Is violence necessary for racial equality?

October 1, 2020 • 10:15 am

Reader Enrico called my attention to the New York Times article below, in which editorial-board member Farah Stockman reports that a lot of violence connected with social-justice demonstrations was done neither by black protestors nor by right-wing white supremacists trying to gin up incidents that would turn people towards Trump and away from the Left.  No, it was managed and carried out largely by a group of largely white “insurrectionary anarchists” operating in Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C., who had somewhat unclear aims. The goal was to change society to eliminate its hierarchical nature, but beyond that the “utopia” wasn’t specified.

As Stockman notes:

That’s the thing about “insurrectionary anarchists.” They make fickle allies. If they help you get into power, they will try to oust you the following day, since power is what they are against. Many of them don’t even vote. They are experts at unraveling an old order but considerably less skilled at building a new one. That’s why, even after more than 100 days of protest in Portland, activists do not agree on a set of common policy goals.

Even some anarchists admit as much.

“We are not sure if the socialist, communist, democratic or even anarchist utopia is possible,” a voice on “The Ex-Worker” podcast intones. “Rather, some insurrectionary anarchists believe that the meaning of being an anarchist lies in the struggle itself and what that struggle reveals.”

In other words, it’s not really about George Floyd or Black lives, but insurrection for insurrection’s sake.

Well, read the article by clicking on the screenshot:


The motivations, actions, and philosophy of the anarchists were uncovered by photographer Jeremy Lee Quinn, who, while on furlough, discovered that a lot of the violence was being stage-managed by a group of white black-clad people wearing similar masks. He then masqueraded as one of them for four months, and discovered that their goals and methods, revealed on the fascinating website Crimethinc, involved inducing violence (rioting, looting, arson, etc.) that itself would provoke counterviolence by police. The counterviolence, in turn, would gin up sympathy to the goals of the peaceful protestors.  The anarchists thought that their actions advanced the cause of “racial justice,” and were successful in causing violence and getting away with it by hiding amidst the “peaceful, legitimate” protestors.

Quinn documents his association with the “black bloc” on his website Public Report.

What intrigued me about this article was Stockman’s suggestion that the violence actually helped achieve the aims of the peaceful protestors, and did so by frightening citizens into aiding and donating to organizations that used peaceful techniques (my emphases):

There’s an even thornier truth that few people seem to want to talk about: Anarchy got results.

Don’t get me wrong. My heart broke for the people in Minneapolis who lost buildings to arson and looting. Migizi, a Native American nonprofit in Minneapolis, raised more than $1 million to buy and renovate a place where Native American teenagers could learn about their culture — only to watch it go up in flames, alongside dozens of others, including a police station. It can take years to build a building — and only one night to burn it down.

And yet, I had to admit that the scale of destruction caught the media’s attention in a way that peaceful protests hadn’t. How many articles would I have written about a peaceful march? How many months would Mr. Quinn have spent investigating suburban moms kneeling? That’s on us.

While I feared that the looting and arson would derail the urgent demands for racial justice and bring condemnation, I was wrong, at least in the short term. Support for Black Lives Matter soared. Corporations opened their wallets. It was as if the nation rallied behind peaceful Black organizers after it saw the alternative, like whites who flocked to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after they got a glimpse of Malcolm X.

But as the protests continue, support has flagged. The percentage of people who say they support the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped from 67 percent in June to 55 percent, according to a recent Pew poll.

Well, I’d take issue with the claim that Martin Luther King’s cause was advanced significantly by people fearing the implicit violence of Black Muslims. What got King’s cause advanced was not only the force of his words, but his reliance on peaceful protest, gleaned from Gandhi, which met with police violence—clubbing, water hoses, and attack dogs. It was the sight of people in a just cause being brutalized by racists that finally got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. There is nothing more moving than people being brutalized while advocating a clearly just cause, and doing it peacefully.

Still, violence was an important part of the mix, and King’s associates not only expected it but wanted it.  They knew the effect that Alabama cops and their nightsticks would have on the public when those clubs descended on the heads of people practicing both legal protest and peaceful civil disobedience—people simply asking for their rights.

