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On Protests and Violence

Life has been cut short. We are now left with a world completely shaped by the media. Who knows what’s really going on out there if you can’t even step outside to see it? It felt like we used to maintain a certain distance within view of the real world, but now, forbidden from stepping outside, we either choose to completely cut ourselves off or to immerse ourselves in news of the outside world.

Either way, it feels like it’s disintegrating. We used to keep pushing for our lives to be extended for as long as possible, but now, barely able to live and barely able to imagine the notion of “next week,” we grow angsty, resulting in potentially deadly consequences.

It has been a week since the rioting started in Minneapolis at the time of writing this. When speaking of the events there, I always assume that it began with protesting, resulting from the grief associated with the death of George Floyd, a person who I believe will become a household name, tinged with the same historical significance as the name of Rodney King. The decision to protest now, in the midst of a global pandemic, is interesting but understandable: the level of outrage caused by undeniable, systematic issues of racism and police brutality is greater than the danger associated with spreading COVID-19 for some; especially for those who are victims of such issues. Something must be undeniably done about these systematic issues.

However, the protesting soon turned to rioting in some places and at some times. Due to our accessibility to cameras with the prevalence of smartphones and due to the potential for a large audience associated with recording such events, there is a substantial amount of footage from the protests and riots. It seems as if there are recordings of every sort of person committing every sort of act, especially when it comes to acts of violence. Very few people want to be held accountable for this sort of behavior, and those that do, face backlash from multiple sides. For clarity’s sake, I will state now that while I do support the protests, I do not support any of the physical violence (including looting and destroying private property) that we see ensuing before us, on the part of civilians and police. Such behavior, in my eyes, is a path that causes the greatest amount of damage for all parties in the end.

When I speak of who is blaming who for the violence, I am speaking superficially and generally. While it’s possible to literally wear your ideology on your sleeve, not every individual associated with the rioting chooses to do it. Even then, it also isn’t hard to put on a costume and pretend to believe in something you don’t. Mainstream right-wing media blames protestors and Antifa for the violence on the part of the civilians, African American activists blame Antifa, white liberals, and police provocation, and even /pol/ seems to suggest that the violence is perpetuated by some secret organization or by alternative conservatives parading as leftists, whether it be to make leftists look bad or for the sheer chaos of it. It isn’t hard to antagonize both sides of the political spectrum and of the white-black dichotomy, as well as the government itself when you look at all the different perspectives that both, independent journalists and massive media corporations, perpetuate. I mean, they do have the footage to back it up.

Maybe most of it is nonsense and one-off occasions. But the footage is… real. There are things being done by lots of different people. It must have a grain of truth, shouldn’t it? Especially after so many people in urban areas have been under heavy quarantine, it can’t be surprising that actors that normally would not have taken part in the original protests are taking part in them, whether in a contributive or destructive manner. Considering our society’s obsession with productivity, it only makes sense to seize this opportunity to participate and feel truly accomplished.

I honestly think that the protests lacked the structure and leadership that would’ve provided a clear end goal for the protests, preventing the muddling of their original intentions. Even if it was to purely show solidarity for the death of Floyd and for opposition to American police brutality towards African Americans, an authoritative figure, I think, would’ve been helpful in controlling public image and reigning in the masses when they began to get out of hand. Regarding the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, activist Al Sharpton ensured that the protests occurring in New York City at the same time did not deteriorate into a similar level of violence. He has now spoken during the protests in Foley Square, insisting that violence on the part of the protestors must be strictly avoided to prevent the protestors from tainting themselves with a brutality too similar to the one they are protesting. Politics involve a lot of marketing, purely and simply, especially when we consider the amount of money put into political campaigning. In order to sell your product (or idea), it should be accessible to your customer or audience, and this should be kept in mind in terms of any protest if it is meant to be taken seriously and provoke real structural change. As unfortunate as this is, it’s the nature of the marketplace of ideas.

I enjoy a healthy bit of violence: from football to Grand Theft Auto, there is a remarkably therapeutic appeal to it. However, it’s contained within a singular context— the moment the game is over, the suspension of disbelief is released, and we return to a life of relative peace, if we’re lucky. In life and in politics, I’ve always thought that violence only incites more violence. When it is involved in real life, involving real people, the personal stops being political for a moment and becomes truly, purely personal, and that much harder to forgive, because if there is one certain truth between us all, I think, it is that there is nothing more intrinsic to the human experience than suffering and pain. There is certainly much more to be said on the subject of these riots, but this is enough for a single post.