There’s a white American proverb about violent protests that goes something like this: “What good will it do?”
As surely as the sun will rise, viral footage of any violent protest concerning race will inevitably lead to some virtue signaling about nonviolence. This is happening on social media this week while windows shatter and fires rage around Minneapolis in protest of the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a local police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for several minutes.
“But seriously what is destroying the community going to solve,” one commenter wrote in response to an Instagram video of an Auto Zone set ablaze.
Another commenter chimed in saying: “disappointing [sic]!! THIS IS DOING NOTHING...”
The forms vary on this notion but the content doesn’t: Many Americans seem to believe that riots are good for nothing.
The truth is, however, is riots can be useful.
What History Suggests About Using Force for Social Progress
Revisionist history is one reason the notion that using force is always counterproductive feels like common sense. The role of armed struggle is often downplayed in the stories we tell about social progress.
For instance, Americans are generally familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and speak of him as though he single-handedly won the Civil Rights struggle of the mid-twentieth century through his speeches emphasizing love and nonviolence. Fewer Americans are acquainted with the Deacons of Defense, another Civil Rights organization of that era, who often showed up with arms to protect nonviolent Civil Rights activists.
In his book, Full Spectrum Resistance activist Aric McBay reveals the lesser-known figures who were…