The Use of Violence

Part of me really didn’t want to write this post. In fact, as I am typing I am still undecided on what I will say and whether I will hit that magic “publish” button. I don’t want to piss people off, but I also want to express my thoughts. Writing is how I process even when (especially when?) the subject is controversial and there seems to be little room for nuance or discussion. I guess I have little choice though, I want to be a writer and that means I should write.

First, to give my background… I’m white, I came from a conservative home, and I served as an infantryman in the military. I’ve never been black, never lived in a city with lots of crime, and I’ve never been a cop. I have a lot of friends who are police officers (many military guys turn to law enforcement after their contract ends) and I am sure I have distant relatives who are police officers. I also have black friends, though they are all college educated and tend to live relatively suburban lives… though, I don’t know the intimate lives of anyone and their lives may have a side to it that I can’t see.

I just want people to know where I am coming from and that I fully admit that I don’t have any real solutions to the violence we are seeing in America today. I can somewhat relate to both sides of the argument, but I don’t really know what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. I think the most important changes to be made would require a complete reform (revolution?) of our system. We would need to end the war on drugs today. We would need to stop sending men with guns out to enforce victimless “crimes” and act as revenue collectors for the state… isn’t it batshit crazy that we send people with guns after someone for selling CDs or for a broken tail-light? I can think of better ways to handle those situations, and maybe we should start changing the role that police play in our society.

Anyway, despite having more in common with the police than with an African-American living in an urban environment, I have a really hard time relating to the police in the recent situations. It seems that we hold police to a lower standard than we do civilians, particularly African-Americans. Just ask yourself, if you were caught on video with a friend pinning someone to the ground and shooting them would you be allowed to go home and think things over before your actions being investigated? Or would you be pulled into the police department instantly and spend hours being interrogated? If the police are trained to handle these situations shouldn’t their punishment be worse when the situations go violent?

To be honest, I can understand why someone shot police in Dallas. Violence should be a last resort, it should be used as self-defense, but I think it is likely that many in the African-American community feel that line has been crossed. I can understand why they feel that self-defense is necessary to protect themselves and their families from being just another statistic of state violence against the population.

I know many say that the officers shot were “innocent”, but I don’t think that is true. Guilt and innocence are not a binary, they are part of a spectrum. In every action we exist on some degree of guilt and innocence, and that level is determined by our actions. No person decided their own race or ethnicity, they didn’t choose to be born into a country that was built on the backs of slaves and has institutional racism running through its veins. But, individuals did choose to join a police department, they did choose to become an agent for the state, enforce laws that are unjust, and participate in an institution with historical and current racist practices.

Being black is not a choice and there is no guilt associated with it.

Being a police officer is a choice and there is guilt associated with it.

The question then becomes, is violence acceptable against people based on the institution they chose to join, even if they are not directly, in that moment, a threat. I think the answer is yes, in some cases.

If you feel there are no non-violent options to protect yourself and your family, then that is the case. Most people recognize that in war-time situations, ambushing enemy soldiers is deemed acceptable because those soldiers would act violently if they could. We even justify civilians using violence against an invading army through guerrilla warfare because the invading army is a source of potential violence in the future.

Let’s take 1944 Germany as an example. This may seem to be an extreme example, but I think it is still valuable.

Would we tell a Jewish person who shot a Nazi soldier walking down the street that he shouldn’t have done that because that particular soldier may have been innocent and wasn’t a threat at that time? Or would we recognize that by being a Nazi soldier was an implicit threat to the Jewish person? Certainly, the policies of the Nazis are far worse than that of the police in the United States… the degree of oppression is different but it is still oppression. In some ways the Nazi soldier could be more innocent because many soldiers were drafted against their will into the military, that isn’t true of police officers in the US.

So, is the police department more similar to an army than it is to an institution to serve and protect? To the African-American community I believe that could be convincingly argued. Are there non-violent options left to prevent the police from killing African-Americans? I’m not sure that there are, and I can certainly understand why many in the community feel there are not. Police officers are treated special. They don’t face juries, they get the benefit of the doubt in all things, they are protected by high cost lawyers, they don’t face the consequences of their actions personally, they are protected by a “thin blue line of silence” where good police officers won’t rat out bad police officers. When the system fails, the only choice left is violence. It may not be a good choice, it may not work to create positive change, but it might be the only option.

I’m not sure if the violence in Dallas was justified, but I can understand why some people think it is. I can understand the feeling that there are no legal options. There is no blind justice system, that our system sees blue as above the population. I can understand seeing the police as an invading army whose primary focus is to extract money and put people in cages, or kill them in the streets. I can understand not seeing any other option other than violence… there is no outside army that will rescue civilians from oppression at the hands of their own government. I can understand the drive, desire, and need to take the fight to enemy, to die on your feet instead of living (and dying) on your knees. When someone “does everything right” and is shot in the chest for no reason, I can see why shooting first becomes the least bad choice.

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