Is Punching Nazis Justified?

Is Punching Nazis Justified?

An op-ed on the reaction to someone punching neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.

By now, you’ve probably seen the now-famous video of alt-right (or, more correctly, neo-Nazi) leader Richard Spencer getting decked in the face by an anonymous anti-fascist. If you haven’t, CNN has a video of it here.

Spencer made headlines back in 2016 for concluding a speech with the words “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” - a clear allusion to the infamous Nazi cry. He is a white supremacist and the founder of the so-called “alt-right” movement, which is basically a cover for white nationalism and neo-Nazism. So it’s understandable why people across the internet are celebrating this situation.

What’s also interesting is a certain kind of liberal response that says “violence is never the answer, punching Nazis makes you just as bad as them.”

(Okay, sorry. We literally went to war against Nazis, and now you’re saying that violence against them is unjustified? Cool.)

On a more serious note, there’s literally nothing someone can do, short of advocating literal actual genocide (which the neo-Nazi alt-right people have done) that can make them “just as bad” as a Nazi. The neo-Nazi alt-right movement is one founded on the idea that the white race is superior to all and that ethnic cleansing is the correct route. This is an inherently violent rhetoric.

Here’s the thing. I, personally, do not advocate for punching random people in the face. But the thing is, when you take a situation like this, where someone stands up against a neo-Nazi - even if their methods are less than ideal - and then you make it about how the anti-fascist is in the wrong rather than looking at the actual rhetoric of the so-called alt-right movement and how incredibly horrifying it is - you’re literally playing into the neo-Nazis’ hands.

The scariest part of this situation isn’t that someone got punched, it’s the whole “alt-right” movement. Because it’s this insidious, evil thing that can be so easy to pass off as “normal”. Even the name, once you’ve heard it enough, starts to sound harmless. It’s easy to forget that the values and rhetoric and yes, even their “hail Trump” slogans, are taken right from Nazi Germany. I try to avoid using the term they’ve given themselves because it legitimizes them and their rhetoric in a way that makes me supremely uncomfortable and represents a threat to people of color and especially Jewish people across the country, because if we normalize them and their rhetoric by saying they have the right to say whatever they want, we normalize the idea of violence against other races and religions. (Which is why, in this article, I avoid saying “alt-right” without attaching the clarifying “neo-Nazi” in front of it.)

But back to the punching.

It is a unique privilege to be able to look at actual Nazi rhetoric and say “oh, no, their opinions are valid because free speech” and then move on with your life. If you’re able to do that, I’m willing to bet you aren’t Jewish, or black, or otherwise a group that the Nazis want to eradicate from the face of the earth. There are certain rhetorics that cannot be treated as valid (morally speaking, not legally speaking, I understand how free speech works) and Nazism is one of those. You can’t listen to what a Nazi says passively and then pat yourself on the back for being so tolerant, for respecting their right to spew forth their vile discourse.

There isn’t some binary of “violence is always the answer” and “violence is never the answer” - even legally speaking, violence is allowed in self-defense. Most people would agree that fighting back against someone who is beating you up is justifiable. Many would also agree that fighting back against violent rhetoric that represents a threat of bodily harm to you and people like you is also justified.

This is a morally grey area, so condemning the anti-fascist who did the punching is not so simple. When you are up against an inherently violent rhetoric, then it becomes easy to see why someone might want to react with violence. (Here’s a good explanation of why verbally reasoning with Nazis may be a lost cause, just to show that side of the debate.) I don’t fault the person who punched Spencer, because at the very least it’s a clear message to the neo-Nazis that their rhetoric will not be tolerated passively by people. I don’t know if I would have done the same thing in their place, but the good thing that’s come out of all of this is that whoever punched Spencer in the face has brought more negative attention to the neo-Nazi alt-right movement than anyone has in awhile.

So regardless of your opinion on whether Spencer getting punched was justified or not, one thing is clear: the growing neo-Nazi movement in this country (and across the world) needs to be seen as a threat to all of us. We need to stop normalizing neo-Nazi rhetoric in the media and on the internet. This is not simply another political stance that can be seen as valid, because a platform based on advocating the systematic elimination of entire races/religions cannot be validated. We cannot let that happen.

In other news, the neo-Nazi alt-right movement has now put a literal bounty on the head of the person who punched Spencer, so. Clearly they aren’t above killing someone extrajudicially. Remind me again why we should treat their opinions as a valid political viewpoint?

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4 Of The Biggest Political Sports Rivalries In The World

In some places, they don't have to "stick to sports."

I have covered the increasing blend of sports and politics before. In general, Americans like to separate the two hot-button topics, and many are greatly annoyed about how athletes and networks' political views are coming to the forefront when many believe they should "stick to sports."

