Separating “peaceful” from “violent” protest, only serves those in power

Apr 1, 2021

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen the police use cavalry charges, set dogs on, and beat with batons and shields protesters in Bristol opposing police violence. Many journalists, political pundits and MP’s have attempted to justify the discriminate violence against protesters by charging the protesters with “violence” against the police. As Palestine Action has grown, the tactics of direct-action used to target Elbit Systems, it’s subsidiaries and its landlords LaSalle have frequently been charged with the claim that it is not “peaceful”, but “violent” protest, and therefore unjustified.

The first response to this charge is an obvious one. We live in an overwhelmingly violent system already. The reason people are taking to the streets in Bristol, is a result of unrelenting state and police violence, of which the murder of Sarah Everard was but one example. It is a response to the police violence against women holding a protest vigil for her death, it is a response to the government attempting to effectively ban all forms of protest that could potentially affect change.

Similarly, those involved in taking direct-action against companies such as LaSelle and Elbit Systems, do so because we already live in an overwhelmingly violent system, where companies can profit from the subjugation, oppression, and crimes against an occupied indigenous population under a military apartheid regime. There would be no need to use direct action against these companies, if they did not maintain the violence that is exported across the world to maim, kill and torture people across the world, notably those under occupation in Palestine.

The second point, which is relevant to our current context of mass-movements against state and police violence and the arms trade, is the false dichotomy presented between “Peaceful” and “Violent” protests.  Applying what are ultimately arbitrary distinctions, and moralising over the actions in which those who resist the overwhelming violence of the political and economic order in which we live, to forms of protest is counter productive not only morally and politically but also strategically. Designating some forms of protest “peaceful” therefore “legitimate”, and some forms of protest “violent” therefore “illegitimate” only hinders the ability for movements to successfully affect change.

Police and state violence against protestors and activists is unjustified and what distinguishing between the two definitions of protest (Peaceful & Violent) does is to legitimise police violence in specific instances. It allows the state, the media, and the police themselves, to justify their violence, even against “peaceful” protests, however you define that, by presenting the protest as “violent”. Which, under the new Policing & Crime Bill, would be expanded considerably to many things that people consider “peaceful” protest.

Protest and direct-action are legitimate forms of political action against a system of overwhelming violence. One that bloodies protesters resisting sexist, racist, classist police violence against communities, and one in which arms companies like Elbit Systems are able to profit from war crimes and are protected by the British state and police to do it.

In an age of Black Lives Matter, Sisters Uncut, and mass-movements against state and police violence, now is the time to do away with the forms of delegitimising language which justify state and police terror. Now is the time to use all of the means within our capacity, to protest, to use direct-action, and to end UK complicity in Israel’s Apartheid regime, the subjugation of the Palestinian people abroad, and the oppression of women and black and brown communities at home.