Monday, August 15, 2016

Addressing the events in Milwaukee this past weekend

Assembly and peaceful protests are justified; violence and destruction must be rejected

The violent actions that occurred in Milwaukee this past weekend, in response to a death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer, were not justified. Violence is never a proper way to demand justice, and what happened this weekend won’t produce positive outcomes.

I say this as someone who is sympathetic and supportive of the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe there exists systemic racism in our society, and that Milwaukee in particular has many related problems that need to be dealt with. City and county leaders, as well as leadership at the state level, need to address the problems of racial disparity in Milwaukee (and frankly, in the rest of the state also), both economically and with regards to equal protection under the law.

I also believe that some officers’ actions need to be examined, and that while the vast majority of police officers act with the community’s best interests at heart, there are a few officers who serve with prejudice in their minds. I do not know if this is the case in this situation. But I do believe that the investigation into the officer shooting that led to the violence should carry on, unimpeded, with transparency given at every opportunity that allows it.

Officers need to be held accountable whenever their jobs require them to end the life of another person. We are fortunate that state law mandates an outside, independent investigation to occur whenever this happens.

And the community can protest the actions of these officers, too, even while an investigation is ongoing. They can demand quick answers to their questions, accountability, and should rightly assemble themselves as they attempted to do on Saturday and Sunday evenings this past weekend. But again -- the actions of a few in those crowds are not justified at all. Violence and destruction of property moves the conversation backward, and leads to little progress toward the intended goals of those assembled peacefully.

I was so heartbroken Sunday morning when I read about the events in Milwaukee. I consider the city my second home -- I went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, volunteered in some of the harder hit neighborhoods, and did my best to experience the city as fully as I could.

With that being said, I cannot pretend that I fully understand the heartache that this family, or that this community, felt when they heard about one of their family members being shot dead by an officer of the law. I’m a white male, and my demographic privilege entitles me with a different perspective that cannot begin to fathom what members of these communities are going through either.

I must again state my unequivocal opposition to violence as a response to violence. It is an endless cycle if we choose that route, and we cannot allow it to be an acceptable form of protest.

But I also recognize that most members of the crowds that took to the streets were behaving properly, exercising their free speech and assembly rights properly. A select few likely took things too far, and their actions should not reflect on the community as a whole.

I was inspired to listen to a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s yesterday after hearing of the events that unfolded. I chose his Nobel Peace Prize lecture speech, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” in which the Civil Rights icon argues for a nonviolent fight for justice.

In the middle of the speech, MLK states that he similarly abhors violence as a means to achieve an end: (emphases in bold mine)
Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. 
Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.


I am only too well aware of the human weaknesses and failures which exist, the doubts about the efficacy of nonviolence, and the open advocacy of violence by some. But I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.
The community is well within their rights to take to the streets, to voice their dissatisfaction with how they are treated by law enforcement in their communities, and to bring to the forefront the issues of poverty, unemployment, and unequal treatment in society that they experience on a regular basis. Those few individuals among them, however, who chose a violent means to express their anger and frustration, need to understand that they do their movement no favors by continuing the promulgation of violence.

1 comment:

  1. A Milwaukee friend who lives not far from the unrest this weekend says it was overblown by media. It was the activity of about 10 young people and not deserving such news attention. She said it gives the city more of a reputation for unrest than it should. Her family is long-time residents of Milwaukee, is black and knows the vibes there. She said most folks wanted peaceful protest and came out to help repair the damage as soon as they could. Not enough good gets reported and there is a lot of good!