As much as I hate to think of violence as a solution, these riots really are this rebellion really is necessary for change. On a personal level, I totally get it that if somebody isn’t respecting a peacefully expressed boundary, sometimes the only way to enforce that boundary is violence. Everything I have ever been taught says to never escalate.

But one thing I’ve learned is that the concept of “escalation” has to be weighted according not only to the moment you’re in, but according to the relative power levels of those involved, and the larger pattern between them. My Mom taught me that if a man beats his wife with his fists, she’s not escalating if she hits back with a frying pan – and if he can hit her with his fists at any time, maybe it’s fair if she has to wait until he’s not hitting her to get her swing in. Not that our culture accepts even that level of self-defense when the marginalized are up against the mainstream. (And yes, I’m counting men who are abused by their partners as marginalized, as they are effectively invisible in our culture.)

As for the riots uprising, it’s clear that these police jurisdictions, under the sanction of larger city, state, county, and federal governments, much less the overarching cultural systems in the US, are abusing the populations in their care. Is it really escalating if those populations respond with a fraction of the force they’ve been dealt?

The first response that comes to mind is, of course, “But the store owners aren’t the police,” and no, of course they’re not. And I don’t necessarily think it’s ethical to punish one person for another person’s crime. But loss of property also isn’t loss of life. And this problem isn’t really just between the police and a single marginalized community. None of this invalidates the real message that when you push someone too hard for too long, some people break, but others retaliate.

Obviously I grieve anyone who is harmed in these riots conflicts, especially if they’re not even directly involved. But I don’t grieve them any more than I grieve the innocent black people killed by police officers.

Or even the guilty ones.

That’s a huge part of this skewed narrative, isn’t it?

“Well, those black people deserved it because they’re criminals, and when they “riot”, they become criminals, and when they disturb the “peace” they’re criminals, and when they disagree with the police they’re criminals. We all know criminals deserve what they get. And really, with so many black people who are criminals, how can we be blamed for expecting this one is a criminal too? And we all know that you’re a criminal once you’ve done something wrong, no trial or proof required. The police are just doing their jobs, right? ”

“Criminal” is a word we use to replace the concept of “Human”.

Some of the inmates I meet with while doing jail ministry are already sentenced, others are still awaiting trial. If I honestly believed that being guilty of a crime – much less merely suspected of one – was enough to erase someone’s humanity, why would I bother?


P.S. Still reading, still learning. “Riot” necessarily reinforces the marginalization of the responding population. Whose peace are we really disrupting when we defend ourselves?

About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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5 Responses to “Criminals”

  1. Here, here! 😡
    I know it’s mostly the black community being affected so lethally in these cases but just being poor is enough to get you singled out for unnecessarily harsh police treatment. Me and my son were driving to go eat. His tags were expired. The police flashed lights for us to pull over. Now we were on a bridge, mind you. There was no way to safely pull over to the right until we got off the bridge. So the cops keep hitting their siren, flashing their lights even though my son is proceeding at speed limit with his turn signal on to indicate he means to turn right off the road asap.

    He finally turns right onto a non-busy street and parks in a safe spot. The police response to my son’s common sense and civically responsible behavior was to pull their weapons, shout at us to put our hands in the air and basically just scare the crap out of us. I ask the police officer if I can explain the situation he says no and tells me to shut up. He gets my son out of the car, makes him spread against the car to search him etc. Then he yells and asks my son why he didn’t immediately pull over. My son got halfway through explaining it just wastn’t safe when the cop cuffs him and shoves him in his squad car because he doesn’t like it that my son is making perfect sense in the face of his unreasonable demands. Another officer tries to explain to me that the measures were justified because he could have been fleeing with me as a captive in the car for all they know [at a robust 30 mph of course-with turn signals]

    This doesn’t come anywhere NEAR being shot or beat to death but how much more would it have taken to come near being tazed or shot or beaten? The cop had the audacity to explain how generous he was being and how lucky my son was to not be in a cell. I told the cop in this day and age, what with everything being recorded and videotaped everywhere no jury would send my kid to jail for not pulling over immediately in a situation where it wasn’t safe for anyone to do so.

    I mean, come ON! He really needed to pull his weapon on my kid, cuff him and shove him in the back of a squad car over expired tags? Really??

    It’s a crime to be poor in America.


    • EmberVoices says:

      I’ve been pulled over and checked over for having a poor-looking car in a rich neighborhood, which is apparently sufficient for them to suspect I might be a drug dealer or something.

      There’s doing your job, and there’s being bored or zealous.

      I’ve failed to pull over immediately where demanded in favor of somewhere that seemed safe and the worst that happened to me was a reprimand.

      Honestly, I think the police in our country are *scared*.



      • Well if there’s not some actual accountability in these killings, they’re likely to have genuine reason for concern soon enough.

        I see all of this as a power elite method of ‘sticking a fork in it’ to see how well its done. It’s like a controlled fire experiment. At least it sometimes feel that way. The poor and otherwise disenfranchised live so far on the edges of acceptable society that they’re always the ones to feel the impacts first. And often. We’re just the slobs on the front line of a war that’s been going on since history began. We’re expendable in their ‘social experiments’ disguised as democracy.


        • EmberVoices says:

          I don’t have anywhere near enough information on any of this to agree or disagree with that assessment.

          What I can say, though, is it depends tremendously on the boundaries of the “they” in question.

          Regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, push too hard too long, and you WILL get a reaction.



  2. Lon Sarver says:

    Reblogged this on Drinking From the Cup of Life and commented:
    I’ve been thinking about what to write about the Baltimore uprising. This isn’t it, but it is very good.


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