After George Floyd: The “Violence on Both Sides” Argument

Much of the discourse in the wake of the murder of George Floyd includs diplomatic or defensive references to the violence perpetrated by a few bad actors “on both sides.”

There is a false equivalence here. The police force is an institution an arm of the state meant to exercise legal violence as required to enforce the law. We are bound as citizens to condemn that institution when it engages in systematic and unlawful brutality, especially where a particular minority group suffers and even more so where that violence reflects a broader racialist pathology pervasive at all levels of our society. The intention of individual officers is beside the point; they are co-opted into a violent system driven by well-documented prejudices (a large percentage of Americans think African-Americans are lazy and violent; and many would rather hire a convicted white felon than an equally qualified black man with no criminal background.) The false equivalence between the police — an institution tasked not only to enforce the law, but also to monopolize (or nearly monopolize) the lawful use of force in the state’s interest — and particular violent protestors and looters serves only to minimize the institutionalized and systemic nature of the brutality against minorities and peaceful protestors and obstruct the institutional reforms and social change we desperately need.


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