Violent and Nonviolent Protests

26 Nov
November 26, 2014

I had lunch yesterday with Randall Collins, a Penn sociologist who has written extensively about the “micro-sociology” of violence.  (Our mutual friend Dave DeHuff, who runs the faculty-staff fellowship group at Penn, brought the three of us together).  I would highly commend Randall’s blog essays, articles and books on these issues under any circumstances, but especially with the turmoil in Ferguson and Hong Kong.

I was particularly struck by two of Randall’s insights.  The first is that violence is less likely when a protestor and police officer encounter one another face to face.  Although a protester’s natural inclination is to flee, fleeing actually is often more dangerous than a face to face exchange, at least if the exchange could be kept relatively calm.  It’s much harder to attack someone when you see them face to face.  This seems to me to reflect an implicit recognition, even in the most hostile of circumstances, that each of us is made in the image of God and is therefore precious.

Randall also pointed out that when protesters damage or destroy property, they usually target property in their own neighborhood.  This may explain the seeming incongruity of protesters damaging businesses that serve their own community, which often seems counterproductive.  But protestors tend to feel most comfortable in their own neighborhood, and their neighborhood is they place whose injustice upsets them most.