This attitude does not exist in many other countries, where sports contest has small, but often existent effects on socioeconomic and geopolitical issues. When a polarizing issue exists, supporters on one side literally pick a side to support on the field (usually soccer, or football in this case because we're talking about global sports), with supporters of the political issues other side picking a rival team to root for. If you think the passion between Philidelphia Eagles and New York Giants fans is strong, then see what rivalries are on this list.

1. Eternal Derby, Serbia (Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan)

After the second World War, many countries in eastern Europe united to better compete with the democracies in the West. This included countries like the Soviet Union, and in this case, Yugoslavia. After the cold war, these communist countries all fell and split up into ethnic-based nation-states. For example, Serbia became independent after the fall of Yugoslavia, and Belgrade became the capital city.

Red Star and Partizan are the two biggest soccer teams in Belgrade and all of Serbia, and they are bitter rivals. Red Star fans are strong Serbian nationals. On the other hand, Partizan tried to keep Yugoslavia united for as long as possible.

This is a bitter issue for many Eastern Europeans, as the breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in civil war and ethnic cleansing in hope of one country "ruling" all their former domestic neighbors.

2. Derby Della Capitale (Lazio vs Roma)

The two teams share the city of Rome, the State of Lazio, and even the Stadio Olimpico, home to both sides.

Social classes have much to do with this one. Roma supporters accuse Lazio's supporters of being outsiders; not from the city of Rome. Lazio does have a fanbase that is historically working-class, while Roma's fanbase is more elite. While many blue-collar workers may root for Roma and many wealthy Romans may root for Lazio, the stereotype still holds largely true to this day.

Roma's fans will plaster stickers all over town that say Lazio Merda, which literally translates to "Lazio is shit."

3. Old Firm (Glasglow Rangers vs Glasgow Celtic)

4. El Classico (Barcelona vs Real Madrid)

This is probably the most well-known game on this list, and the politics behind this rivalry go far back. For centuries, Barcelona was the capital of Aragon, an empire that reached far into southern Europe. But when Spain took over this area, now known as Catalonia, in 1714, it was the last we would see of Catalan sovereignty-- for now.

Spain has continued to, in some people's eyes, beat their chest against the Catalans. Fransisco Franco was a dictator who ruled Spain in the mid 20th century who banned everything Catalan. While the current Spanish government does not ban the Catalan flag or language, critics say taxpayer money from Barcelona never returns, instead funding the deep pockets of Madrid.

So many Catalans take their pride-- and hopes for independence-- to FC Barcelona. Their arch rival is Real Madrid, the team representing Spanish nationalism free of division.

The two sides have blossomed into Europe's biggest soccer powers. The Spanish and European leagues are absolutely dominated by these two teams. The rivals have won six of Spain's last seven league titles and five of the last seven European titles. Meanwhile, the fight for Catalan independence has only gotten stronger, now a mega-polarizing issue in Spain.

The combination of politics and pitch action make this arguably the greatest rivalryin the world.

Cover Image Credit: Instagram

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The Shooting Next Door

The Intersection of Gun Control, Mental Illness, and Race Relations

On Tuesday April 3rd I received a message from a friend saying that she had heard the commotion, asking if I was alright. In confusion, I asked what she was referring to, and was told that a man had been on the street swinging a crowbar.

Over the course of the next few days, the news and details spread throughout the school.

The facts are these:

  • A University of Chicago student, armed with a crowbar and in a visibly violent state of mind, was causing property damage
  • The UCPD--University of Chicago Police Department-- were the responders on the scene
  • According to a body cam that was on one of the officers, the student was reported as a “mental”. The officer got out of the car and the student started coming towards him. The officer backed away, telling the student several times to drop the weapon. Ultimately the student started running at him, at which point the officer held out his gun and shot the student in the shoulder
  • The student was taken to the hospital and charges have been filed against him
  • It is suspected, though not 100% confirmed that he was in the middle of a manic episode

In the time since the shooting, the online forums of the university have been brimming with students arguing about the event. Some have been of the opinion that everything that the officer did was justified, others have called for the disarming of the UCPD and have expressed outrage at the officer’s use of a potentially lethal weapon. Now that the onslaught of heated posts have died down, I am going to try to address this event, as it exists at the intersection of several issues that are incredibly relevant in the United States at this point in time. Even more than the situation itself, I am interested in addressing the way in which people have been talking about it.

Responsibility of the UCPD

Should the officer have shot the student? Those who have been arguing that there was no other option cite the bodycam video, saying that the officer gave the student many chances to drop the weapon, and that when the student started running at the officer, the officer was put in immediate danger. These are both valid points. However, this being considered, there are two major flaws with the way that the situation played out. These flaws are most likely less indicative of the specific cop’s wrongdoing and more indicative of an issue with the way that the UCPD are trained and prepared.

