Date: July 2107
Originally Published: Huffington Post
Recently there was an uproar about Oscar Lopez Rivera that was striking. Many people came out in opposition to the recently-released Rivera marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, in New York City, as an honored guest. Their criticisms of the Puerto Rican native related directly to his ties to the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), an organization – some will argue a terrorist one – that advocated for an independent Puerto Rico.
What was surprising to me was not people denouncing violence, we should do that consistently, but how it underscored our inconsistent use of violence as an arbiter of morality.
The loudest voices would have you believe that they had a moral objective to rail against violence. Yet, if we pull back to a bird’s eye view, we find that most often it’s not violence that is the best indicator of support for a person or group; nor is it violence that allows people to apply a disapproving label. More often than not it’s the cause. More specifically, how the cause is believed at the time to be in furtherance of American Nationalism, status quo and privilege, or against it.
Add the lens of race and socio-economics and you have the right variables for a trustworthy equation. Often the passage of time can also adjust thinking, or at least, revise our memories and allow for safe review and heroization.
It explains how the NYPD could march with members of the Irish American Army (IRA) with no problem in 1983, but not in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. It also explains how the majority of people railing against the choices made for the parade heroes probably supported the acquittal of Ammon Bundy and six others who engaged in an armed takeover of federal land in Oregon and had a standoff with our federal government for over a month.
Those same people most likely are the types that continue to demonize Colin Kaepernick and praise his inability to get an NFL contract, while probably silent as domestic violence perpetrators move forward with theirs. The same people probably tried to crush the spirits of anyone who dared to utter a simple phrase meant to support a sense of pride against all statistics, stating simply that their lives mattered. On a much lesser scale, it was probably the same mindset of folks that sent me vile hate mail for simply sitting quietly during a pledge with no disruption to government proceedings.
I’m sure the more violent act in the above examples received far less rebuke from the same people that assailed the nonviolent less disruptive ones. It seems the often discussed constitutional rights against “tyranny” supports being armed against the government for one set of the population but not for another completely unarmed in protest…even when symbolic.
Let’s not forget America’s favorite “peaceful warrior” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was violently murdered. Time has allowed us to forget how demonized he was while alive and that according to the FBI he was one of the most dangerous men in America. Nelson Mandela was on the United States terrorist list well into the 21st century and was protested against while in America. Time has remedied that, as well as lessening their threat to American privilege and status quo; even though Mandela, in fact, not only participated in but was in charge of the armed and violent wing of the African National Congress and never renounced violence as a tool.
As I watched the recent NRA video telling Americans they must arm themselves and be ready to provide violent responses to people pushing for basic respect and equity, I couldn’t help to think that the people this may appeal to are the same who exhibited disbelief around Oscar Lopez and the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Even though he was never convicted of a violent act, renounced violence and had both Coretta Scott King and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleading for his release in years prior. The hypocrisy around how we use and respond to violence and morality is only less astounding to how we ignore it.
For the record, I abhor violence. Indeed, I spend much of my professional time trying to reduce it, and it is not my tool of preference. My prayers of peace and comfort go to all those who are affected by it; including those families who still feel the pain of actions by the FALN, as well as similar actions, all over the world. I can only imagine that kind of hurt.
We should however be consistent when admonishing it. Also for the record, I’m not Puerto Rican and take no sides on independence beyond their voice being heard in a real way, beyond a vote that Congress can simply ignore.
This is the same Congress where Puerto Ricans have no voting representation on this or any issue. Yet, the feigned of morality by so many cannot be ignored. We cannot pretend that if Oscar had been from Ukraine or Chechnya, and was found guilty of seditious conspiracy by Russia we would not only call him a hero, but probably grant him asylum.
On July 4th we celebrated our nation’s independence. The people’s morality that fought for it consisted of those who believed in the benefits of genocide, theft of land and owning human beings based on complexion. Of course, those were “just the times.” One of the reasons for the calls of independence and incredibly violent response was being taxed without representation. During the same weekend we celebrated our country’s freedom, 102 people in Chicago were injured by gun violence. And yet when this type of violence occurs, there is no national outcry. As I think about the “the times” of the 1970s and how many islands and countries were fighting for or celebrating new found independence, I must say that sounds familiar. We continue to pretend it’s not hypocrisy.
And finally, during the same weekend we celebrated our country’s freedom, 102 people in Chicago were injured or killed by gun violence. I’m still waiting to hear the national outcry, especially from the people so concerned with our nations safety that they what to ban Muslims. The only thing worse than the hypocrisy around how respond to violence is pretending that it is hypocritical at all.