One could thus assert that some kind of violence was a sine qua non for racial justice in the Sixties. We don’t know for sure, as this is not a controlled experiment, but it is plausible. It’s a bit less plausible, at least to me, that the riots, looting, and arson that accompanied the current demonstrations helped the causes espoused by Black Lives Matter (there are several parts of its platform).

The question, then, is whether violence is a key ingredient in advancing racial justice in America—whether the violence be by police or running-dog anarchists. And we don’t know the answer, though I suppose anecdotes can be advanced on either side. (Lynchings, for example, which horrified anti-racists, are also violence, while King’s March on Washington and “I have a dream” speech were neither civil disobedience or violence.)

One can look to other places, though this doesn’t answer the question about America. One might, for example, argue that violence wasn’t necessary to get India out from under the colonialist heel of Britain, even though some violence before the forties did advance the cause of Indian indepencence. (I refer to the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919, which involved British soldiers massacring unarmed and peaceful Indians.) But by the forties, no violence was really necessary for the Brits to quit India, for that egress was in the cards anyway. And the impetus, of course, was the nonviolence of Gandhi and his followers.

But India isn’t America, and perhaps the powers that be in the U.S. require a demonstration of brutality to gain people their rights. I don’t really think that’s the case, for, despite the Stonewall riots, I’m convinced that gay rights were inevitable, even without violence. And women gained their rights without much violence from the authorities, and with no violence from women.  As a pacifist, I reject violence by people as a valid means to moral progress except in drastic situations like wartime (World War II might be an example). But whether violence by authorities is required, well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

Weigh in below.


A new book justifies looting

August 30, 2020 • 9:00 am

It was inevitable. Although many on the left have downplayed looting and violence that sometimes accompanies protests, there have also been some who came close to excusing the violence, if not justifying it. Now comes writer Vicky Osterweil—on National Public Radio (NPR), of all places—touting her new book, In Defense of Looting. The NPR interview link is below, and since the piece dwells a lot on race, I’ll add that Osterweil is white (not capitalized, though she capitalizes “Black” and “Brown”).

First, the book (click on icon to go to Amazon site).

Below is the Amazon blurb. Note that in the interview below Osterweil justifies both looting and “destroying property”. She at least seems to criticize violence against people (hurting them), though she’s curiously reluctant to be clear about that.
Looting–a crowd of people publicly, openly, and directly seizing goods–is one of the more extreme actions that can take place in the midst of social unrest. Even self-identified radicals distance themselves from looters, fearing that violent tactics reflect badly on the broader movement.
But Vicky Osterweil argues that stealing goods and destroying property are direct, pragmatic strategies of wealth redistribution and improving life for the working class–not to mention the brazen messages these methods send to the police and the state. All our beliefs about the innate righteousness of property and ownership, Osterweil explains, are built on the history of anti-Black, anti-Indigenous oppression.
From slave revolts to labor strikes to the modern-day movements for climate change, Black lives, and police abolition, Osterweil makes a convincing case for rioting and looting as weapons that bludgeon the status quo while uplifting the poor and marginalized. In Defense of Looting is a history of violent protest sparking social change, a compelling reframing of revolutionary activism, and a practical vision for a dramatically restructured society.
The book came out on August 25, and so far the Amazon ratings aren’t very good. I’ve also Googled the book and seen a lot of critiques, but I haven’t read any as I want my take to be fresh.

The NPR interview with Osterweil is below; click on screenshot. Note the title of the NPR sub-site as well as its its motto.

Now NPR is about as woke as the New York Times, but I’m still surprised that it would publish something like this. Yes, the piece may foster discussion (in my view, the main benefit of publishing it is to “out” both Osterweil and her minions who think looting is justifiable), but imagine if a right-winger were to publish a book on, say, why it’s good to destroy abortion clinics. You’d never see that on NPR.

Anyway, read and weep, or, as in my case, get angry, for I see Osterweil’s argument as both weak and indefensible. Code Switch is NPR’s “blog on race, ethnicity, and culture.”

