At times like this, with the riots taking place in Baltimore, those of us who are committed to nonviolent struggle are confronted with the reality of the need to develop more forceful strategies that are capable of expressing rage.
It should be obvious to anyone paying attention that telling angry young African American men that they need to stay nonviolent when yet another unarmed youth is murdered by the police is not going to work. Unless they are offered an effective way to express their rage, burning and looting are going to be the way the express this rage .
What might a more forceful strategy of nonviolent resistance be?
One problem is that thinking strategically when your mind is filled with rage is almost impossible.
Another is that thinking of the long-range impact of your actions is also just as impossible.
So burning down stores provides an immediate outlet.
The problem is that burning down stores in their own neighborhoods is just exactly what is expected. In our society it is expected, because it does nothing more than give news commentators the chance to say, in more polite language, “There they go again.”
It is even accepted. Because society is prepared to respond to violence with violence.
That’s why the use of nonviolent struggle gives the protesters the advantage.
If it is planned well and the right target is chosen, and the protesters maintain a nonviolent discipline, when the police resort to violence against the nonviolent protesters, the violence inherent in the police–African American youth relationship is brought CLEARLY to the surface for the rest of society to deal with.
And they can keep going back until it is dealt with.
Here’s the tragedy of American race relations today: African American communities, and their allies, need to plan ahead of time in communities across the United States, for the next police murder, so they can have an appropriate and effective strategy in place which is forceful enough to appeal to those who might otherwise resort to burning and looting.
And here’s the hope: once that strategy is found it can be replicated in communities across the United States and the struggle waged proactively UNTIL our legal system is forced to find a solution to this epidemic.