What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?Charlie Pierce seconds this:
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray's death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray's death and so they appeal for calm....
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.
Non-violent resistance requires a kind of implicit reason on both sides. It requires that both sides see an end to matters, that they acknowledge, even tacitly, that there is a level of violent repression that is unsupportable in a civil society. But how does one reason in the face of brutalized futility? How does one reason in the face of repeated injustices, of unacknowledged crimes, and of injuries blamed not on the perpetrators, but on the victims? The logic of non-violent resistance breaks down in the face of that, when official violence fails to acknowledge any limits at all, when it does not recognize any possible point at which official violence becomes intolerable to the public at large. At that point, there is no telling what comes next.Is this really true? Is it correct to say, "Non-violent resistance requires ... that both sides ... acknowledge, even tacitly, that there is a level of violent repression that is unsupportable in a civil society"?
I think the point of nonviolence in the civil rights era was precisely that it was a shockingly brave response to officials who didn't acknowledge limits on how violent they could be, because they believed that the larger white society agreed with them that the people to whom they were dealing out violence were of a lower order of humanity. Coates says that nonviolence is more than the Baltimore authorities (or the Ferguson or Cleveland or New York authorities) deserve -- but obviously it was more than Bull Connor deserved, too. It's not an approach that should be chosen as a favor to the authorities. It's an approach that should be chosen because it's seen as a potentially successful tactic. This happens if it's believed that there's a third group of people -- some percentage of the broader public and the more conscience-driven public officials -- who will more readily recognize which side is the oppressor, and will press for action.
You may doubt that it can work, and maybe it can't. But it might. One thing is clear: my fellow white people are relieved when there's unrest like what happened last night in Baltimore, whether they'll admit it or not, because it gives them the excuse not to care about the brutality routinely dealt out to black people by cops -- horror stories like those that recently appeared in a Baltimore Sun story quoted by both Coates and Pierce:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones -- jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles -- head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement....Yeah, my fellow whites say, that's awful, but look at that looted CVS. And that cop is bleeding, isn't he?
We basically still run the country, the president's lineage notwithstanding, so it's a war for our hearts and minds. Would peaceful protest reach us? We're not completely incorrigible. It might. In any case, the point isn't whether we deserve nonviolence. The point is whether it'll more effectively get through our thick skulls.