Violence vs nonviolence

I considered writing something with Black Bloc in the title, but does that mean anything at this point? After the latest misadventure by Chris Hedges, “The Cancer of Occupy,” Hedges does a wonderful job of obscuring and misinforming his readers. It’s not often that such a crack reporter gets his very first sentence with his very first fact so horribly wrong:

The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement.

Whether the tactic causes cancer in movements, I cannot say. But by way of a point of information, there are no “Black Bloc anarchists.” It is a tactic, not a group or an organization. Anarchists don’t even have a monopoly on the use of the tactic. In fact, anarchists didn’t even really come up with the tactic.

But I digress. But instead of treading in the murky waters of Black Bloc, I just wanted to say a few things about the underlying issue: Violence vs nonviolence. I’d hate to know how many people have learned the hard way, like Dr. Michael Parenti and scores of others, that merely putting up your hand when a police officer is bashing your skull in with his baton can result in charges of assaulting a police officer. If someone is hitting you it’s pretty hard not to protect yourself. It’s a basic reaction. And yet that meek act of self-defence is considered violence by the police.

In contrast, when the police surround a group of peaceful Americans,  who are committing no crimes,  in full riot gear, deadly weapons at the ready, and plenty of potentially deadly less lethal weapons ready to be used at the drop of a hat, this is not considered violence. They irrationally bark out demands and no matter how ridiculous or irrational those demands are they are expected to be followed to the T in seconds. Any number of things can set these uniformed thugs off resulting in any number of injuries up to and including death. And yet this is not considered violence. It may be deemed an excessive use of force–interesting phrase. But it will not be deemed violent.

If you think back to Oakland’s latest mass arrest this really stands out. On the one hand you have a group of peaceful Americans marching, protesting, standing together. They are doing nothing wrong. They are in turn surrounded by a paramilitary force that simply announced that they were under arrest and that they should submit to their arrest. Rubber bullets were fired. Flash grenades and tear gas was used. People were beaten. Later as prisoners at the jail they were tortured in various ways. Female arrestees were forced to strip in front of male guards and perform urine tests. People were left with bound hands for hours. And yet the violence we hear about again and again is some minor property destruction.

There are bigger questions than one particular tactic at stake here. Why on earth would we let the 1% frame this debate for us? It’s not violence vs nonviolence. It’s a question of basic self-preservation. They use their media to diminish, demonize, and misinform people about what Black Bloc is; they never mention that police have been caught carrying out so-called Black Bloc tactics. They never mention the people saved from arrest by Black Bloc tactics. 

Do we have the right to protect ourselves? What does that look like? This is the discussion we should be having.