What is the Goal of the Protests, and Which Tactics are Morally Justified and Strategically Wise?
AS THE NATIONWIDE PROTESTS over police brutality enter their second week following the horrific killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police, the debate over the moral justifiability and strategic wisdom of various tactics intensifies. This week’s SYSTEM UPDATE, which can be viewed on the player below or on The Intercept’s YouTube channel, is devoted to an exploration of those questions.
Numerous black political leaders — from Barack Obama to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — have vehemently denounced the use of any type of violence or even property damage, as data shows that looting in particular has most hurt minority neighborhoods and minority-owned businesses. Meanwhile, self-identified white anarchists and other radical protest advocates insist that denunciations of such tactics are, at best, a distraction and, more accurately, an attempt to neuter or hijack the movement into something harmless, unthreatening and ultimately inconsequential: little more than the latest “Go Vote” messaging campaign for the Democratic Party.
Before a meaningful and cogent discussion of tactics is possible, one must first attempt to define what analytic metric is primary: are certain tactics designed to express righteous rage, such as property damage or burning, justifiable even if they are not most pragmatically constructive, on the ground that people have rightly concluded that they will be ignored unless their protests create some form of menacing disorder?
And, at least as important, is the question of the underlying cause: is the driving objective of these protests the narrow, concrete goal of reforming policing in the U.S., or does it driven by broader anger over social and political inequities, of which police violence is both a symbol and the principal weapon used to shield those inequities from meaningful challenge? Did the George Floyd murder unleash anger primarily over racist police brutality, or was it the tipping point to give expression to broader rage over quarantining, tens of millions of lost jobs, and a political system that — as the COVID-19 bailout package against highlighted — reflexively acts in defense of the interests of a tiny, powerful minority at the expense of everyone else?
To explore those questions — ones impossible to define let alone meaningfully engage in the destructively polarizing and reductionist cauldron of social media — are two very thoughtful guests with quite different perspectives: Chloé Valdary, a New-York-based writer and the founder of a start-up group devoted to teaching social and emotional learning to students 14 years and older, and Benjamin Dixon, the writer, activist and host of the Benjamin Dixon Show.
Both writers have offered independent-minded and thoughtful commentary about the protests all week long, contributing invaluable insight to the discourse and fostering meaningful discussion at a time when many people in online media — due to the unprecedentedly powerful currents of groupthink and crushing intolerance for any dissent or questioning — are doing the opposite. I think this show enables a deeper and more substantive exploration of these questions than online discourse permits. It helped me grapple with these questions and I hope it will do the same for others. You can watch the program below.
First aired on The Intercept.
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