Violence is not the answer

Editor’s note: Like many people, I sometimes make snap judgements based on incomplete or intentionally misleading information. I’m not saying this was one of those times, but I am rethinking my position on antifa as a movement, now that I have read a couple more in-depth pieces. I still don’t think violence is the answer, but I’m also not sure what is and how much of the recent anti-antifa backlash to believe.

Over the weekend, Berkeley, California, found itself in the news once again for all the wrong reasons. As reported in the Washington Post:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa — “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.
Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”
All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”

This kind of violence cannot and should not be condoned. By anyone. As my mother used to say, “I don’t care who started it.” Violence for the sake of violence is never the answer. Period.

Sadly, no one will remember the thousands of people who protested peacefully against hate. They’ll focus instead on the few who took it upon themselves to attack and brutalize people simply because they don’t like what they perceive to be those people’s views. That’s right. What they perceive to be their views.

We all need to be careful who we align ourselves with and how broad a stroke we use in painting those we oppose. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Even more so than most. Sure, it’s easy to say people who don’t want to be labeled as racist shouldn’t hang around racists. Well, it’s just as easy to say people who don’t want to be labeled as anarchists shouldn’t hang around anarchists. Neither statement paints an accurate portrait of the vast majority of Americans. Both only further the divide.

Do I think white supremacists deserve a free pass? Hell no. Running people over with cars, beating a man to within an inch of his life in a parking garage, and shooting into a crowd of people are not okay. Never mind the whole mindset of a superior race and the justification for genocide.

But I also don’t think we can give violence on the left a free pass, just because we don’t like the people they’re attacking.

I’m all for peaceful, non-violent protesting and counter-demonstrating. Those are protected rights of any free society. I’m also all for self-defense and the defense of others who are unable to defend themselves. That’s just human decency. Where I draw the line is with violence for the sake of violence — or violence as a way to intimidate those whose opinions you want to quell.

I understand how anger works. Am I tempted to jump aboard the whole “punch a Nazi” craze? Yes, especially in response to what happened in Charlottesville. Not to mention Nazi Germany and the lynch mobs and cross burners of the Jim Crow south. Does that make it right? Certainly not. It’s a visceral response to a level of violence and hatred that seems to know no bounds. But from reports coming out of Berkeley, that’s not what was happening there.

I consider myself a progressive. I’m a proud Bernie backer. My greater fear of a Donald Trump presidency and personal disdain for the man were the main reasons I voted for Hillary Clinton in the last general election. (I know several people who legitimately like her. I’m not one of them.) I hoped a Clinton presidency would protect groups of people I knew a Trump presidency would not. As a straight white male, I knew I had nothing to fear personally, but the same was not true for everyone. The last eight months have done nothing to quell those fears.

I applaud those who seek social justice and stand up for the “other.” I loathe our current commander in chief. His response to Charlottesville, his trans ban, his never-ending barrage of tweets and campaign rallies, his ongoing assault on the free press, and his pardoning of sadistic bigot Joe Arpaio only reinforce those feelings. The dog whistles to the alt-right and false equivalencies don’t help either. I could go on, but I won’t.

At the same time, I’ve grown weary and leery of the whole “resistance” moniker, too, and of those who use it for their own political gain. I don’t think Russia hacked the DNC (though I do think they tried to influence our election). I’ve lost all faith in the current two-party system. The DNC clearly violated its own charter and has precisely zero fucks to give about it. The GOP is a trainwreck with supposed “leaders” who lack the backbone and moral fortitude to stand up against Trump in any real, meaningful way.

I bristle when I hear people lump all progressives together with those from the far left fringe who advocate violence, just as I’m sure my friends on the right bristle when they hear people lump all conservatives together with the alt-right. Yes, we are a divided nation. But I’d like to think that for most of us, there’s more that unites us in the end.

“I applaud the more than 7,000 people who came out today to peacefully oppose bigotry, hatred and racism that we saw on display in Charlottesville,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a statement. “… However, the violence that small group of protesters engaged in against residents and the police, including throwing smoke bombs, is unacceptable. Fighting hate with hate does not work and only makes each side more entrenched in their ideological camps.”

Call me naive. Call me a sockpuppet, an apologist, a Bernie Bro, or whatever else you want. In my mind, an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. And that only serves the interests of those who have something to gain when the rest of us can no longer see.

Stepping down from my soapbox and depositing two pennies in the jar…

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