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On Protesting, Looting, and Rioting

A couple of weekends ago, numerous protests sprang up involving conservative Americans who wanted to resist unconstitutional executive orders related to the coronavirus. Many of us applauded those protests even as they received criticism from people. On the View, Sonny Hostin noted that the protestors were largely white, so she implied that they were dangerous white supremacists ready to start another Charlottesville. On Twitter, I received messages from people of color insisting that the protestors were racist, didn't care about the safety of people of color, and needed to be treated like domestic terrorists.


It is true that the anti-lockdown protestors were predominantly white but at the time I urged people of color to see them as fighting for their rights as well. People of color risked life and limb in American history in order to receive constitutional protection. White people who cared about people of color fought a whole Civil War to extend constitutional rights to them. The Fourteenth Amendment, which has been stretched to protect corporations, gay people, abortion, and untold other extenuations, was actually passed because of the fight over black people's rights under the Constitution. So I encouraged people of color to join the anti-lockdown protestors as a general protest against state repression and unconstitutional governance. It was a rare opportunity to work across battlelines.


That opportunity passed. Then people of color realized that the same police who were stopping white hairdressers in Dallas from opening their shop were also capable of strangling innocent black men to death and getting away with it. Like clockwork, the onerous rules and regulations coming from the coronavirus bureaucracy had emboldened government and the police. Any time this happens, men of color bear heightened scrutiny and targeting. Whenever you give unrestrained enforcement power to authorities, the power rests upon personal bias and the bias leads to racially different outcomes.



So we find, now, protests that began with a racial composition almost entirely the opposite of the anti-lockdown protests. Instead of watching white police facing off against white Trump supporters in front of state houses, we have the racially explosive optics of white police officers in riot gear facing off against black people who are infuriated over what was an indefensible injustice.


The protests turned into riots, and then into looting. Because the mostly white anti-lockdown protests did not lead to riots and looting, we can expect that many conservatives, rightfully angry at how they were smeared as racist for absolutely no reason, will point this out. When they do, it will often come across as racially offensive if not racist.


I cannot fault conservatives who just took so much unfair branding as "racist" if they get heated in pointing out that the pro-black protests turned into riots whereas the anti-lockdown protests did not. I hope they can try not to fan the flames of racial animus because I could say the same thing to white conservatives that I said to people of color who mocked the anti-lockdown protests: The protestors are fighting for your rights as well as their own. Police brutality will hurt all of us if it grows and metastasizes in black communities first. Policemen that come to see black men as subhuman will soon enough treat everyone that way.


How to explain why one set of protests did not become violent and the other did? I don't think black people are more violent or uncivilized. There are huge differences based on a long history of racial tension. The pro-black protests were responding to a brutal murder of a black man, something that invokes centuries of mistreatment, whereas the anti-lockdown protests were mostly reacting to the economic and social oppression of bad laws, not outright murder and not something with lifetimes of anger boiling up. Also, in the psychology of crowd control, policemen are more likely to react vehemently against large numbers of people angry over police brutality. It is impossible to assign the responsibility for escalation simply to one side or the other.


But in the end, at the level of protests, both gatherings were fighting for rights that extended beyond themselves to others. The mostly white anti-lockdown protesters were fighting to reopen the economy, which would allow the mostly black anti-brutality protesters to gain more economic opportunity to improve their lives. The mostly black anti-brutality protesters were fighting to buck the biased abuse of enforcement authority, which should matter to Trump supporters who watched the entire law enforcement apparatus abuse its powers in trying to overturn the election of their presidential candidate.


Conservative Christians have already seen that the system is rigged and they will not get very far if they allow their liberal state oppressors to define how, how much, and what they can do in grievance against the state. Often corrupt authorities will tell resisters to follow a bureaucratic grievance process -- like posting a complaint to Facebook about unfair censorship -- that they know is phony, meaningless, and a deliberate waste of their time. Black people angry over about how they've been treated also understand how rigged the game is. Even I, with a PhD and all the rigmarole of higher education, played by all the rules and got crushed as retaliation for trying to challenge the powers that be. Both the anti-lockdown and the anti-brutality protestors had to confront their own powerlessness. The anti-brutality protestors switched to violent confrontation quickly. While the conservative protestors did not turn to such violence quickly, I have to point out, they have no real plan to resist government oppression and will likely not be able to change anything. Maybe the black protestors will also not be able to change. But I hesitate to demonize the violent protests unless I can get a sense of where the conservative Christian protesters are going with their objections to the overbearing state. If they can think of no nonviolent and/or orderly way to resist, then they may have to contemplate the frightening reality that they may have to turn to violent resistance too, at least at some point. The American Revolutionaries did. The English parliamentarians did in their civil war. Sometimes disagreements turn to violence. I wish we could find a better way. I just can't write off the black protesters self-righteously when I fail to see any way the system will change simply through by way of peaceful objections.


Remember that black people got a black man elected president and still find problems persisting. Remember that conservative Christians got Trump elected and still find problems persisting.


If the system won't change, no matter how much we expose, embarrass, plead with, and engage with the bad actors who are doing bad things, then it is inevitable that people will start turning their resistance into forms that are not irenic. The point is the more polite you are, the more you let your oppressor know they don't have to change. Until the oppressor feels the cost of oppressing you, the oppressor won't stop. If you have access to money and influence, perhaps you can make the cost of oppressing you felt in economic terms or in terms of political victories. If you have nothing but your physical strength and solidarity with other poor people, there is a high chance that you will turn to violence.


I lament and grieve violence. I do not partake in it. I struggled in the Army because I knew I was not capable of a lot of violence, it is not in me.


But I can't mock or dismiss what happens when people in power refuse to change after years, even centuries, of people showing them that their actions harm others.


The looting is another story. We see that the looting in 2020 has scaled to a much higher level than we see in recent years' racial controversies. But here, too, I want to see this objectively. One difference in 2020 is that many people in these communities have been under lockdown and are hungry. Many are facing eviction. While I saw footage of one person stealing televisions, I saw other footage of people stealing basic things like light bulbs, furniture, food, and housewares. I don't and can't know every individual's story but I don't find it surprising that we see more looting now because people are facing eviction, have lost their jobs, and need money however they can get it.


When we supported the anti-lockdown protests, this was a major part of our argument. We said the lockdowns were hurting the poor economically and we might face a crisis. When discussing the looting now, we should stand by the arguments we made two weeks ago. The looters are the inevitable result of the bad lockdown policies.


Some have said that burning down Target is suicide because they are harming their own communities. Remember that many black-owned business are small and struggling. They have been shut down by the lockdowns even as Target and Walmart got to stay open. We made this argument in defense of small businesses opening in Dallas. For many people looting Target, Target is not their community, but the force that has bankrupted their community because they had political ties that allowed them to stay open while small businesses were closed.


I admit I am biased because I am a conservative minority. I sided with both sets of protests partly because I have reasons to feel allegiance to both sides. If that means some will dismiss me, honi soit qui mal y pense.


I don't support looting or rioting, but I support thinking and reflecting. It helps to consider many angles when you see events that disturb and shock you.

© 2014 by "The Gatekeepers".

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