I moved to Charlotte at the age of 11. With the passing of time, I saw the city reach for the skies as it built new skyscrapers and developed entertainment districts. I saw the city push its way into the major leagues by hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2010 and the NRA convention in 2010.
The Queen City was a city on the rise. As it rose, more and more people (read: Millennials) began moving into the Uptown area, with a whole new infrastructure put in place to support them. Places like NoDa became hip and gentrified as thousands flocked to newly-developed areas with ever-climbing property values.
Then one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s officer’s shot Mr. Keith Scott.
Then, a police officer shot another black man.
Another case of senseless violence that precipitated in even more senseless violence and that added Charlotte as yet another battleground in the fight against systemic racism.
It pains me to see the city I love on BBC News, AlJazeera, and as the headline story on France24. It kills me to look at these images–to recognize all of the landmarks and to see violence unfolding right at the heart of the city.
But here’s the thing,
What that violence did, for all of its horrors and fear–despite all of its bad press and even its associated fatalities–was expose the issues and set off conversations.
I’m in no way naïve enough to say that the Charlotte protests are going to be that tipping point after which the country switches to the dialogue that heals and repairs. Just like Baltimore and Dallas and Los Angeles before it, the riots are not that powerful. But these riots have set off an international conversation and have kept it in the global eye for the past week.
For the great nonviolence protesters of the past, there still needed to be an element of violence for them to be successful. Dr. Martin Luther King along with the entire nonviolent side of the Civil Right Movement. Gandhi. All of them staged successful nonviolent protests. However, one key element to their success was the violence of others towards them.
Had the police and the counter-protesters in Selma not attacked Dr. King on his march to Selma, the entire march would have gone unnoticed by history. Had Gandhi and his supporters not been attacked with grotesque violence by British forces, his movement would also have been ignored.
The key to being remembered after the passage of time–and therefore to make lasting change–unfortunately requires a display of violence by one side of the other. Moreover, lasting change required that Dr. King and Gandhi–those asking for the equal application of rights–to remain peaceful even as others reacted violently. It was that unyielding calm in the face of danger and hatred that earned them a spot in the history books.
Today is different.
Now we have almost inverse roles. In the past we had protesters asking for the equal application of rights by remaining peaceful. Now we have a portion of that community reacting with violence.
The way that ideas are shared having changed precipitated a shift in our conversation. Suddenly everyone had a bullhorn. Colin Kaepernick did.
And more importantly, millions of members of the African American and minority community do.
And today, just like in the past, for the masses to flock to the moderate message it seems to take a fringe group acting violently.
Yes. It’s cynical.
Yes. The entire premise is probably wrong.
Yes. To an extent, I’m playing devil’s advocate.
But what does it mean when the only thing that brings to light the senseless killing of human lives at the hands of police is a violent reaction of the population?
Suddenly, the notion that violence works doesn’t seem as outlandish as it originally did. And to be frank, that terrifies me.
Black lives matter.
Cover image by Tom van Hoogstraten
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