A few years ago Kris and I got into an argument. It was one of the very few times we have outright screamed at each other. I don’t remember what it was about. It doesn’t really matter now, but I do remember where I was. I was at the kitchen sink scrubbing pots and pans – good ones – that I had bought her for Christmas. She stormed out of the room and I, in a rare fit of rage, smashed the pot against the counter. It still has a dent. I think about that moment every time that pot is on the stove – the moment when I had hit my limit of contained anger and broke something.
Later, after we made up about whatever it was we were fighting about, I admitted what I had done, showed her the pot and apologized. There has never been and will never be a time when I would aim a violent gesture toward my wife, but there have been and will be plenty of times I am angry. There will probably be very few where I reach the end of my tether and do the proverbial table flip. In my case, Kris and I have equal power in our relationship. She could very well throw my cell phone in the toilet or something and we would have to work it out. Are either of these scenarios rational and calm? Not really, and truth be told my little fit is embarrassing. But they aren’t violent either.
I share this story to illustrate the difference between violence and property damage, specifically in light of the last few days of protests here in St. Louis and the multiple calls (from mostly white people) for peaceful protest citing Dr. King’s marches – when what we really mean is non-violent protest. I’ll admit I’ve used the term peaceful protest myself, equating peace with the absence of violence. But I was wrong.
Anger is not peaceful. Outrage is not peaceful. Peace has no place in protest – it is the result of successful protest and other long-term work to achieve equality.
Over the last couple of nights, thousands of angry people marched the streets of St. Louis. As I type, another group is protesting again. They are (and I am) outraged at the not-guilty verdict in the Jason Stockley case.
I’m angry, but I can tell you that the people around me – the black people around me – are pot smashing, cell phone in the toilet angry. The difference is that there is no balance of power in this anger – this centuries old affront to human decency. No miscommunication that gets resolved. It’s injustice that just sits there with no place to go because the people with the power to change it don’t.
And also in the last couple of nights people broke windows and spray painted buildings. Sometimes (and I’ve seen it personally) the breaking of windows is done at the very end of a protest by (many times white) people who just want to break stuff. And sometimes the breaking of windows is end of tether, nowhere to go with your impotent rage property damage. And while it is destructive and dangerous, it is different than hurting people. The violence occurs after that, when the police use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, clubs, shields and vehicles to inflict injury on people armed with rocks, spray paint and nothing to lose. (I’ll add here that even if the window smashing is being done by white boys with mommy issues, the police can easily contain that without gassing a neighborhood.)
I’m a white guy who co-owns a business, so I’ll try to stay in my lane. I won’t pretend to speak on behalf of anyone but myself. I won’t tell anyone how, why or when they should protest – and I won’t tell them to be peaceful. I will hope for non-violence on the part of the police and protesters because violence – injuring or killing – diminishes humanity. Violence is abhorrent.
I’ll be nervous about my bookstore, the staff who works there and the cat who lives there. I’ll support the small businesses around me who have broken windows and I’ll help build a community that cares deeply for its citizens. I’ll support the movement for equality and justice for all because lives are at stake. I’ll march when I can and be a hermit when my mental health demands it.
But I won’t call for peace. No justice, no peace.