Should they be trying to injure federal officers every night with rocks, cans, lasers and fireworks? That’s the question BLM activists are wrestling with according to the NY Times. Some believe the nightly attacks on a federal courthouse in Portland have become a distraction from the “defund police” message while others see it as perfectly consistent with that message. At least one activist argues that vandalism and arson aren’t violence at all.

“There may be people throwing water bottles at officers. I’m not going to do that because I don’t see the point,” said Jennifer Kristiansen, a family-law attorney who joined the Wall of Moms last week and was later arrested by federal agents. “But if people want to express their frustration in that way, I’m not going to stop them.”

“There is room for chanting and dancing and joyful noises and there is also room for rage. We make that space for each other,” she said…

Cat Brooks, a racial justice organizer in Oakland and the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said Black Lives Matter protests and the movement to oust federal forces from cities were “one connected struggle.”

“I don’t consider property destruction violence,” she said. “Violence is when you attack a person or another living, breathing creature on this planet. Windows don’t cry and they can’t die.”

The sense the piece gives is that some organizers think the violence is counter-productive but a significant number of people embrace the “diversity of tactics” idea that Antifa has always promoted, i.e. not everyone is going to break windows or set fires but if some people want to do that it’s their choice. And even if some people aren’t comfortable with the damage being done, they’ll still defend those who do it by providing a crowd (or a wall of moms) for the vandals to hide behind. Ultimately it makes the entire crowd culpable for the worst behavior on display each night.

The Times points out that in Seattle this weekend that included a mob which set fire to five construction trailers, destorying four of them. The same group also broke into a Starbucks and vandalized it inside and out. Then someone lit a fire inside. The Starbucks is on the first floor of a residential building with doznes of people living directly above it. The Fire Department had to evacuate the building but fortunately, that fire was put out. The crowd is also attacking the property of anyone they think might not be a supporter:

Jamie Boudreau, who runs a bar a block away, and who described himself as a “100 percent” supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said he was texting his wife as the crowd went by. Someone confronted him, accusing him of taking a video of the crowd. He said it escalated until people were punching and spitting on him and an employee. His storefront windows were smashed.

“I was like, ‘Guys, you are totally targeting the wrong person right now,’” Mr. Boudreau said. “We’ve been on the marches. It’s just so bizarre.”

And of course this doesn’t include the rocks, bricks, batteries and explosives being thrown at police and fire fighters. Dozens of police officers were injured in Seattle last weekend. Half a dozen were hurt in Portland.  Even in the twisted view of Cat Brooks, that’s actual violence. Clearly the BLM mob isn’t against that either.

Even the commenters at the NY Times think this is getting out of hand. Not all of them of course, but the most upvoted comments are from critics. The major theme of these is that the violent protesters are helping President Trump. Here’s a sample:

  • “Maybe it’s time for the peaceful protestors to separate themselves from the yahoos. Protest someplace else, keep the message clear, keep it under control. That’s how you will attract more people to your cause. There really is no excuse whatsoever for violent protest.”
  • “Every night of destructive protests brings Trump closer to reelection.”
  • “Quit playing into Trump’s hand by using violence and destruction. You are doing exactly want he wants.”
  • “they are burning buildings that have people inside, and they have to wonder if they have ‘lost focus’.”
  • “As this mob becomes uncontrollable the police respond in an attempt to defuse the situation.The mob reacts and there’s more violence. This insanity will continue, BLM will become less relevant, support for the police will increase and even the idea of positive change will become a distant memory.”
  • “I no longer buy the argument that the protesters in Portland are ‘mostly peaceful.’ While only some are actually committing violence, the rest are deliberately, consciously encouraging and enabling violence against other human beings. And for what goal? As the article highlights, the violence does nothing for Black people but undermine progress. This violence is wrong, it’s criminal, and it accomplishes absolutely nothing good. We should stop pretending that vigilante violence is any part of justice.”
  • “This is decidedly not ‘what democracy looks like.’ Democracy looks like people voting. Democracy looks like people engaging in rational debate to find the best solutions we can to the problems we face. One self-appointed group bestowing upon themselves the authority to overturn democratically established laws, violently attack other human beings, and celebrate destruction of other people’s property isn’t democracy.”

I’m not cherry picking these. I’m pretty much just going down the list from the top. A lot of readers see the problem with the logic (and there is a twisted logic) behind these violent protests. Not everyone on the left is buying into the idea that nightly attacks on police and disfavored property owners is advancing the cause of justice. That’s good news but you still have a group of several thousand people in Portland who consider themselves Civil Rights heroes for what they are doing and for the most part no one is willing to tell them they are wrong.

A majority of the media refuses to condemn any tactics rioters choose to use and even when they are critical of a specific act they don’t allow it to tarnish the BLM brand. Hence you get the absurd “mostly peaceful” claim in a story about a riot, i.e. they are still pretending it’s just a tiny fraction of the crowd responsible, when it’s clear the entire crowd plays a role in allowing the violence to happen. Everyone who marches on the federal courthouse in Portland each night knows what will happen. It’s not a mystery at this point.

Until the media becomes as critical of the nightly violence as the readership of the NY Times, this is going to continue. That shouldn’t be a very high bar but so far it seems to be too high for most partisan journalists.

Update: My friend Jeryl Bier reminded me that the idea that destruction of property isn’t violence isn’t such a fringe idea anymore. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the 1619 Project also said something like this recently.

Nikole Hannah Jones responded to Jeryl Bier’s tweet (which included her name):

I just see this as gaslighting at this point. Yes, we all understand that as a matter of law and common sense some crimes are worse than others. Breaking windows (“destruction”) isn’t as serious as killing someone. That doesn’t mean destruction and arson aren’t violence. In fact, as Bier pointed out, even the killing of a person has lesser and more serious distinctions, from 1st degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

What Nikole Hannah-Jones and others on the left don’t seem willing to admit is that there is plenty of high-level violence taking place in these riots. Attempting to light a building on fire with people inside is real violence. Throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle with police inside is real violence. Throwing rocks, bricks, cans, batteries and explosive at police is real violence against persons, not things. Attempted murder during a protest is real violence. Burning a man to death is real violence. Shooting a police officer in the head is real violence. Killing a man to loot a store he is guarding is real violence.

So you can go on TV and make a rhetorical distinction as if the rioting shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as the death of George Floyd but the truth is we’re way past the point where George Floyd is the only victim.