First, we should clarify what the author means by “looting”, which she defines as “the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot.” She emphasizes that she’s not defending any expropriation of property by force (I guess she means robbery) or in home invasions. To her, “looting” is something that accompanies protests and riots, and is the (“non forcible”???) taking of stuff from stores, whether they be big department stores or mom-and-pop stores.

She begins her blather by saying that “looting is a highly racialized word” (it comes from a Hindi word that means “goods or spoils”). But what is the point of that? Nobody even knows that, but somehow she has to work the idea of race into her interview as early as possible. Her point is obscure. If “looting” is highly racialized, so is “pajamas.”

Osterweil’s defense of looting is that it is an effective tactic to equalize the distribution of wealth, free the looters from having to work for “bosses” to get stuff (I guess she’s a hard socialist or Marxist), and to demonstrate that the concept of “property” is bogus. But read below. I am not making this up.

Can you talk about rioting as a tactic? What are the reasons people deploy it as a strategy? [JAC: I think the questioner, Natalie Escobar, who throws softballs at Osterweil repeatedly, means “looting” rather than “rioting”, though Osterweil sees looting as a subset of rioting.]

It does a number of important things. It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage—which, during COVID times, is widely unreliable or, particularly in these communities is often not available, or it comes at great risk. That’s looting’s most basic tactical power as a political mode of action.

It also attacks the very way in which food and things are distributed. It attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.

This is unbelievable. For without some form of capitalism, you’re not going to get fancy televisions, sneakers, and and booze for free. And really, “working for a boss”? In fact, many of the small stores that were looted in the spate of recent riots were mom and pop stores, in which the owners worked not for a boss but for themselves.

Further, if looting attacks the idea of “property”, does that mean that the looters don’t consider what they take as their property?

Finally, no, you can’t have things for free under any society. How are you going to have televisions and clothing unless somebody makes them and you have to pay for them? What kind of society is she envisioning? Clearly one without police, which would be a disaster, but she’s even more Communist than the Soviet Communists. And without “state oppression”, how are you going to have the kind of communism Osterweil apparently wants.

But wait! There’s more! Looting is also a form of liberation. Note that she also justifies riots here:

Importantly, I think especially when it’s in the context of a Black uprising like the one we’re living through now, it also attacks the history of whiteness and white supremacy. The very basis of property in the U.S. is derived through whiteness and through Black oppression, through the history of slavery and settler domination of the country. Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police. It gets to the very root of the way those three things are interconnected. And also it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure and helps them imagine a world that could be. And I think that’s a part of it that doesn’t really get talked about—that riots and looting are experienced as sort of joyous and liberatory.

. . . But the history of the movement for liberation in America is full of looters and rioters. They’ve always been a part of our movement.

. . . Ultimately, what nonviolence ends up meaning is that the activist doesn’t do anything that makes them feel violent. And I think getting free is messier than that. We have to be willing to do things that scare us and that we wouldn’t do in normal, “peaceful” times, because we need to get free.

I’m not sure whether people who lose their stores or their cars or their houses (after all, arson doesn’t count as “violence” in Osterweil’s world) are becoming free, and are experiencing joy and liberation. As for the fact that many businesses that were looted were owned by minorities, well, Osterweil says that “most stores are insured; it’s just hurting insurance companies on some level. It’s just property. It’s not actually hurting any people.”

Think about that. Have you seen news reports of store owners who lost their business, who were livid with rage and shaken with sorrow because they can’t rebuild and can’t make a living for a while even if they do? Those people aren’t hurt? Well, maybe not physically hurt, but their lives are severely damaged. And if looting of a mom and pop store is okay, and liberatory, why is shoplifting not okay by Osterweil’s lights? Shouldn’t that be liberatory as well? It’s just property after all, and you get stuff for free and it doesn’t really hurt anybody.

Finally, Osterweil tries to cover other bases, like “what about small business owners?” Her response is that it’s a right-wing myth that small business owners create jobs and are “part of the community” and, anyway, looters don’t really attack the good businesses in the community—only the ones that participate in “modes of oppression.” She won’t admit that any businesses that have been destroyed and looted didn’t deserve that.

