(CONTENT WARNING: racism, police brutality)
One would think that when a gunman fatally shoots three unarmed protesters, the folks who decry violent pushback against police brutality with “violence is never the answer” would be livid. After all, if a systematically oppressed people destroying private property provokes such moral outrage and is so inexcusable even in light of the oppression which provoked it, surely there is no excuse for opening fire at a protest, even a violent one.
A week ago, Tucker Carlson proved me wrong when he delivered this dreadful “hot take” on the aforementioned murders of Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin: “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
To a certain degree, I can’t say I’m surprised that Tucker would stoop to this new low. He has long been a reliable mouthpiece for white supremacy on Fox News, notably in how he goes beyond condemning illegal immigration to fearmongering about the perceived threat of increased immigration overall. Finding a way to justify and downplay a 17-year-old white kid shooting up a Black Lives Matter protest fits right in with that narrative.
It’s not surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less appalling.
And upon further thought, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the folks who proclaim “violence isn’t the answer” in the face of rioting and looting are mum about this, because they are quiet as a mouse about the very real violence that leads to these riots in the first place. Because violence like that inflicted upon Jacob Blake and Daniel Prude happens routinely, without making the news, without the world batting an eye.
Black and brown folks face violence, disproportionately, at the hands of police on a regular basis, particularly women and those in the trans community. No righteous anger. No outcry. No moral indignation. Violence which kills, which brutalizes, which leaves behind grief, scars, and trauma, goes unacknowledged by those supposedly so incensed by it, again and again.
Then one of those acts of violence captures national attention and someone responds by hurling a brick through a storefront window or setting the place ablaze, and that’s what brings the “violence is never the answer” crowd out of the woodwork. Now they are full of seemingly never-ending moral indignation about violence, and they suddenly become deeply concerned about black-owned businesses to which they otherwise never would have given a millisecond of thought, had they not served as a convenient vehicle to demonize marginalized racial minorities fighting back against their oppressors.
That these same people would characterize a white kid traveling miles to gun down Black Lives Matter protesters as a matter of desperation, of the situation being so dire that the kid simply had no other choice ultimately reveals their bluff. Desperation as a result of poverty, gentrification, and consistent mistreatment by police is always the motive behind these riots, whether in Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, or Kenosha. Yet that never seems to be an excuse because that reaction is always weaponized against them to gloss over the oppression that elicited the reaction in the first place, because “if they wanted to be heard, they shouldn’t have destroyed their own communities.”
So really, these folks don’t believe violence is never the answer. They simply don’t believe that these particular acts of violence are justified because the violence they are responding to isn’t injustice in their eyes, for the same reason an armed white kid can literally shoot people on the street and walk away unharmed, but a black man brandishing no weapon was right to be shot by police seven times because a knife was found in his car after the fact.
Considering that, along with the invitation of a white couple who pointed guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters marching in front of their house to speak at the Republican National Convention, the message is clear: violence is never the answer, unless you’re white and armed.
To be clear, I don’t think everyone who says “violence isn’t the answer” necessarily is of this mindset about the shooting. While I find that point of view generally incomplete as an assessment of riots in response to oppression, there are some who hold that view with some modicum of consistency, while simultaneously acknowledging and actively speaking out against the injustice that provoked the unrest in the first place.
But when white folks get all up in arms about the destruction of private property and then can muster nothing more than a shrug or lip-service acknowledgment of the deeper issue of violence that led to the destruction of said property, they reveal their outrage to be disingenuous. When they go beyond nonchalance to outright denying the existence of the systemic racism at hand altogether, that exposes the depths of their racism, that they believe a majority of a particular persuasion cannot be trusted to accurately articulate their experiences with oppression.
And make no mistake, this sort of posturing follows a script. Finding ways to paint a disempowered people as more of a threat than their more armed and powerful oppressors has long been a classic tactic of upholding the continued oppression of said people. It is often accompanied by an element of dehumanization, of depicting the targeted group as animals or subhumans in some other manner who need to be kept in their place, of exaggerating emotions such as anger and weaponizing it against them as evidence that they are “threatening.”
In action, this looks like the classification of black men as “superpredators” with no moral compass who need to be removed from society in order to justify locking up black folks at disproportionate rates and builds upon a long history of viewing men of color as “aggressive” in some form or another. One result of this is the perception of men of color as sexually threatening to white women — at its extreme, that perception was used to justify the brutal, inhumane murder of black teenager Emmett Till in the 1950s for allegedly making advances at a white woman, for which his assailants got off scot-free.
At the end of the day, this is the same fight against racism we’ve been having since our nation’s inception. The political right has always been the gatekeeper of this oppressive system in its modern iteration, and their attempts to justify pulling guns on unarmed protesters represent a troubling sign of them doubling down on this racist dog-whistle rhetoric, in a potentially dangerous way.
If desperate people violently fighting back against systemic oppression compels you to respond, “Violence is never the answer,” but you are silent or dismissive of the oppression itself, that just goes to show that you care more about private property than black lives.
Previously Published on Medium