Violence Begats Violence
Violence in Baltimore didn't start with the protests.
Published on April 30, 2015
As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote recently, it's all very well for civic leaders and others to call for peace and calm when civilians employ violence; where were the same voices when the police were the ones breaking the law and busting heads? Case in point, right-wing pundit Stephen Crowder: writing about how the rioters disgust him he says "If you are able to harm your fellow man, to scare their children, to do so with a clean conscience ... you are a horrible human being." Nowhere in the column does he discuss the harm the cops inflicted on their fellow men.
I believe in non-violent change. It's produced incredible results during my lifetime for women, gays and blacks, among others. So a part of me thinks that's the reasonable approach. The Sun article says the police department is making reforms, though slow and lurching ones, so why not wait and see how it progresses?
Then again, it's 50 years since LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and the Baltimore police still treat blacks as if we were back in Jim Crow days. The Tampa PD routinely tickets black residents for bicycling while black. Prominent news columnists have written that police targeting black men for searches or questioning is justified because black men are just that scary. If my skin color put me on the receiving end of that, I might be feeling militant myself.
It's impossible not to see race as part of the issue. White America has been worrying about race wars, slave uprising and blacks assaulting whites since the days of the Founding Fathers. The bogeyman's details have changed -- these days, we have conservatives claiming the black president is organizing riots and plotting race war -- but the root fear is still there.
That fear puts everything in a different light. G. Gordon Liddy once told his radio-show audience how to kill federal agents wearing body armor; if a black leader in Baltimore said anything like that it would generate way more outrage (some of it probably from Liddy's fans).
So at what point is violence justified? I still don't know. And a part of me still feels that unjustified violence by the authorities -- cops, the military -- is somehow better and more acceptable than violence by ordinary people like us.
But it's becoming a lot harder to believe that than it used to be.