On the Demonization of Violent Resistance

A line of men protecting police
Citizens lining up to protect Baltimore police.

This is the first of two posts from the Edge on what is currently happening in Baltimore…

The recent protests in Baltimore have gained widespread media attention in the US, especially the level of violence to which the protesters have risen. It seems that both whites and African Americans are lamenting the actions of the violent protesters. One young African American man in Baltimore took to YouTube with this commentary, ending up on the front page of Reddit:

According to hotdamnirock, the protesters’ violence is fundamentally counterproductive:

A protest is when a group of individuals comes together with a common problem and to raise awareness about an issue they want to see rectified. … While I was watching all of this shit [i.e., the violent protesters on national television] I was just thinking to myself, like, how does this help us win? You know what we look like out there? … [We look like] a bunch of fuckin’ monkeys nigga. Now I know it wasn’t everybody. I understand that there’s mothafuckas who came out there specifically for that reason, using the protest as an opportunity to aimlessly fuck shit up. … [But] how does this help us win? This don’t get us answers. This don’t get us justice. This don’t get cops convicted. This doesn’t get us shit. How are you helping the situation right now? Shit like this is why America looks at black people the way they do.

Similarly, another video that made Reddit’s front page depicted African Americans stopping violent protesters:

From the comments on Reddit and Twitter, it is clear that many view this man’s actions as admirable and laudable.

Consider, however, how another spin could be given on this sort of violent resistance. What if, after the fact, these two young men protesting the protesters were identified as Loyalists or Tories? Consider the characterizations of presumably misguided American Loyalists as remembered after the revolution (quoted directly from the Wikipedia entry on Loyalists):

  • They were older, better established, and resisted radical change.
  • They felt that rebellion against the Crown—the legitimate government—was morally wrong.
  • They were alienated when the Patriots resorted to violence, such as burning houses and tarring and feathering.
  • They wanted to take a middle-of-the road position and were angry when forced by the Patriots to declare their opposition.
  • They had a long-standing sentimental attachment to Britain (often with business and family links).
  • They were procrastinators who realized that independence was bound to come some day, but wanted to postpone the moment.
  • They were cautious and afraid that chaos and mob rule would result.
  • Some were pessimists who lacked the confidence in the future displayed by the Patriots. …
  • They felt a need for order and believed that Parliament was the legitimate authority.

That is to say: resistance to resistance is sensible and reasonable until it isn’t. In retrospect, resistance to resistance can be portrayed as backwards, conservative, foolish, self-serving, or cowardly.

One country’s freedom fighter is another country’s terrorist. One city’s rational and calm citizen is another city’s naive loyalist. What we think of the Baltimore protesters — are they patriots or fools? — may depend on the narratives we produce post facto. Burning Baltimore cop cars may be the new Boston Tea Party.

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