Street Violence Cannot Become Part of Our Political Process

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Photo credit: Nathan Howard - Getty Images
Photo credit: Nathan Howard - Getty Images

While we’re all watching week-old films from the airport in Kabul, and rending our garments—rightfully and self-righteously—about the plight of the people of Afghanistan, this country, as Neil Young once sang, is coming apart at every nail. First of all, there was an extraordinarily violent confrontation in Portland between some Proud Boys and some counter-protestors. Worse, the Portland police, with the mayor’s blessing, seem to have determined they would assume the roles of non-combatants in the whole business. From the Williamette Week:

The Aug. 22 rally—called “Summer of Love: United We Stand Divided We Fall”—was held in the parking lot of an abandoned Kmart in Northeast Portland. The event landed about 48 hours after Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell warned that police would not intervene in weekend skirmishes that resulted from the planned gatherings. “We are asking you to choose love,” Wheeler said during the Aug. 20 press conference. “People should not necessarily expect to see the police standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart.”

This strategy, apparently cribbed from the collected works of Spanky and Our Gang, did not work out as planned.

The rally, for the most part, remained calm until around 4 pm when a skirmish broke out between right-wing and anti-fascist counter-protesters dressed in black bloc. The fighting spilled out onto adjacent 122nd Avenue—a major artery that runs through the Argay Terrace neighborhood. Burgerville, Round Table Pizza and Parkrose High School are all a stone’s throw away.

The violence appeared to escalate when a white van that said “Metro West Ambulance” pulled into the southwest corner of the parking lot. The driver apparently crashed and fled the scene. Witnesses of the incident described a fight between the van’s passengers and right-wing protesters. Soon after, Proud Boys-affiliated protesters toppled and ransacked the van, and shot at it with paintball guns and spray-painted “FAFO”—short for “fuck around and find out”—onto the van’s roof.

But, as the AP reported in a very depressing survey piece, Portland isn’t the only place where people are declining to use their words these days. And the casus belli is the ongoing effort to keep people from contracting a deadly respiratory disease.

A parent in Northern California barged into his daughter’s elementary school and punched a teacher in the face over mask rules. At a school in Texas, a parent ripped a mask off a teacher’s face during a “Meet the Teacher” event. A Missouri hospital leader was approached in a parking garage this week by a man from Alabama who handed him papers accusing him of “crimes against humanity,” and it was not the only in-your-face encounter over vaccines and masks. School board members, county commissioners, doctors and local leaders are regularly confronted at meetings and in public with angry taunts that compare them to the Taliban, Nazis, Marxists and the leaders of Japanese internment camps.

You just can’t do that to history. It’s a crime against it.

Since Hawaii announced a mandate earlier this month that state and county workers would have to show proof of vaccination or face weekly tests, 50 to 100 unmasked vaccine opponents have gathered almost nightly outside the downtown Honolulu condominium building where Lt. Gov. Josh Green lives with his wife and two children, ages 14 and 10. Some yell into bullhorns and shine strobe lights into apartment units, Green said. Flyers with his photo and the words “Jew” and “fraud” have been plastered around the neighborhood. Green, who is Jewish, has been tearing them down and turning them over to the state attorney general’s office.

If the police are laying out rather than getting in between the combatants, then we are a long way toward accepting street brawling and thuggery as parts of our political process. If we’re starting to accept street brawling and thuggery as parts of the political process, we are heading down a dark road that dead-ends at a beer hall in Munich.

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