An Open Letter to the Anarchists and Those Engaging In Violence For Violence’s Sake
(And Those Who Tacitly Enable Them)
Listen up, because I’m getting really tired of repeating myself: While there may be some people fooled by the destructive actions of the handful of you who always seem to attach yourselves to whichever valid protest may be occurring like a tapeworm which has infiltrated the open wounds of injustice, the rest of us are not, and we’ve had enough. You idiots are the reason why no one takes a protest seriously any more. I know, I know: many people out in the streets make fantastic cover for your petty larceny and desire to break something. But all you’re doing is giving those with no desire to effect a change the ammunition they desire to maintain the status quo. It takes courage to stare down a police force armored in full riot gear, armed with nothing but the knowledge that you are in the right, and that kind of strength should not be undermined by callow, undeserving, self-centered malcontents who only know how to direct their agitation toward a narrow slice of personal gain. It is not the fault of local businesses, so stop destroying them. And if you take the law into your own hands and seek out vigilante justice, then you are no better than the authorities being protested for having done the same while on their narrow and misinformed personal crusades.
There is a reason why the best among us have always advocated peaceful protest: give them no excuse to ridicule your ideology, and don’t sink down to meet them on their level. The moment a rock or punch is thrown, your argument becomes invalid in the eyes of those whom you are protesting. See? they say, This is what we have to deal with. Maybe we crossed a line, but we had to protect ourselves. That’s all it takes. I was a stone’s throw (metaphorically, of course) from the WTO debacle in Seattle in ’99. My girlfriend’s daughter went over to town to bask in all the chaos. I remember watching the news coverage, and sitting with my girlfriend while worrying if her teenage daughter would make it through the night. And what did that accomplish? Not a goddamned thing! The rest of the country got to chuckle at the disorganized flailings of an obviously childish philosophy. Was the police response justified? On the one hand, obviously not. They are ostensibly there “To Protect and Serve.” But when your city is under siege by those who are engaging in acts of casual destruction? What then?
The Occupy a News Cycle protests wound up failing in much the same way. Sure, it would have helped if there had been a unified message with a handful of bullet points instead of countless voices trying to scream over one another, demanding redress for their grievances, but eventually a conversation might have finally been forced to start, were it not for the elements of rash destruction which tended to hang about the fringes of the protests in all the major cities. Instead of inspiring an open discussion of inequality and the erosion of our basic human rights, the entire movement allowed itself to be marginalized by the lawlessness and stupidity by which they’d already been forcibly branded. What should have been handled with the caution and determination of a siege mentality was instead wasted on a futile assault against the gates. You cannot give them even the slightest excuse to mow you under. The first brick thrown, the first fire set, and the whole thing comes unraveled in the interests of “public safety.”
Now, that is not a defense of the policies (and the police officers who enforce them) of brutal violence blooming out of their own fears and racism. The incidents which sparked the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Los Angeles were inexcusable, and need to have been properly addressed. Crime exists when its perpetrators feel that they’ve no other option for survival, and there will always be those who will exploit their helplessness, and prey upon their fears. No one should have to live in fear of the police, unless they are murderers on the run. And even then, I’m told, there is the framework in this country for the public, through its appointed and elected representatives, to try an individual in a court of law. No one should have to worry that an encounter with a cop will result in death. No one should have to worry about being arrested without cause. It’s not enough to say that if you don’t want to risk a run-in with the Law, then don’t break any, when we live in a world where almost anything can be construed as an act criminality.
We have the right to peacefully assemble (at least for now). We have the responsibility to make our voices heard. We must stand up for one another before there is no one left to stand at all. And when rise, and when our voices carry, we must keep our house in order. It’s the same principle as the what many Christians have been facing. No one likes the Westboro Baptist Church, or thinks what they are doing is a good or decent thing. No one likes those dudes with megaphones and giant signs screaming “God Hates Fags!” And yet we allow them to continue. We allow their hate to permeate the conversation to distract us from the things which we need to say. The First Amendment ensures that government cannot censor what we say, but that doesn’t mean we have to let the worst among us spout their hatred without consequence. Call them out on it. Make them stop. Even if you didn’t throw that brick, you saw that dude who was about to. We are trying to stand up for civility, equality, and justice. We cannot allow ourselves to be undermined by those who simply want to watch the world burn.