On Racist Violence in the US

By | May 29, 2020

Cross-posting from my Facebook wall, for posterity.

This morning, I wrote the following:

I don’t want to comment on current affairs and specific events because I don’t know enough and my analytical nature isn’t welcome when emotions are raw.

I’ll just say this: I stand in solidarity with the fight for justice and with anyone who is pursuing it in a peaceful or otherwise appropriate way.

Be strong. Take care.

I intended it as a quick note of support for the people I see standing up for justice around me while also indicating why I wasn’t saying more or getting into the conversation.

It stuck with me for a bit, though, and I began to feel dissatisfied, mostly because saying “I don’t know enough” in the face of facts that are clearly unjust is inaccurate and, if taken seriously rather than as the error it was, is an abdication of both reason and responsibility.

So, I felt the need to clarify with the following:

I’m feeling slightly dissatisfied with my above statement with respect to the George Floyd murder and the ongoing racial violence and protests in response to it around the US.

It’s not that I don’t know enough to hold strong opinions about police violence in the US. I have those in spades.

It’s that I don’t know enough about the history, the way it has affected communities (both black and white), and all of the underlying causes and injustices in order to be able to participate meaningfully in the discussion. Furthermore, with my non-American perspective and analytical nature combined with my coming from a place of not knowing, I would need / want to ask a lot of questions in order to participate, which experience suggests is not the sort of conversation people are looking to have right now.

I wanted to just leave that aside and say “hey, the high-minded theoretical stuff I care about isn’t important right now, but I stand with you” to folks who need to feel support right now.

But that’s not enough. I think I ought to also state some things that I do know.

– George Floyd was, at a minimum, the victim of voluntary manslaughter. Murder’s a bit harder to argue as it requires intent to kill, but regardless, this was a criminal act and should be treated as such.

– Police violence is just as wrong as any other kind of violence. There are some exceptions for it (notably using violence to explicitly prevent violence and protect others), but police in the US (and to a lesser extent elsewhere) also seem to think that violence is OK if it makes things more convenient for them. That’s disgusting.

– Police culture in many places is diseased and broken. I know there are many conscientious, ethical, and good police officers out there, but it’s clear that there are also many negligent, aggressive, or downright cruel officers too. I think society works best when it’s regulated with policing by consent and something like the Peelian principles, but modern policing just seems to be drifting further and further away from those. I find this depressing.

– I’m deeply troubled by the violence that’s going on inside some of these protests, particularly by the fact that outside groups are using them as cover for looting and extremism. The Boogaloo boys, for example, are repugnant children. I have much anger about the tacit consent to untruth that much of society gives and which allows these movements to grow and flourish, but that’s not something I want to go into here.

– I know that I don’t know enough about how this country works, and I’m scared, disgusted and depressed by it. This is not a new thing – I’ve never had a particularly high opinion of American culture overall, and is why when Trump was elected I was not outraged or surprised but just resigned as I saw it as just another stage in the decline and decay that I already saw around me. To be clear, I’m talking about American society and culture here, not American individuals. I know many fantastic individual Americans from all over the spectrum, and the difference in how I feel about them and how I feel about American society is jarring to me.

– I need to internalize the fact that I can never be a normal participant in the conversation about racism in the US – I will always be an outsider. That won’t stop me wanting to learn or talk, of course, but I need to get used to the idea that what I say will often not be heard in the way I intend it and that a lot of the time the best thing I can do is just listen and be supportive. I just exist in a different context, and that barrier will probably never go away. I feel instead compelled to learn more about my own country and to learn more about the troubles and history in its culture, as there I can at least feel like I’m a part of it.

So, that’s a fuller explanation of my original intent. I don’t feel prepared or adequate to add to the conversation about race in the US at this time, but I don’t want to abdicate my reason and just say “I don’t know enough”.

Because I do know enough to recognize injustice when I see it, and right now, I see it everywhere.

Kia kaha, American friends.