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: