When Protesting, the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

A gentleman who opposes police brutality and racism publicly stated that he would not attend a protest against police brutality and racism because that protest didn’t also address the problems of inner-city violence and the related social woes. I respectfully disagree and am sharing my response to him here:

I’m one of the people who is organizing the protest against police brutality and racism at the Davenport police station on July 11, 2020 at 4:00pm. I understand you made this post in response to being invited to speak at that protest.

As a starting point, I am sorry to hear about the tragedies you have experienced. I’m from Chicago too, and while my experience hasn’t been as filled with loss as yours, I’ve feel pain from racism, crime, and other related issues.

As to the arguments in your post, I would say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I like to think that I have well thought out political opinions and so I have a lot of things that I care about. But I won’t boycott a protest because it doesn’t perfectly address every issue that I care about. For example, I care about climate change too, but having a statement opposing fossil fuel overuse is not a prerequisite for me attending a protest to support women’s rights.

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Protesting against gangs also seems to make no sense. Gang members are, by definition, criminals and their conduct is already illegal. Police, on the other hand, are protected by the law in the form of qualified immunity and other such doctrines/statutes/etc. When we protest the police, we are bringing the issue to our elected officials and demanding that they change the law. Protesting gangs can’t accomplish that objective as gangs and their criminal actions are already proscribed.

Additionally, while police officers and elected officials do care about the opinions of the voting public, gang members do not. The mayor can be voted out or have his salary reduced by the displeased members of her city. A police chief can be fired. A gang member is not directly affected by the next election.

Perhaps most importantly as it relates to your points, police brutality and racism are what allow the gangs to prosper. When black people are afraid to call the police, the gangs have fertile ground to grow. When systematic racism causes black people to lack education and opportunity, the gangs will take over as they offer quick money and prestige to a community that lacks both. When people see that crime and despair, drug use happens and it produces a viscous cycle of gangs, AIDS, and other social ills. When the police disproportionately target black communities to enforce victimless crimes, they are taking away fathers, putting them in prison, and ensuring those black men will have felony convictions that prevent gainful employment, ensuring a cycle of poverty. Those root causes are literally what we are trying to fight with this protest.

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Finally, from a standpoint of affecting change, it is unwise to bundle every issue together as that will reduce the size of the movement and block change. By way of example, I am not a vegetarian. I love bacon. I am quite willing to protest the way our government is treating migrants from south and central America. But if I had to also oppose eating meat to attend that protest, I am not sure I would go.

So, I hope you’ll reconsider and see that police brutality and racism is a real problem that needs to be addressed. I hope you’ll recognize that if we all boycotted events unless the event perfectly aligned with every one of our causes, the result would be gridlock that perpetuates injustice and blocks any real progress. I hope you’ll also see that, as a practical matter, it is asking a lot to insist that I put together other protests too as I am one person who is busy with work, my children, etc., so it don’t have the time to also put together protests for every cause that you wish to support.