Do Protests Equal Violence?

Years ago, I was photographing a march of women walking the streets of Urbana, but on that same say, Rodney King was convicted of a police brutality crime. The black community was outraged, saying that the white man was holding them down, and a large group of people started their own rally that night which seemed to take center stage from the women’s rights parade... Later in the evening I went to Union Square, where the women’s rights parade was supposed to end, and a ton of black people were together there, yelling and protesting together. We went out that night for only a little while, because everyone in town was agitated — and apparently commiserating outdoors with their friends. I went home, but I heard the next day that in light of the Rodney King trial 23 fires were started on school property, and most of them were of books in libraries.

I thought, this isn’t nonresistant violence, this is out and out violent and what they’re destroying are opportunities for learning and not ideas. But protester advocates would say, “Yeah, but do these books hold what the white man wants you to learn? Is this how he alters our perceptions?”

Then I heard about one of my best friends, a white man, he was hit once by a black man in the street while he went out that night. The doctor said that they had to have a roll of quarters in their hand or brass knuckles because with one hit, there was a clean break of my friend’s jaw. For six weeks my friend’s jaw was wired shut, and he had to throw pizza or meat loaf in the blender so he could eat something instead of ice cream while he tried to recover.

It was after this that I wondered the value of violence in protesting. Does the violence get anything positive done? After the Rodney King protest, did we get any closer to racial harmony? And after people were hurt, did anyone learn anything from this pain? The libraries that had fires replaced the materials that were lost, so these protests and violence didn’t stop this anglo-saxon form of education, it only cost money and made people bitter.

I thought this was an isolated incident, until I made the connection in my head to current Middle Eat protests. now, I’m not referring to people trying to violently stop armed military American soldiers from invading their land, but to the tactless release of a cartoon — yes, a cartoon — of Mohammed with a bomb as his turban.

News reports stated that “The anger has also resulted in attacks on several Danish diplomatic missions in Asia and the Middle East, and other European diplomats have been threatened.” And In addition to this, Lebanese demonstrators have set the Danish embassy in Beirut on fire. CNN has even reported that the leader of the world’s largest Muslim organization has joined other world leaders in condemning violence over the publication of cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed — but there is still a large amount of violence over this cartoon.

And yes, maybe instead of violence, people could retaliate with, well, more cartoons. I heard on The Daily Show 02/09/06 (yes, I do see the irony in the fact that I’m using The Daily Show as a news source...) that Israelis have come up with a non-violent wat to protest the cartoon’s existence... They posted a contest in their newspaper for people to design cartoons about the Holocaust (Seriously, there was a newspaper that legitimately had a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust). And yes, this idea of Holocaust cartoons is tacky, but some Israelis even said that any cartoons submitted about the Holocaust wouldn’t be a fair comparison to the cartoon about the founder and prophet of Islam with a bomb for their turban, because a cartoon about what the once-ruler of Germany did to Jews is not the same as saying Islam’s founder is only interested in bombing other people.

The only thing that confuses me about using violence to protest this cartoon is that they are protesting that Islam’s founder condoned violnce, and that Muslims condone violence. Understood, but then I ask: why are they protesting with bombingand setting fire to buildings? Why are they protesting with violence?

Now, I can understand offense taken at any cartoon making fun of a religion. I could imagine that Christians would be up in arms if images of Jesus was somehow made fun of (though I wonder how appropriate it is for Kanye West to imitate Jesus for a cover of Rolling Stone, apparently that didn’t offend anyone...), but I think us American citizens wouldn’t set buildings on fire is someone did this.

Wait, did I just say that? I just told you the story of people protesting the Rodney King trial, where libraries were set on fire. My friend even had to go to the hospital because of riot violence — not because he did anything wrong, but because of the color of his skin.
So, maybe there are people who don’t know that violence isn’t the answer. Other than teaching by example, I don’t know the next step to geting people to learn.