JAM: I have seen black blocs de-arresting their comrades (stealing people back from police custody), without hurting anyone or anything. I have seen them win a tug of war with the police and confiscate their kettle netting. I have seen them returning tear gas canisters from whence they came in order to mitigate the suffering of children and elderly protesters in their midst.
CH: Let's not paint these people as the Boy Scouts, come on.
JAM: Obviously, there is smashing and burning, but I wonder if tactics like those, which are also part and parcel of black bloc protests, are also cancerous.
CH: First of all, let's be clear. I don't have a problem with anarchism. The problem is they're not tactics I would engage in. I wouldn't classify them as "violent." I would classify violence as the destruction of property and vandalism, the shouting of insulting messages to the police, physical confrontations with the police. Those are very clear cut acts of violence. The issues that you raise are more nebulous and circumstantial. Throwing a tear-gas canister back that's been fired at you I would not classify as a violent act and yet it was something that probably would not have been done during the civil rights movement under King.
What a strange remark. Why would one call "shouting insulting messages to the police" and "physical confrontation with the police" violent? Shouting insulting messages seems a perfectly fine way to register political anger and discontent. If police are around, then they are embodiments of coercive state power and so are appropriately addressed with shouts and insults.
I'm reminded of a great shouted insult during the heyday of Act Up. Confronted with cops wearing rubber gloves to avoid possible exposure to HIV-AIDS, protesters shouted "Your gloves don't match your shoes! Your gloves don't match your shoes!" Pretty doggone insulting.
Hedges seems to think that the only appropriate way to interact with police is with polite resignation and acquiescence to whatever they say, do, or even suggest.
And what about physical confrontation? If someone is standing at a barricade and the police charge in, that's a physical confrontation. If someone is in a march and the police move to kettle the march, that's a physical confrontation. Shoot, the pepper-sprayed students from UC Davis were in a physical confrontation. All of these are physical confrontations. They are violent--but the violence comes from the police, not from the fact of confrontation.
I will say that I love Hedges' view of Boy Scouts. Those are the Boy Scouts of my dreams--ones who liberate their comrades from police custody, confiscate kettle netting, and return teargas cannisters. Boy Scouts we can believe in.