She tries to dispel the idea that the looters are “outside people” who aren’t protesting, and the idea that looting is not an intrinsic part of “the movement.” By claiming these ideas are wrong, she’s actually flying in the face of those on the Left who have previously explained looting, trying to say it was the work of outsiders and wasn’t inherent in the protest. But Osterweil has a bigger fish to fry: she wants Marxism.

Osterweil’s words make me livid, for the woman is totally clueless. What kind of country does she think this would be if looting weren’t a crime, and if there were no police? What kind of country does she envision? Maybe it’s in her book, but I can’t bear to read it. It wouldn’t be good for my health.

Osterweil is a dangerous person because her ideas and her book are dangerous, for they provides a rationale for those who would riot, loot, and destroy property. Fortunately, Americans aren’t buying her argument. And I hope they’re not buying her book. There’s no doubt, though, that Osterweil will become a hero to certain people on the Left. Such people are to be avoided.

The author (from Hachette Books profile):

h/t: Eli

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:

Valparaiso, part 2 (with protests, food, and cats)

October 26, 2019 • 9:00 am

Demonstrations continue throughout Chile, despite the President’s promise to reform medical care, pensions, and other issues. We’re still under curfew in Valparaiso, and the Guardian reports that the legislature, which sits in this town, was evacuated yesterday after protestors tried to force their way in.

In the capital of Santiago yesterday, there was a giant protest, with over a million people reported to  have taken to the streets. Here’s a photo of the crowds:

Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP

There is no sign of the protests abating, and some say that they won’t until President Sebastián Piñera resigns. Our ship departure has been delayed nearly a day because (I think) it cannot load passengers in the evening after curfew.

Here are a few signs of the protest in Valparaiso. First, a burnt-out grocery store (grocery stores appear to be the main target of the protestors):

Police and protestors in front of a grocery store two days ago; the cops are guarding the entrance to prevent looting.

Police by a water cannon truck:

Some of the protestors. The ones I’ve seen in Valparaiso have generally been young:

A video of protestors and cops:

Here the protestors chant (as far as I can make out), “Todo la comida!” (“All the food!”) The cops stood firm and were not violent, though they have fired tear gas in the city.

After a while, we heard sirens and more cops and a water-cannon truck converged at the store. Here you can see the truck firing a rather lame stream of water, which did, however, disperse the protestors.

Fresh blood on the street:

Life goes on, though many stores and restaurants are closed. Here’s a line in front of one of the few open pharmacies; someone has written in Spanish “War on the state”:

The markets have reopened, though not fully: a sign that people still need food. They buy from little food shops since the supermarkets are closed (or looted), and many people are walking about hawking toilet paper.

Here’s a seller of traditional herbs (readers who know what they are should weigh in). One US dollar is worth roughly 725 Chilean pesos, so most of these are about a buck.

Empanadas, one of the national foods of Chile (and Argentina) are on sale again; they were hard to find the last few days. We didn’t essay one of these two days ago as we were on our way to lunch, but had some yesterday, pictured below. I like the classic “pino” empanada, with meat, onions, olives, and hard-boiled egg.

These are the main varieties:

The pino empanada, exterior and dissected. (They cost, as you see above, about two bucks, and make a substantial lunch or snack.)

Although most restaurants were closed, we found a nice seafood restaurant up on the hill with a terrific view of the port. Here’s the Inquilino, only a few months old:


We started with the local drink (also a local drink in Peru), the famous  “pisco sour“, made with pisco (colorless brandy), lime juice, and simple syrup. In Peru they add a beaten egg white to froth it, but I’m not sure they do that in Chile, as ours was sin huevo.

The proprietor gave us, gratis, glasses of the terrific local red, made from a grape I’ve had only once before in my life, Carménère. It’s related to cabernet, and reminded me of a California cab, with a slightly minty and dusty nose. It was fabulous. Chilean wines, especially reds, are famous, but so far this is the only one I’ve tried. Today we’ll have another fish lunch, even though I’m not usually a piscivore.

