Violence Isn’t The Answer
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
— Martin Luther King Jr. “The Other America,” 1968
UPDATE – I’m reposting this blog that I wrote for my white friends and family last year in response to the Colin Kaepernick “controversy” because I’m hearing some of the same language echoed in response to what’s happened to local Jacksonville activist Connell Crooms. Please keep this in mind when you hear (white) people claiming that Connell was the first to use “violence.”
I saw a post from a friend of mine yesterday on Facebook. It was a photo of Dr. King, with his words that I used as my high school senior quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It gave me pause. Because while I’ve certainly not been silent recently, I have been reluctant to say something to my white friends and family, that has been weighing heavy on my heart.
This blog post is for them.
I’ve seen, over the past month, numerous reflections on patriotism, protest, the national anthem, and the current racial justice movement in America. Some of these reflections were from my friends and family, but a lot of them were from their friends, or their friends-friends—people I was a few steps removed from. The opinions varied of course, from commending what Colin Kaepernick was doing as laudable, to condemning him for disrespecting his country and, “going about it the wrong way.” The one thing that it seemed every person agreed on though,was that violence was not the answer. Violence against police, violence in the streets, peaceful protests turned into violent riots—the one line every white person I saw commenting drew was this.
I watched the governor of North Carolina say these words to a commentator on CNN, while I stood in the break room at work. I felt my palms sweat and my jaw clench. The governor of North Carolina has continued to support and defend one of the most discriminatory, hateful, and violent laws in decades, one that has directly and indirectly led to the slow or immediate death of countless trans citizens in this country. The message this law sends to trans people is clear: something is wrong with you, and we don’t want you. We wish you didn’t exist.
41% of trans people have contemplated or attempted suicide.
Violence isn’t the answer.
The trans people who are at the highest risk of violence (against them) are trans women of color. Women who aren’t safe anywhere. I thought about this when I got back to my desk, recalling two recent conversations I’d had with black friends of mine. Both were hurting, both were angry, both were scared. These women were decades apart in age, hundreds of miles away from each other, never having met, but dealing with almost the exact same pain and frustration. My friend “M” was dealing with the end of a decades long friendship with someone who had decided to choose support for Trump over a relationship with her, claiming that M was complaining too much about racism, since “plenty of other races have had it worse, and they’re not whining.” Words I saw with my own eyes. M’s friend messaged her privately, asking M to post something in defense of her, so that M’s other friends wouldn’t think she was racist. I talked about the absurdity of this with M, and the hurt of how many of our other mutual white friends have acted almost as badly, when it came to race.
My other friend was going through what so many black Americans are every day. The fear that the next hashtag, the next name trending on Twitter, could be them. Hoping and praying that their friends and family don’t have to see a video of them being shot splashed all over Facebook. Research has shown that frequent exposure to videos of police shootings can cause PTSD-like trauma in black-people. The kind that affects their jobs, relationships, and every-day lives.
But remember, violence isn’t the answer.
I was listening to the soundtrack to Hamilton while writing this, thinking about the history of our country while bopping my head along to the songs. So much war, so many deaths, fought for freedom. No taxation without representation, as the Tea Party likes to remind us. We praise our founding fathers for fighting with guns and ships and bayonets for our freedom from oppression. For the right to live.
But remember, violence isn’t the answer.
As (well-meaning?) white people like to bring up in every conversation on race, Martin Luther King Jr. urged for peaceful protests. I find these calls for peace hollow, since they rarely acknowledge the violence carried about against King and his community. We ask black people (still, fifty years later, fighting for their rights) to be peaceful, telling them to remember Martin. But do we remember? White people beat, spat, clawed, shot, and killed protesters who peacefully marched. While black people sat at lunch counters peacefully, white people pushed and shoved and punched, and when that didn’t work they poured mustard over their heads, rubbing it into their eyes. And when still, King marched, when still, he went on, a white person assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., the man calling for peace.
Maybe, I wonder, if white violence hadn’t been used to shut Martin Luther King Jr. up, there’d be less protests that end in tear gas and broken store fronts today.
But maybe not.
Black-and-white photos can be deceiving. They give the illusion sometimes that the events depicted within are tucked far into the past. But if Martin Luther King Jr. had not been gunned down, he’d be 87 years old today. Only a few years older than my grandfather. The same age as many of the parents of the pundits on TV, begging the black people for peace.
Go back, if you have the stomach for it, and look through some of those black and white photographs of the “peaceful” protests in the past. Look at the clubs used by police to beat the black women whose hands are lifted up to protect their faces.
Study the teeth of the dogs, held back by the the fists of stone-faced officers. See who is bleeding, and who is not. See who is violent, and who is not.
87 years old.
Now turn the news back on. Look at the faces of the protesters, whose arms are up, eyes watering from the tear gas. See who’s on the ground bleeding, and who’s standing over them, gun raised.
Violence isn’t the answer.
So the question is, why do the police, the government, keep using it?