Tipping the Scales Against Violence

Tipping the Scales Against Violence

This morning, I intended to write on a report that shows Florida’s major metro areas lagging behind the nation in median wages. It’s an important topic for public leaders, because it is one indicator of the quality of life and the capacity of our job generators to produce, not simply jobs, but jobs that allow Floridians to care for themselves, their children and their parents.

But by nightfall, I was aware, as you probably are, dear Reader, of yet another brutal assault on innocent lives.

At least 80 people were killed in Nice overnight as the last flickers of the Bastille Day fireworks faded. A man drove a large truck swiftly and purposefully down the crowded sidewalk for more than a mile, then jumped out of the cab and began firing. He was killed by French law enforcement officers. But the damage was done.

Preliminary indications are that this was an act of terror (though further investigation is required), which is to say, it was an act intended to create fear in the name of a cause (whether some twisted notion of God, or simple vengeance against a people). In terrorist circles, it undoubtedly is hoped that the act will prompt a reaction, from the public and the government, that will further support the terrorists’ narrative of prejudice and hate.

It’s all fuel for the demon Hatred. One culture against another. One race against another. Not just these events, and not just these points of view. All of it, fuel.

In Dallas, it was white police officers who were the target of hate.

In Orlando last month, it appears to have been members of the LGBT community.

In a historic African-American church in Charleston in 2015, it was hatred against blacks.

Different targets, but fueled by a common internal fire: hatred.

The natural response to all of this is fear. Fear, in turn, fuels anger. If that anger is not balanced by other strong forces, then anger against individuals who did wrong, fueled by continuing fear of others who might do wrong, can turn to hatred against a group or class or a whole people or nation.

Which is how we got here.

Sometimes, in the midst of these painful and frightening moments, we hear people saying, “we have no choice.” Afraid, angry, sometimes hateful too, the options before us narrow. We acquire an extraordinary kind of collective moral tunnel vision. It is clear what we must do. We don’t have a choice.

But we do.

A violent response to violence is a choice. Granted, sometimes it may be the best available choice. Nonetheless, it is a choice.

The families of several men who’ve died in confrontations with police recently have been clear. They are angry at the officers who shot their friends and family members. They are angry at a system they perceive as protecting these officers and being careless with the lives of some civilians. But these angry families also have been clear about what else they want, besides justice as they see it.

Their choice? Their plea, in the midst of their grief, their anger?

No more violence.

No more violence.

Do we need to identify and address those who commit hateful acts or foster hatred? Yes, I believe we do. Does “addressing” sometimes mean killing? Sadly, yes, I believe it does.

We just need to understand that violence, even when justified, comes at the cost of fueling additional anger, hatred and violence.

Every time those with perceived power use force against those who are perceived to be comparatively powerless, such actions play to the revolutionary or radicalizing narrative of a heroic struggle against impossible odds. They become propaganda fodder, based on carefully chosen and sometimes twisted facts, to be fed to those who are experiencing their own powerlessness and struggling to decide whether the fault lies with them or with powerful others. Each time, a few more (sometimes many more) of those on this threshold cross over into faulting the system, or a particular race, or a particular profession, or a particular country.

If we desire peace as well as justice, if we hope for liberty as well as security, we must constantly remind ourselves that violence is a choice, occasionally the right one, but always one that comes at a cost to what we seek to achieve.

It’s about weighing the costs and the benefits. And perhaps, just perhaps, the cost of a human life, any human life, needs to be given added weight.