Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it's outrageous that civil authorities are asking the people of Baltimore to remain peaceful in the wake of Freddie Gray's death:
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?

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.
Charlie Pierce seconds this:
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.


Paul said...

I have white liberal friends who make the same argument, pointing out how "terrible" it is that some cops got roughed up or a drugstore burned. "So sad," they all say. This infuriates me (granted, I should be less touchy). What we have here is a fundamental failure by even LIBERAL whites to empathize with things unseen, the decades of official oppression, the everyday struggle of the people in these communities with aggressive, militarized police forces. At some point, you've got to figure people stop caring how it looks when they throw rocks and break windows.

After all, nobody really cares when the cops brutalize innocent people. Unless they are white.

So you're right, and Coates and Pierce are right. And in the end, none of it matters. The media will pick up when the fires have died down, back to horserace BS for an election still a year and a half away. They'll stop talking about it until the next Baltimore, even though they could literally report on a different, new Freddie Gray situation every day. But they won’t.

So I guess what I’m saying is the killing of an innocent man by police is probably getting a lot more attention BECAUSE of the violence and property damage. Would peaceful protests draw this much media? After all, any press is good press.

Damned if you do riot, damned if you don’t.

paul said...

I think you underestimate the challenge.

This is a tougher era to establish a tactic like non-violence.

Civil rights marchers were marching into something: a segregated college; a lunch counter. And they were facing police and dogs and fire hoses determined to stop them.

If the protesters in Baltimore choose non-violence, they would walk around the block and then what? The armed and armored cops would watch and that is all. And everyone would go home.

Meanwhile the killing goes on one-by-one street-by-street always one at a time, always individual and always "justified".

I agree once the CVS burns the protesters lose the Narrative. And that is likely final.

It has to be more than a simple non-violence, and perhaps you mean this but you didn't say it.

That CVS would need to be boycotted as would every other business in the area. Until the business folks tell the cops to cut the shit.

How does that work? Would that work? Probably not. The city didn't care about the neighborhood before, why would it start now?

Then it would be up to a massive Maryland-wide national boycott like Indiana felt for passing its idiot law.

But it can't just start in Baltimore. It could start maybe if Ferguson and Baltimore et al made a movement but these folks have to make living too.

In the civil rights era the clergy did the networking across cities. It did the organization within a city. And sometimes unions too (remember those?)

Where is the clergy now? Almost MIA in any meaningful sense. They have national organizations,committed memberships and one would think a moral duty. Why is there no mass clergy movement to lead this non-violent charge?

I often wonder what would happen if the protest movements simply got carry permits and organized into militias. Yes, 2nd amendment gun toting open-carry freedom lovers. The marches would then be open-carry, gun-sex fests just like white folks do.

Then they could walk around the block and the nation would go into a complete shit-storm of action.

Of course I doubt it would end up like it did for the Clive Bundy "thugs" and "criminals".

You remember them being called that right? Me either.

biz5th said...

You can make an argument that the lives of blacks in Ferguson are better now because of their violence. The justice department investigation, the journalistic focus on the routine abuses of the police, the resignations of top officials, the voter registration drives, all happened as a result of the riots.

Non-violence was effective in the South because it focused attention on the abuses of authority.

In the current world, a violent backlash might what it takes to accomplish the same thing.

Anonymous said...

I can't figure out how to square two things that people with whom I'm generally ideologically simpatico have been saying:

(1) The people damaging property and looting aren't the protesters.

(2) Maybe violence is warranted when people are desperate and the power structure doesn't care. The violence IS the protest.

If the protesters aren't the ones being violent, then (2) just doesn't apply, no?

Victor said...

"That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state."

That, folks, was the COO of the Baltimore Orioles - a MLB team.

It’s more than a little pathetic that the COO of a MLB team understands the root causes of the problems better than most politicians and business leaders.

Parents who can’t find jobs to adequately support their families, will turn to sex, drugs, and a variety of other escapes. It’s sad, but it’s true.
Bring good paying jobs back to the inner cities, and then you might see some real change.

But, for corporations, there’s a greater profit margin if they ship those jobs overseas. And that’s been the problem in this country since the early 70’s.
Just as black people got civil and voting rights in the mid-1960’s that were denied to them since the end of the Civil War, and were able to find jobs, our corporations pulled the rugs out from under the inner cities, and started to ship those good paying jobs out.
Baltimore, like NY, Philadelphia, and Boston – among other coastal cities – were once important ports for manufacturing and commerce.
Now, a lot of those former ports are tourist attractions – like in NY City, Baltimore, Philly, and Boston – and goods are manufactured all around the world, and shipped into and out of cheaper coastal locations, where labor and real estate costs are not as high.

The conservatives and GOP in this country will now use this to try to pry a place for themselves to win the Presidency and both houses of Congress in 2016 – a dark place full of worst kind of racial intolerance, racist emotions, and full of racial hatred and fear.

“Divide and conquer.”
It’s what they do best.
Hell, it’s ALL they do!!!

Philo Vaihinger said...

Coates, as so often, is full of shit.
Violence and destruction are criminal. Does he seriously expect a black mayor and city administration and the black people whose homes, cars, and businesses are being destroyed to fold their arms and watch? Does he think they are OK with these assholes destroying their homes, cars, businesses, and city?

Philo Vaihinger said...

I apologize.

Having just read Coates again I realize he was only expressing his own anger and frustration and did not actually raise the issue of the political impact of riots or other violence, whether or not compared with non-violence as a political tactic.

I would apologize to Coates, but I didn't post to his piece, I posted to yours.