Some months ago, during a previous wave of Black Lives Matter indignation, I aroused a fair amount of controversy by suggesting that acts of trespass were a form of violence. Broadcaster Ron Rosenbaum brought me onto his “Holding Court Podcast” to debate the point. Violence, I was then told, refers only to action which results in bodily harm. According to this view, punching someone in the face is violent, but breaking their window is not. By this standard, trespass could not be considered violence.
It was and remains a specious argument. When I break your window, or trespass on your property, or obstruct your freedom of travel, or interfere with your business, I deprive you of what is yours by right. I quite literally take some portion of your life away from you. That window cost you something. You had to spend some portion of your life earning it. By breaking a window that you own, I take that portion of your life which you spent to earn it, making you to a limited but definite degree my slave. That is most certainly a violation.
We should note the etymological similarities between the words “violation” and “violence.” No matter how you split the hair, it’s the same hair.
In the case of Rosenbaum, a Black Lives Matter sympathizer presented a definition of violence that proved far too exclusive. Today, in the midst of a fresh wave of indignation triggered by the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Black Lives Matter sympathizers present a definition of violence that proves far too expansive.
Protesters who shut down Interstate 35W in Minneapolis this weekend were heard to chant, “White silence is violence.” My friend Carin Mrotz, who along with serving as a regular on the Minneapolis podcast “Wrong About Everything” organizes left-wing activism, took to Facebook with this indictment:
I have been struggling a bit with how to talk/write about [freeway shutdown protests] and the ensuing narrative that has taken shape, blaming protestors for inciting police violence despite countless personal accounts to the contrary, and all I can come up with is this:
Willfully denying another person’s firsthand account of their experience is a violent thing to do. Whether that person is a protestor or a woman who has watched her partner shot in a routine traffic stop. It is maddening and heartbreaking that young people, people of color, women must produce physical evidence in order to be believed. Listen and believe. Listen and believe.
This is staggering. It’s now violent to question someone’s claims? It’s now violent to require evidence in support of allegations? It’s now violent to remain silent until facts can be established through investigation? What?
Taken as a whole, these contrasting experiences with Black Lives Matter sympathizers suggest at once that trespass, obstruction, and property damage are not violent, but asking a question or seeking evidence is. Eat your heart out, George Orwell.