Nicastro & Xiao: Violence Is Not Social Justice

When violence becomes unrecognizable, justice becomes unattainable.

by Jonathan Nicastro and Victoria Xiao | 9/28/20 2:00am

As strong believers in government accountability, we have been greatly inspired by the national dialogue regarding police brutality and the many peaceful protests in our communities following the death of George Floyd. We agree with many of our peers that better training, the development of effective non-lethal weapons, reducing qualified immunity and enhancing police oversight and accountability are all practical steps in the right direction. On these fronts, activists are helping to bring the country one step closer to fulfilling its promise of liberty and justice for all. 

However, while vocal support for the protests is strong across the Dartmouth community, the silence regarding the violence that has accompanied the movement is deafening. We are as proud of the nationwide outpour of condemnation of the right-wing violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, as we are disappointed in the acquiescence over left-wing extremism today. 

From Lauren Victor, a 49-year-old urban planner, being surrounded by enraged protestors because she refused to raise her fist at their behest, to the fires started outside an apartment building home to more than a hundred residences, one of them belonging to Portland, Oregon Mayor Ted Wheeler, we find ourselves in an increasingly strange and dire situation. Early on, the looting and the destruction of monuments were often supported by the argument that human life is more important than property and that the destruction was necessary to send out a political message. Knowing that behind the debris of the small businesses were many honest and hard-working Americans and their families, both of us stayed mostly quiet. But given recent instances of violence across the country, we can do so no longer. 

During the recent nationwide civil unrest, a number of people have been killed or nearly killed. On June 1, Las Vegas police officer Shay Mikalonis was shot in the neck during a George Floyd protest, paralyzing him from the neck down. On July 4, in Atlanta, Secoriea Turner, an eight-year-old girl, was shot and killed while sitting in a car that was entering a parking lot where a group of demonstrators had placed illegal barricades. On Aug. 29, in Portland, Aaron Danielson, who was affiliated with the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was stalked and shot and killed by Michael Reinoehl, who subscribed to Antifa ideology. On Sept. 5, in Vancouver, Washington, at Danielson’s memorial event, Shane Moon, a Trump supporter, was hit and injured when Charles Holliday-Smith drove his car into Moon. On Sept. 12, two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, while sitting in their car, were ambushed and shot in the head. A group of protestors later arrived at the hospital, with one protestor shouting “I hope they die.” On Sept. 23, two Louisville, Kentucky police officers were shot during a Breonna Taylor protest. The list goes on. 

While each case is different, and while it goes without saying that these actions do not represent the majority of Black Lives Matter protesters, the reality of left-wing violence and its downstream effects is clear. We must condemn it just as vocally and readily as we condemn right-wing violence. While there is plenty to discuss about police reform and the broader legacy of racial discrimination in America, to excuse or ignore violent acts because they are carried out during a movement for social justice is a grave disservice to justice. 

While it is uncomfortable to criticize good intentions and overarching causes, we must not forget that too many horrific crimes have been justified in the name of progress. In the Soviet Union alone, more than 10 million people died standing in the way of a Marxist revolution that promised equality and freedom. The vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests are nonviolent, but that does not change the nature of the violence that has occurred. On the contrary, it is all the more reason to condemn it. The vast majority of police encounters are also nonviolent, but we should never fail to condemn instances of police brutality. Violence is violence, and murder is murder. We must never lose sight of that. The moral quality of a movement lies not in its rhetoric or ideological conviction, but in its treatment of individual conscience and life. As soon as the collective or an abstract ideal takes precedence over either, we become what we swore to stand against, and we hurt those we vowed to protect. 

We were advised not to send this column out to campus because it felt divisive to some of our peers. While we understand their concerns, we regret the situation in which we find ourselves, one where the condemnation of violence can be seen as racist and where the sanctity of life is no longer a universal value. While some individuals chant “Death to America” on the streets of California or proclaim “I am not sad that a f— fascist died tonight” after the shooting of Aaron Danielson, we regret that we hear nothing from Dartmouth College’s faculty and student organizations. While the new book "In Defense of Looting" gains traction, we regret that thousands of struggling, defenseless small business owners affected by looting fade from our media and memory. 

We regret that this column will likely be controversial, and its moral sentiments abominable to some of our peers. But that is why we are compelled to send it out. We invite all Dartmouth students to condemn the violence on our streets and care for those in grief. We encourage those who are angered by the violence and collectivist intimidation to stand up and speak frankly. Ideological domination, regardless of its alleged cause, is the root of all violence and injustice. When anything short of full and active compliance is seen as opposition, we cannot afford to self-censor any longer. Reminded of the question posed by Chicago alderman Raymond Lopez when the looting in Chicago first broke out — “God help us, what happens when they start going after residents?” — we ask: What will we allow next? 

Jonathan Nicastro is a member of the Class of 2023. Victoria Xiao is a member of the Class of 2022. 

The Dartmouth welcomes guest columns. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter. Submissions may be sent to both opinion@thedartmouth.com and editor@thedartmouth.com. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.