My Day In Court, Practicing Nonviolence

Too many names, outside the Alameda County Courthouse

Too many names, outside the Alameda County Courthouse

“Appear in court on December 26,” they said. So I cut my family’s Christmas short to be back in Oakland, security-screened by 9:00 this morning. I try not to predict the future, but I was eager to hear the consequence of my peaceful protest. Dismissed? Fined? Charged?


The grumpus behind the glass pushed the words through her frown: “We haven’t received your paperwork yet. Go to the DA’s office to be rescheduled.” No resolution. My three guesses were all wrong. Instead, I have to call in every week for a year, to find out if they’ve charged me. I told the clerk I was going to be out of the country for the next couple weeks. “If we charge you and you do not appear, a warrant may be issued for your arrest,” and she went back to her desk.


Dec 14 Daytime Protest 08Not an ideal arrangement for a traveler, especially one who plans to work abroad for weeks at a time. But also, I find myself reluctant to participate in any more demonstrations. They are pushing me away from the exercise of my Constitutional rights, and into…let’s call it trepidation. My government is engaging in Trepidationism against me.


Trepidationism for me, but make no mistake, the system engages in Terrorism against black people. Or perhaps people of color. Or perhaps the not-rich. When the police, George Zimmerman, and who knows who else, are allowed to kill black people with impunity? It’s time travel.


Martin Luther King, things that matterBecause this is what Martin Luther King achieved. He took away the terror of being black in America, in a time when they could be charged with assault just for looking “recklessly” at a white person, or not taking off their hat. (Read this.) I’m reluctant to cite MLK, since I have lived with white privilege my whole life, and despite my best attempts at empathy, have never felt for myself the terror of living in a society that oppresses you this way, but when I see our country sinking backwards into a time of systemic terrorism, I am willing to reach for any heroes I can find.


The list of heroes includes all the civil rights leaders, from Dorothy Height to Claudette Colvin. Does it include Malcolm X? The man whose legacy is clear in our civil religion, the violent alternative to King’s nonviolence? Absolutely.


Malcolm XSome say King’s message only got as far as it did because the establishment looked at Malcolm X and saw the very real possibility of rage released in violence, so took the offered path of peace. I don’t know if that’s true (and though it’s inherently flawed to compare wildly different circumstances, I can’t help but notice that Gandhi had no violent counterpart…or did he?), but either way, the frustration and anger of those who have been too-long abused by this system are very real, and very strong. Undeniable.


The danger is that this possibility of violence, for all its rational origins, ends up being another face of the Terrorism that I denounce. When the system, through police or vigilantes, threatens violence, it’s Terrorism. But when they force those opposed to present the same threat..? That feels like a loss, understandable as it may be.


And then there’s the bloodsoaked example of the French Revolution punching us in the face. Violence to end oppression, that betrayed itself, consumed itself, and only led to another form of oppression.Live together as brothers


So, I’ll spend the next year in trepidation, with the looming threat of a misdemeanor (oh my!) and people of color will live under the constant menace of assault, humiliation, exploitation, and outright murder. I don’t need any help with my vague discomfort, but the racial Terrorism in our system has to change. We just have to figure out how.