact that mass movements as they arise often manifest less individual freedom than the order they supplant, is usually ascribed t the trickery of a power-hungry clique that kidnaps the movement at a critical stage and cheats the masses of the freedom about to dawn. Actually, the only people cheated in the process are the intellectual precursors.
          They rise against the established order, deride its irrationality and incompetence, denounce its illegitimacy and oppressiveness, and…take it for granted that the masses who respond to their call and range themselves behind them crave the same things. However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from ‘the fearful burden of free choice.”
          -Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

          1. I have a soft spot for true True Believers, probably because I tend to trend in that direction myself (while I know this is not the place to say it, I really do believe something like Buddhist enlightenment exists and is the pinnacle of all possible pursuits.)

            That said, true True Believers are few and far between. I could be mistakenly remembering this, but I think even the Dalai Lama has said that the vast majority of Buddhist monks are not actually looking for enlightenment, it’s a small percentage who are focused on that. And that’s in a tradition where the buy-in is as extreme as shaving your head and going off to live in as a renunciate in a monastery somewhere, not just claiming to believe something on Instagram. I think when looking at groups of “true believers”, some huge percentage of them could be more accurately described as “Posy Posers”.

            While I have sympathy for True Believers, if given the choice between posers and the more pragmatically minded criminals who just smash store windows to hustle and make money, I actually prefer the criminals. At least they’re authentic, and have their own kind of charm (in keeping with the French Revolution example, they would be the Thénardiers). When it comes to poser types, I don’t think the issue is that they are shocked when the masses don’t follow suit – I think the issue is that they all think they are going to be the beloved, powerful leaders of the brave new world they helped create, and forgot to factor in the fact that there will be just as much competition for that job title in said brave new world as there was in the old one. It turns out people are not going to put them in charge because they’re Just That Awesome, and, in fact, everyone thinks their opinions are equally awesome, leading to anarchy until some new much kvetched-about hierarchy emerges.

              1. Oh. Yeah I guess the worldwide Hollywood cabal of a child pornography ring and the lizard people is more delusional than lofty.

  7. There needs to be change but that’ll not happen when you have “hate in your heart “. Everyone wants peaceful protest. Then everyone must let go of the hate that they have for another or another’s ideas.

  8. In regard to Ibram X. Kendi and the ideology of “Equity”, a question occurs to me. Wikipedia reports that in 2018 Professor Kendi was successfully treated for cancer by surgery and chemotherapy. One wonders whether the therapists were chosen on the basis of their medical credentials and experience, or simply on the basis of their Diversity Statements. [Three guesses.]

    And on this thread—Is Mayor Lori Lightfoot available for the Democratic Party vice-presidential nomination?

  9. Jerry, thank you for the thoughts on non violent protests and the on the ground local report regarding this mess. Thinkingback to chicago 68 dem convention, this is the type of activity i have worried about. Hopefully your mayor will be prominently presented by mass media…she has been consistently good on these violent behaviours it seems.

  10. I agree with you about the looting and in principle, I agree with the ideas of non-violent social change from both a practical and moral view. That said, I think an argument can be made for the use of self defense in situations when the state becomes violent against its citizens. There is an argument as well that violence can be justified as a means of social change, though in my view that is an extreme situation and does not apply in the context of the US. As an empirical point when the State uses violence against a social movement that increases the likelihood of counter violence from the social movement.

    1. The tactics used in effective protest depend largely on the opponent. Non-violence worked pretty well against the British, but would not have been very effective against the Islamic occupiers of India that preceded them.

      The US is a fairly safe and egalitarian place, so nonviolent protest works pretty well here as well, as does calling people racist or telling them you feel “unsafe”.
      But at some point people begin to realize that all of it is just a tactic, used cynically.

  11. I see democracy as a way to resolve conflicts without violence. For non democratic people, violence can easily be justified.

  12. Oh, and just for the record: I believe and maintain that the “anarchists” who mostly manifest their ideology through wanting to break things and hurt people are… not “fake anarchists” (this is not a No True Scotsman argument), but rather, terrible anarchists. Terrible, because they are ineffective and only serve to associate a legitimate political philosophy and system of governance with brutish violence and impulsivity.

    I believe in peaceful and gradual dismantling of state apparatus, of hierarchy in all its forms, and of private wealth and ownership. I believe in instilling values of mutual cooperation, voluntary reciprocity, and non-obligatory play – and teaching through fear is logically incompatible with such values.

    Rational anarchy can only ever be defined by mutual respect and civility. Not petty vengeance, selfishness, and opportunism. And anything less than *rational* anarchy is a cop-out, an easy way for the impulsive and immature who have no long term considerations of what a stable society entails.

    1. Perhaps you’re putting us on. If so, the joke’s on me. But, anyway:

      ‘I heard it was you
      Talkin’ ’bout a world
      Where all was free
      It just couldn’t be
      And only a fool would say that’
      –Steely Dan

      1. Ah yes. A stunningly rational, evidence-based argument: Song lyrics. I thought people believed in rational debate around here, not just sneering condescension?

          1. Isn’t the original comment I replied to here clearly made in bad faith? Implying someone to be “a fool” via song quotations, or otherwise insincere and trolling, is not in accordance with any standard of civility I know.

            If you meant I should apologize to the other person (Roo) then I tried to do exactly that because I only intended a bit of (insufficiently demarcated) tongue in cheek silliness.

            If you meant this comment thread, then I’ll apologize in this case as well, as the snark was admittedly excessive, but I am curious as to why the other poster was allowed to engage in such a manner to begin with, and can’t think of any other interpretation beyond veiled ridicule.

      2. I apologize for the earlier comment, as the sarcasm was out of line.

        But I am still perplexed by your original response. I came here in good faith hoping for a serious discussion based on legitimate political positions. My views are not based on idealistic fervor, nor are they a joke.

  13. I hate to see the violence, looting and burning that occurs among a relatively limited number of people ostensibly associated with legally protesting groups like BLM. Since it’s hard to separate the sheep from the goats, BLM gets blamed whether or not it’s outside instigators or an angry cohort of their own members. It is a failure of the protest and causes the wrong kinds of reactions.

    In Portland, you will notice that a very large percentage of the protesters were white people who wanted to show their support for BLM. They were not all young people either. There were middle-aged and older mothers, fathers, vets, medical staff. There were people providing food and medical supplies. There were people taking the injured to hospitals for treatment.

    It seems so easy to disregard the people trying to do good to rectify wrongs in our country that have existed for way too long and to focus instead on the angry committers of crime.

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