The dishes: fresh seared tuna steak with toasted sesame seeds, served with roasted potatoes, thinly-sliced avocado salad, and a bundle of vegetable spears. The tuna was properly cooked, i.e., slightly and pink. This may have been the best piece of tuna I’ve ever had.

Local Argentinian beef with a wine reduction sauce and mushrooms, served with salad and roasted potatoes. Also washed down with that nice red wine.

Dining on the terrace overlooking the city: a reflection in the restaurant’s glass:

Yes, I am eating nice food while others are protesting, and I feel a tad guilty about it, but we are having only two nice meals here over our five days, so I don’t feel that guilty.

Valparaiso has many stray dogs and cats but, more than any place I’ve ever visited, the locals take care of them. Two days ago I watched a woman walk a stray dog across a busy intersection, hugging it when they made it across. (The cars honked to warn the dog to stay out of the street.) The strays are all pretty plump, and two of them even refused a piece of empanada when we offered it to them yesterday. What kind of stray dog refuses a pastry-encased meat pie with egg? And everywhere people leave out basins of water and bowls of dry food for the dogs.

The cats are not in as good shape, but are still not starving. Here are some of them:

EVERYTHING FOR YOUR CAT (a pet store, but it’s a double entendre, too):

This is a well-serviced cat. Every animal is tame, both cats and dogs, and let you pet them.

The cat below is someone’s pet, and was sitting on a stool outside a fish store.

And, since it’s Caturday, this post counts as a Caturday felid post. Sadly, I may miss several of them while on the boat, the first time that’s happened in years.


Was the Muslim “ring of peace” around the Oslo synagogue exaggerated?

February 23, 2015 • 9:30 am

It’s with a heavy heart that I report this, for I so wanted it to be true, and now it might not be.

On Saturday I reported, based on many media accounts, that more than 1000 Norwegian Muslims formed a “ring of peace” around an Oslo synagogue on that day—the Sabbath. That was heartening: one bright spot in a world of inter-faith enmity.

Now reader Larry has called my attention to a piece at the site Winds of Jihad, which claims that the story was grossly exaggerated: that only about 20 Muslims showed up, not nearly enough to encircle the synagogue:

According to a local eyewitness, only about 20 or so Muslims formed the “ring of peace” around the Oslo synagogue. In fact, pictures from multiple angles show that there wasn’t enough people to form a ring, so the locals instead formed a horizontal line in front of the synagogue.

A local news outlet explained how the media got to its “1,300 Muslims” number. “According to police, there were 1300 persons present in the event. Very many of them ethnic Norwegians,” read a translated report from Osloby.

Further, the site reports another source claiming that the Muslim organizer of the event, Ali Chishti, might really be an anti-Semite who has actually said, “I hate Jews” and called for their extermination.

The site also notes this and gives a photo:

AFP reports almost identically, “More than 1,000 people formed a ‘ring of peace’ Saturday outside Oslo’s main synagogue at the initiative of a group of young Muslims. The newswire agency has no excuse for the false report, as it had a photographer taking shots of the “ring” at the scene–and one shows a man who appears to be at the end of the line of hand-holders, with his left hand in his pocket.

Here’s that photo:


Well, perhaps at least 20 Muslims (and many Norwegians) had the right motivations, but now we have to consider the possibility that this might have been political theater: a way for Muslims defuse possible Norwegian animus or suspicion of them or their faith. I have to admit that I was a bit put off by what was chanted at the demonstration—”No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia”—as it diverted attention from the object of the demonstration to bigotry against Muslims (if not criticism of Islam), but I let that pass and didn’t mention it. Now it may actually reflect what the demonstration was really about.

I felt that I had to give this report, even though both of the links above come from what appear to be ideologically-driven websites. Perhaps a Norwegian reader can get the facts, or someone find out the skinny on the organizers. It would be sad if this one show of amity turned out to be not only exaggerated, but organized by an anti-Semite, perhaps for purposes other than those stated.