We Deplore the Violence

On the reflexive need to lament violence, to condemn, to use the word peace as a passive one: 

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.

I’m not sure “official violence” is the right term, but it comes close to what I was trying to talk about last night, which is the way riots happen slowly and quietly, with refusing to fill a pothole or forgetting to shovel snow. The pushback against broken windows policing forgets that broken windows do in fact need fixing, and landlords need watching, and streets need patrolling not by tanks but by human beings, and none of that has happened in poor black city neighborhoods for the past 40 years at least.

Those in charge — of the city, of its press, of the ballot box and bank vault and boardroom — walled themselves off from parts of the world they wanted to forget, and together they made sure nobody else remembered. (Thus we can be surprised, every time it happens.) They created poverty, with methods formal and informal, and then they created ignorance of that poverty, shock at its results, and punishment for its manifestations.

Low test scores? Close the schools, they’re “underperforming.” Crime? Lock people up for petty offenses. Children born out of wedlock, addicted to drugs, hobbled by a mother’s disease or abuse? Pile jail time and fines upon parents, and then stand in front of crosses, at podiums, and call their mothers whores.

Over and over again, for years. Stoke and stoke and stoke the fires, and blame the ashes.  This is violence. It’s always violence. Economics is violence. Politics is violence. Anything that chips away at the stone of the world, forcing it into a new shape, does so with violence. The state murders more in a day than rioters would in a year, and ’twas ever thus, that those who speak up are always deplored as ruining everything for everyone else.

Today has seen the usual depressing tally of which commentators — Sharpton, Scarborough, the #tcot crowd with their sad little tweets — have deplored the violence in Baltimore. There is of course no excuse for looting — check that box. People should be more like Dr. King — check that one, too. Before we talk about anything, with any force or meaning, let’s make it clear we are talking about nothing at all.

By deploring the violence in Baltimore.

Some of the violence, anyway.


4 thoughts on “We Deplore the Violence

  1. Inconveniently for a lot of the powerful, who invoke MLK’s nonviolence, King also said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” And the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles, furfugzake, appears to understand that better than any politician, even the one in the Oval Office.

  2. It’s depressing to sample around my social media and usual favorite blog haunts and see the number of otherwise canny people who want to “solve” Baltimore by just dispatching the police or the national guard to go out in the streets and start mowing people down. There is no recognition that Freddie Gray’s death is only the latest (which is to say, not the only) reason for the people of Baltimore to be up in arms.

    I am confident that if even one-tenth of the oppression regularly visited on the Baltimore underclass happened to some of the “mow ’em down” crowd, we would be hearing a distinctly different tune.

  3. Recalling the section of Nixonland that had to do with the Watts riots in 1965, it was apparent from Perlstein’s narrative that people had been living with authoritarian and dogmatic cops for quite a while, and it only took a couple of related instances of bad behavior on the part of the cops on the same day to set things off.

    Same-same with the 1992 so-called “Rodney King Riots” in LA. Tipping points aren’t just for global warming. In Baltimore, little reported on except locally, is the fact that water shut-offs in poor communities, over the last few months, have been almost as bad as in Detroit last year, so the death of Freddie King may be just the point at which things blew up.

    Our history pretty clearly shows that the state’s capacity (and taste) for violence far exceeds that of the working class and minorities, King’s tactics (non-violence) were one response to that state excess. Alinsky’s (ridicule of the powerful) was another. But, so was the Black Panthers’ militancy, until it devolved into bitter in-fighting (with the state’s assistance).

    That said, anyone who thinks these riots are just spontaneous events, or the planned contrivances of “outside agitators,” is being willfully ignorant of the cumulative effects of forty or more years of neglect.

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