Think of a time when you felt the need to be violent, or acted in a violent way. Can’t picture that? Think of a time when you yelled or felt like screaming. Good, I think most of us can picture that place. What happened? Were you verbally or physically attacked? Were you frightened? What would have happened if you’d reacted in a calm manner, hadn’t fought, hadn’t yelled?
I can think of a couple times when I yelled that I probably could have just taken a deep breath and calmed down, let it go. For instance, when some person yelled at me for stopping to pick up my umbrella from the roadway because she had to slam on her brakes—in a parking lot, full of people. I could have not yelled back and things would have been fine. But I yelled back, told her to drive like she was in a parking lot, not in fucking NASCAR, and back off.
She did. People don’t like when you confront them, even if they first confronted you. Do I feel badly for yelling back? Not really. Not super grown up of me, but I felt my position was defendable, so I didn’t back down. It’s in my personality not to back down when confronted. I could have. No one would have been worse or better off, right? Why not just let it go? Well, because that’s not necessarily true.
I thought of that woman as irrational, even bullying, in the very least, unreasonable. I decided it was right for me to speak up, so that she’d understand that not every stranger is willing to be yelled at for nothing. It could change the way she carried herself in the future.
As a bi-polar woman, it’s easy for me to locate times that I wish I’d reacted more calmly to a given situation, not raised my voice or not approached a subject. But I’ve been wracking my brain for a time where I acted in a violent manner as an adult or young adult and regretted it (apart from fighting with my siblings/family, which I always regretted).
Some pacifists might cringe to hear me say that I have often been readily violent and do not regret so doing.
I remember throwing a book at one of my sister’s ex-boyfriend because I knew he hit her. I do not regret throwing a massive book at his head. I regret that it didn’t connect.
I remember soundly slapping a man who touched me inappropriately in the bowling alley. I cannot seem to regret the way his eyes went from entitled to frightened.
I remember punching an ex in the face as a pre-teen because he raised a hand to me. I remember how he cried. I remember telling him, “Don’t ever touch me again.” I remember the way he looked at me—like he never would, never could forget my rage. I do not regret this choice.
I remember wrestling a young man two years older than me because his little brother smacked my little sister with a stick. I told the kid he'd better run or I'd smack him back, and the kid ran to get his brother. His brother attacked me. A high school student attacked a younger girl. I remember rolling him off me, sitting on top of him and punching him a few times before getting up, and watching them slump away, defeated, from two little girls. I remember being told I should apologize. But I was not sorry.
I remember screaming, “Stop following me!” and throwing coffee towards the face of a stranger who’d been trailing me on my way home from school. I took dark paths, fear in every step, and he knew it. He matched his pace to mine, started closing the gap, and the pit of my stomach told me he would soon attack. I remember the way people ran to my aid and the guilt in his face that told me I was right--he had something in mind for me that he would not see through because I’d yelled and threw a fit.
I remember waking, as if from a daze, from rape and crying. My body wanted to riot, but I was too shocked to do so. I remember how he didn’t think it was rape, tried to convince me he had my say. I regret not finding my anger right away. I regret not beating him senseless. I often play a better scenario in my head, one where I'd fought. I do not feel guilty for the imagined battering.
I remember beating up the soap dispenser in the hospital where my father died. His staff was sub-par, the care they offered (when offered) was cold and often even caused him harm, but he could not go outside of his healthcare network, was lucky to be covered with a “pre-existing” condition. I remember thinking that if he’d been rich, he might have lived longer. I walked calmly to the bathroom after his spirit left his body, after it passed me in peace. I went to the bathroom, tried to wash my hands of hospital germs. I remember the soap dispenser was broken, like so many things were broken in that stupid fucking place, so I hammered into it with fists balled in rage. And I screamed at it. I kicked it when it was down. I do not regret this decision. It made me feel a tiny little bit better.
People call violence unnecessary, infantile. But that statement—like most blanket statements—is wrong. Being violent is often (though not always) a reaction to violence. What kind of tangible or intangible violence pushes a rioter towards reaction?
Maybe it’s because I’m a storyteller, but I put a lot of import on the process, the entire spectrum of what happens before violence is carried out. The STORY is extremely important to me.
People were rioting today, inauguration day, in the streets. And I couldn’t help but think--yeah, I thought that might happen, and it makes sense. I might not be one of the rioters, but I did not dismiss them as infantile as so many did, do and will. Droves of people feel that their very way of life is in danger because, through policy and lack of accountability, many people's lives are in danger.
There are people in this world whose stories are made of moments I cannot even imagine, prejudices and hate are played upon people in a way I cannot even fathom. The majority might like to remember the peaceful protesters more fondly, but I actually feel Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s more inflammatory statement that a “riot is the language of the unheard” is extremely important.
Some people are not heard equally. Some people are outright ignored. If you don’t understand the type of rage that rioters display, you are not one of the unheard. Violence may not always or often be right, but that doesn’t mean it has not been necessary in the lives of many.
You can dismiss political riots as ignorant violence, but I think there is something a little heavier going on when people feel so dismissed, so ignored, so desperate that they lash out.
You can rail against property damage, but it falls flat when you have not railed against human right's violations. Anyway, I think we can all readily agree that businesses are one of the things that Trump cares about, so the broken windows will probably be covered, even if, in the future, a broken person won't be.
I cannot help but see political rioters as cornered victims of an unjust society. They are not heard through traditional means, so they make their voice known in ways that makes more privileged people uncomfortable.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood why some people turned towards violence when they felt they were not being heard. He didn’t, himself, invest in those actions, but he got it. We don’t.
The Civil Rights Era is not far behind us, and we still don’t understand, as a society, why there are political riots (not to be confused with sports riots, so don't equate them, please). Many people didn’t understand the riots in Ferguson. The majority culture people called for peace, while an entire community mourned and screamed and, yes, rioted after one of their own was dismissed as not worthy of justice.
A young one's life and death were not treated with the respect of all lives and all deaths and that already present injustice(s) feel even greater. It was enough to show the people of that community that they were not heard nor supported by their local government.
This election is enough to show many fragmented peoples--minorities, women, victims of assault, the poor--that their concerns are not valid to those in charge, not heard. Their government has settled (yes, settled because the majority of the population did not vote him in) upon a man who does not care about them, who is hiring a slew of people who also will not care for them, who has already started to dismantle what little protections they have fought for in the last few decades.
When you take away people's right to fair treatment, health, and basic human rights, you are acting in a violent manner. You are an indirect attacker. Don't be surprised by a violent reaction.
We dismiss violence and anger, those of us with a bigger following, a greater say, more sway. Comfort is complacence. Many of us will call for peace, even those of us who want drastic change. I always hope things can be handled logically, peacefully, even if I am skeptical that they will be.
But if some people lash out, get angry, I will not dismiss them as animals, as ignorant. I will ask, instead, what kind of fodder feeds this rage and am I part of the problem?
How can we ask for peace if not all people experience equality?
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.