Salon: The Vicious Dialectic of Violence and Retaliation

AP Photo/LM Otero

Sean Illing writes in Salon about “the vicious dialectic of violence and retaliation” evoked by the murder of five police officers and wounding of seven others in Dallas on Thursday during a Black Lives Matter protest.

What happened last night in Dallas was tragic. It wasn’t an act of protest or rebellion. It was a savage provocation designed to explode any hope of reasonable discourse.

Now that innocent cops have been slaughtered on the street, there is injustice on all sides. Both the black community and the law enforcement community have suffered. Righteous rage simmers in each camp. Anyone inherently suspicious of the Black Lives Matter movement will reflexively denounce it after this incident, even though the two aren’t causally related and Johnson himself insisted he wasn’t affiliated with any groups. White America, desperate to paper over our nation’s sins, will dismiss police brutality as a fiction and blind itself to the realities of our criminal justice system.

As the rhetoric intensifies, the original injustices are reduced to afterthoughts. It’s forgotten that black Americans are – and have been – the victims of state-sanctioned tyranny, that they’re 30 percent more likely to be stopped by police, that they’re arrested and shot at twice the rate of whites, that they’re charged and sentenced more often and more harshly than white Americans. These facts fade from public consciousness as violence escalates and the factions entrench. The pendulum swings to and fro and, eventually, the just cause at the root of it all is eclipsed by the immediate pain of the last retaliatory act.


Every act of injustice, every violent volley, entrenches each side and blocks the way to dialogue. This is true of any dispute in which both sides have reasons for their rage. And that’s not to draw equivalencies here. Let’s be clear: the people protesting police brutality occupy the moral high ground. Black men have been murdered by agents of the state for hundreds of years, and that is what this is about. But not all cops are bad, and the violence done in Dallas was unjust. Nothing in our nation’s sordid history justifies it.

Apart from the loss of life, the most depressing fact about this mass shooting is that it followed a peaceful protest. The man who did this does not represent black Americans or the broader Black Lives Matter movement. But those invested in the prevailing system of oppression will insist otherwise, and people of goodwill have to be ready for that.

Yesterday’s massacre will animate agitators on both sides. The people disposed to blindly support the police will pounce. They’ll deny any distinction between the shooters and the nonviolent protesters. They’ll try to discredit the very real and very legitimate grievances of the movement.

Read the rest here.