Monday, August 21, 2017

Questions to Ask Before You Punch a Nazi

There's been tremendous debate of late over whether preemptive violence against neo-Nazis or Klansmen is appropriate and ethical.

On one side, there are those who say that no verbal provocation is ever an acceptable reason for an escalation to force. and on the other side are those who essentially consider going out in public wearing a KKK hood or advocating Nazi ideology as throwing the first punch and rendering yourself fair game.

I'm not here to debate those questions.  Each of us must wrestle with our own feelings on action, nonviolence, and escalation.  I can't make that decision for you.  I'm here to help you decide, once you've accepted that you're comfortable escalating to violence, whether *this particular moment* is a good one for Nazi-punching.  You should always assume that violence will lead to reciprocal and escalated violence, because it always might.

So, some things you want to consider before you throw that haymaker:

Are you ready for a fight?  Not just "yeah, man, bring it!"  Have you ever been in a fight?  Have you been punched, kicked, beaten before?  Do you know how it feels?  Do you understand you could lose teeth, break bones, or end up in the hospital?  Do you have insurance?  How will you pay for a broken jaw?  Can you do your job with a broken jaw or your hand in a cast?

How many people are on the other side of this potential conflict?  Are you outnumbered?  Significantly?  How many of them look like they'd be happy to let their buddy tussle with you himself, and how many of them look like they'd happily jump in and get a piece of the action?  Is it possible that one thrown punch or even a shove could turn into a brawling mob?  Tip:  it is almost always possible.

Can the people around you handle the escalation to violence?  Are there kids nearby?  Are there disabled or older people who might not be able to get away from a spreading physical confrontation in the area?  Are you surrounded by people who have been advocating nonviolence, who may be placed in danger if you start a brawl with the skinheads across the barrier?  If you bring violence into a space actively and deliberately inhabited by those who seek nonviolence, you may make them unwilling targets of retaliation for YOUR choices.  Many of them are willing to take a boot to the head for justice, but if you choose to start the fight that causes that, then it's little different from you kicking them in the head yourself.

Is the opposition armed?  Are they carrying visible knives, sticks, bats, or guns?  Are you and those around you ready to engage a group of armed racists?  Do you understand that the moment weapons, even improvised weapons, become involved you start increasing the potential for serious injury, death, and felony conviction?  Do you accept the risk of serious injury or real jail time, and do those around you consent to that escalation?

Do you have bail money, or an arrangement for bail and legal support?  Once punches start getting traded the likelihood of arrest goes up.  Be prepared to cool your heels behind bars.  Are there cops nearby?  Are they wearing riot gear and carrying tear gas?  Are you ready to bring tear gas down on everyone around you?

Finally, one of the most important considerations:  is choosing violence the act of an ally or an expression of your privilege?  If you are or appear white, understand that the PoC in the area will suffer harsher consequences if a gathering turns violent than you will.  They are more likely to be arrested, more likely to experience police brutality, more likely to be targeted by the opposition in a free-for-all.  The color of your skin is a shield you can extend to those more vulnerable.  If you become an epicenter of violence, you strip them of that shield without losing your own protections.  Be mindful of what you may draw down upon those you intend to support, especially when the systematic injustice you showed up to fight means, inherently, that you will bear less of the brunt of your choices.

Overall, the choice to meet hate with violence should always be made with a full understanding of the possibilities.  We're living in a world where white nationalist terrorists murder protesters with cars and some states are moving to legalise driving into protests.  Our opposition is brutal, ruthless, and reactionary.  Choose your consequences wisely.

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