Fighting back by not fighting

Dallas, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge and Sacramento—why there’s no such thing as a justified attack

Dave Kempa is a freelance writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

Before the Dallas sniper attack last week that killed five police officers and injured seven more, I stood outside the Sacramento County jail live-streaming community prayers and speeches in the wake of police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—two more black men whose unjust executions were caught on video.

The mood was determined, the speeches stirring. It was powerful, witnessing on that sidewalk our black neighbors’ pain, fears and frustrations.

Afterward, I was supposed to go home and write an essay tearing down the justifications people gave for protestors’ violence against the neo-Nazis outside the Capitol weeks ago. After Dallas, this is a different essay. But the message is the same: We need to stay peaceful.

That’s easier said than done in a time when graphic footage floods our social media of unarmed black men and children killed by police.

It’s hard to stay peaceful in a time when the presumptive Republican nominee for president is a virulent racist calling for the deportation of 11 million undocumented residents and strict surveillance of American mosques. A man whose rhetoric emboldens neo-Nazis to come out from under their rocks and spew their hateful words outside our state Capitol, armed with knives and begging for a fight.

It’s also easy for me to call for peace when I am not one of the oppressed, whose families are targeted and inexplicably murdered by those meant to protect them.

But the message of peace continues to ring—particularly from those suffering most. Soon after the tragic shooting in Dallas, the mother of Alton Sterling’s son spoke to CBS News. “Violence do not take care of violence,” she said, holding back tears.

The reality is that we give credibility and a platform to that which we’re fighting when we act out in violence. After the activists’ melee with neo-Nazis on the Capitol lawn, Google searches for the racists’ Traditionalist Worker Party skyrocketed, and remain higher today than before that Sunday’s violence. The racist collective also enjoyed national news coverage. Those who battled the neo-Nazis with sticks and rocks ended up helping their cause. That’s what violence gets you.

The Dallas shooter, of course, was not affiliated with any movement. Those advocating for black lives remain remarkably peaceful in the face of terrible injustice. Yet already they’re catching blame, which deflects attention from their mission to save innocent lives.

Each day, more and more people put their skills to use against an unjust, racist system. But we’re also witness to so many shootings, stabbings and hateful words. I fear we’re nearing a boiling point. Please, let’s not give into the heat.

If we do, no one wins.