We all know what happened last night in Ferguson. We all (hopefully) know why it’s complete and utter bullshit. What we seem to be in disagreement over is how we should respond.
I am all for nonviolence. I tend towards pacifism when all else is equal. I understand the impulse to encourage protesters to remain peaceful and not escalate the situation with further violence. But now, all else is not equal. Protesters have spent three months being peaceful, and now they have been told that their peaceful actions can be met with force, violence, and murder, and no action will be taken on their behalf.
People have the right to return force with equal force. We have the right to defend ourselves. If you are being shot at, you have the right to respond violently in order to save your own life. Suggesting that black people do not have this right because it will “make them look bad” is the same as taking away their defenses.
About a year ago, I wrote about learning what it meant in my life to return force with equal force. This doesn’t just apply to my ability to set boundaries and get angry when someone is sexist. It is on the same spectrum as the right of these protesters to be angry and violent in order to protect themselves. The impulse to tell minorities and oppressed individuals that they don’t get boundaries is all wrapped up together in the pleas of (mostly white) people for (mostly black) people to remain peaceful in the face of serious violence.
If the state is allowed to use tear gas and riot gear, where is the equal response that the protesters are allowed? Why are they not given equal space in our system to defend themselves? Why have we not learned that these peaceful protests are not enough?
Violence is always horrifying. But when the alternative is more horrifying, people have the right to defend themselves.