Viewpoints

Violence is never the answer

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By Derek Prall

That’s a pretty popular saying here in America. We tell children that violence isn’t acceptable in hopes of teaching them better conflict resolution strategies. Use your words, not your fists, right?

That certainly seems to be the prevailing attitude regarding the riots in Baltimore. Cable news anchors sat dumbfounded as the cop cars burned, and decried the violence playing out on the streets as senseless and savage. Any point the Baltimore residents were trying to make was lost due to the violent way they chose to express themselves.

Should the point of that violence be lost, though? I understand that it’s easier to take the situation in Baltimore at face value. Those people were angry, so they lost their collective mind, set some fires and stole some stuff. What's the point of that?

Well, when you actually take the time to understand the underlying factors there – the hopelessness those people feel from what they see as an oppressive system that turned their backs on them long ago – it starts making a little sense. Maybe it’s not right, but it’s at least more understandable. As Michael Fletcher wrote in his Washington Post editorial, “It was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded.”

Now, I’m not trying to get into the socioeconomics and social justice elements of this situation, but I will say it’s intellectually dishonest to write the riots off as senseless. It’s more complicated than a lawless, opportunistic mob. There is meaning to be derived from it. Should the rioters be praised? Of course not. But should we try and learn a lesson from them? I think so.

Let’s start by asking ourselves a question. Honestly, do we as a country really believe violence is never the solution? It seems it’s not always that clear cut. I think most would agree sometimes violence is necessary. Remember, it was tea going into Boston Harbor that sparked the American Revolution, not a strongly worded letter.

We seem to give violence a pass in certain circumstances. We don’t mind that SWAT teams kick down doors and throw flash bangs around while busting drug dealers. We don’t mind it because we think that using violence keeps us safe.

Under certain circumstances we’ve decided that violence is acceptable, but when disenfranchised populations explode in frustration, it’s appalling.

Like it or not, that night many of those protesting saw violence as their best voice to get our attention. Are there more civilized ways of getting that voice heard? Sure. But do you really think you’d know the name Freddie Gray if they hadn’t set that CVS on fire?

Instead of writing it off as senseless, maybe we should view the violence in Baltimore as a symptom of the much bigger, fundamental problems of poverty, racism and hopelessness. And then, if we all strive to solve those problems, maybe we won’t have to see so much violence.

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What's Viewpoints?

It features the Editor's Viewpoints and contributed commentaries.

Contributors

Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...

Jason Axelrod

Jason Axelrod is an award-winning journalist who has reported for The Seattle Times, The Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Business Journal and Mother Nature Network, among other outlets. Jason...
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