Violent men only have eyes for each other. On a street full of bystanders, they see only their enemies. In a room full of reasonable people, the violent ones seek each other out and do their damnedest to drag others into the fray. It’s an odd dance, one which enemies do together, and when they do it right, they lure the rest of us into the performance. None of this is new. Violent men and women, only have eyes for each other.
There is a lot of violence to celebrate today, or to decry. And how often does the one turn into the other? A condemnation of violence can easily be a clarion call to strike back, and it can be answered in the same tone.
And thus cacophony becomes a chorus!
None of this really started with the killing of George Floyd, of course; but his death certainly has escalated things a great deal. Some are fighting in the streets, and some are fighting on social media. Some are doing both of course. Either way, that ironic chorus is pretty loud.
One of the questions people keep haggling out in the media the last couple days is just how the violence got started? A protest doesn’t have to turn violent, but many of these certainly did. What was it, or who was it, that pushed all these protests over the top?
The right wing is happy to tell us that it is protesters. They are happily sharing videos of looters, vandals, and beatings occurring in these riots. The more rioters participating in the crime, the better it suits this narrative. It is enough to know that these crimes occur during the riots. This tells us all we need to know, so the right wing suggests; it is sufficient to discredit this entire wave of protests, just as it was enough to discredit the entire Black Lives Matter movement, and any number of other protests in the past. This isn’t a policing problem, so their narrative goes, it’s a crime problem, or even a black problem. The national figures in right wing media won’t quite say the last part of that sentence; they are content to have their followers say it for them.
Others assure us it was the cops, which is certainly fitting, because this was all about cops to begin with. Many who support the protesters will point to numerous instances in which the cops themselves seem to take aggressive action against people who are not really doing anything wrong. This wasn’t the reaction, they will remind us, when armed protesters stormed government buildings not so long ago. …it really wasn’t! So, perhaps the police are the party most responsible for escalating violence in this case? Just as the killing of Floyd points to a need for police reform so does the violence of these riots!
Or perhaps it was white people? By now we have seen enough videos of this; whites breaking windows or spray-painting buildings while black protesters beg them to stop. “They will blame us,” one woman says to a pair of light skinned young ladies with spray cans, and she is right. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and it’s hard not to think ill of the young ladies as they wander off looking fabulous in their riot-chic.
Donald Trump seems to think it’s ANTIFA. He tells us that the United States declares them to be a terrorist organization. What this means, as far as policy goes, I don’t know. I doubt Donald Trump knows either, but I haven’t yet found the judiciary authority of Twitter statements from the Executive Couch Potato in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps, Donald Trump has. Who knows what that man hears when others explain things to him! Last I checked, ANTIFA wasn’t even an organization, terrorist or otherwise, but perhaps they become an organization when Donald Trump tweets their governing principles into existence. He may yet have that power. Who knows?
Boogaloo Bois and their kindred are another candidate for the cause of violence. For those fortunate enough to have made it this far without learning of the Boogaloo Bois, let me ruin the world a little more for you! They are a part of a movement intent on starting a race war. ‘Boogaloo’, it seems, has become slang for that war, and so the thinking goes, these folks can bring it about by escalating violence in whatever way possible. In this instance, the suggestion is that Boogaloo Bois, other committed white racists, or even bigoted cops may be engaging in false flag operations, breaking things or carrying out attacks in the guise of protesters. Suffice to say, this prospect folds neatly into the same theme as the white-people-are-doing-it narrative mentioned earlier.
And then of course, there is the general outsiders-are-doing-this theme? In this instance, the idea is to emphasize that the violent perps have come from out of state. What that means is another question. To some, it means they are obviously ANTIFA extremists coming to riot over the usual list of grievances, because that’s what ANTIFA-types do. Damned Anarchists! Others are quite certain this must be boogaloos coming to commit their dirty work in the hopes it will be blamed on African-Americans. Both of these narratives assume clear intent at the outset, though it seems to me some of these out-of-staters may be as prone as the rest of us to get caught in the moment. Either way, I’m pretty sure that those emphasizing the interstate travel theme include a few folks looking at sentencing enhancements and/or federal involvement in what might otherwise be a state crime. It’s one thing to break a window in your home state, but if it can be shown that you crossed a state line for the purpose of doing it, you may be in more trouble than you think.
Conspiracy theories are bunk of course, …except when they aren’t. Violence at protests have often been cause for stories about infiltrators deliberately pushing protests over the line and into genuine violence. Cue the folks saying; “I support protests but not riots” and you now have cause to justify harsh police measures in the short run and to dismiss the cause of the protests in the long run. Whether the culprit is a rogue cop, a random white racist, or any other bad actor, stories of such agents are always part of the stories told about protests and the violence associated with them.
What does seem new is the number of videos which seem to show something like this happening.
I think we’ve all seen this before, streets filled with conventional protesters and then some guy shows up covered head-to-toe and well-masked, carrying something easily used as a weapon. He makes a bee-line for his target, breaks it, and then makes another bee-line straight out of the scene, leaving other protesters a bit surprised and even confused. We’ve seen that here too, and (this time at least) we’ve seen protesters actively try to stop them. Watching such videos, it isn’t hard to see that such individuals are up to something very different than the average protester. What that is, isn’t so clear, at least not so long as the individuals get away. Of course others will say such incidents are proof positive that a Boogaloo-ANTIFA-Rogue-Cop-Boi is at work, and his actions confirm whichever conspiratorial narrative they happen to favor.
In the coming weeks, we may learn the details of a few of these stories. We may find a conspiracy of sorts explains a burned building here or that beaten man there. We may find cops provoked violence in this city, or the protesters really were just terrible in that one. We may find reason to believe lots of shameless people saw in these protests an opportunity to score some loot from a local store, that some folks will do things they never imagined when they are surrounded by enough angry people doing the same thing. The racists will have plenty of black perpetrators to point at even as others get reason to believe white privilege sometimes carries a spray can or a stick for bashing windows. Those who hate protesters will find plenty in this to vindicate their contempt, and protesters will find plenty of cause in these evenets to take to the streets again some other day.
What we probably won’t have when these riots end (at least I would be damned surprise to find that we do) is evidence that a single one of these narratives explains the whole of the violence occurring in American cities right now. We may well see each and every one of these explanations play out in different stories of the rioting. We won’t get one explanation for all of it. Instead, will will get a range of different stories, each pointing at a different source for the violence. Most likely, people will then cherry pick the evidence to support the narrative best suited to their politics.
Another thing we won’t get in the wake of this, (and please let me be wrong about this!) is a clear course of action for resolving the conflicts that led to these riots.
One other thing we will have, I suspect, is a lot more Covid19 cases.
In the end, the same divisions that pushed so many of these protests into violence will still be with us. The facts won’t tell us once and for all who is to blame, and even if they did, there are too many people who benefit from clouding the issue. So, the same violent people who found each other in the last few days will be looking for each other in the future. The stories they will tell about this round of violence may yet fuel the next round of it, and we will hear the same violent chorus again sometime on down the road.
Unless somebody figures out a few things BEFORE the next George Floyd. There is a real problem here. That problem didn’t begin with the protests much less the riots, and that problem wouldn’t go away even if we did all get a single villain to blame for all this violence. Someone with the will to make things better and the power to do something about it needs to act.
Right now, I don’t even know who that would be.