De-escalation: The first thing that should have occurred upon reaching the scene was de-escalation. Obviously this is not a strategy to be used in all cases, but in cases such as this, where someone is very obviously not in a rational state of mind, de-escalation is an important step in order to avoid unnecessary violence. The UCPD reportedly undergo 40 hours of training, 8 of which are dedicated to responding mental health crises. There are very specific ways in which one should respond to someone who is acting violently manic.

Some of this training is visible in the way that the officer responds—he puts physical space and obstacles between him and the student. However, in terms of verbal de-escalation, experts advise speaking to the person in a calm and soothing tone and trying to create a connection with them. This is notably absent from the interaction. While it might be hard to imagine speaking in a soothing voice to someone approaching you with a weapon and trying to establish a personal connection with them, it is exactly in those sorts of situations that de-escalation tactics are most crucial.

Whether or not the officer was adequately trained to de-escalate the situation is hard to say. I would argue that the training was probably insufficient. 8 hours of training in order to expect someone to be prepared with a violent manic episode is overconfident at best. There are a variety of situations that an officer might encounter that have to do with mental illness, and 8 hours is supposed to be enough to cover them all in sufficient detail? To put this into perspective: the standard First Aid and CPR training is 3-4 hours. I have taken this training twice so in theory I am as prepared to administer basic first aid and CPR as a UCPD officer is to deal with mental health crises. However, in terms of being actually prepared, if anyone came to me with a health issue worse than a paper cut, they would be wildly out of luck.

Use of potentially lethal weapons: The most hotly debated point of the issue is the officer’s use of a gun. Once the student started running at the officer with a metal pipe, it is true that the officer had to respond in some way, as he was put in danger. The officer did do what he was trained to do, which was shoot to stop. However, this once again brings up the issue of his training. A spokesperson for the university has said that the UCPD doesn’t carry tasers. This raises the question of why they carry guns but not tasers. The way that they are armed demands the use of a potentially lethal weapon even in situations such as this one, where a nonlethal weapon could have been used.

“But a taser would provide insufficient protection,” is an argument that could be made (and was in fact made). However, arguments such as this do not take into account the fact that there are successful models of societies where cops are not armed with lethal weapons. The idea of using nonlethal weapons to efficiently deal with crime is not only plausible, it’s a reality. In Britain, for example, the vast majority of cops are not armed with lethal weapons. The article linked, in fact, brings up a situation very similar to this one, wherein a cop dealt with someone having a violent episode by using nonlethal means. The article does bring up the fact that in the States the amount of guns owned by civilians warrants the need for police forces to have guns. Of course, if the number of guns in the civilian population were reduced, the guns in the police force could be as well. This brings up the larger issue of gun control, which, while incredibly important, is too broad to responsibly tackle in this article. That aside, the vast majority of situations in which cops find themselves do not necessitate the use of guns. Police should, 1. be trained to handle situations without force whenever possible, 2. have access to nonlethal weapons (and when they’re like the UCPD, a private security force, it is arguable that they need not be armed with lethal weapons at all), and 3. be trained to use lethal weapons only as an absolute last resort, if at all (if this last point sounds familiar, it is because there is a lot of discourse surrounding police misusing lethal weapons, particularly when it comes to discussions about racisms and inadequate training in the police forces).

Mental Health Issues

I have already discussed the need for proper training in terms of de-escalation when it comes to dealing with situations involving mental health. However, now I would like to examine the way mental health issues have been treated and discussed in this situation as a whole. Let me begin by saying that I do not know what the student’s experience was at that time or how he was perceiving things. What I can say is that it is most sources suggest that he was suffering a manic episode, and that this is something that has been taken for granted in the way that people have discussed it after the fact. What I am now most interested is looking at how people have talked about it.

In some of the arguments that have been made in favor of the UCPD, people have indicated that the student chose not to put the crowbar down, and thus they have no sympathy for the fact that he was shot. Notably, on a public facebook page called “UChicago Secrets”, where people are allowed to post opinions anonymously, someone wrote, “I just want to point something out: there are thousands of students here, some with mental health problems, all with stress....and only one of them threw a major temper tantrum than had to be handled by UCPD.” While this is an extreme case, it is one of many examples that voice similar sentiments. These arguments acknowledge the student as most likely dealing with mental health issues, and simultaneously demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be suffering from mental health issues.

Of several possibilities, the student could have been suffering from Manic Depressive Disorder, a disorder partially characterized by its manic episodes. A symptom of those manic episodes can be psychosis, A.K.A—hallucinations. As I have said, I do not know what was going through the student’s head, but it denotes a drastic misunderstanding of mental health for someone who is neurotypical to try to project their set of logic upon this student, and then declare that because he behaved in this certain way that he should be seen as a villain.

For me at least, and I would imagine for other students on campus, this event hit close to home because it was in some ways easy to relate to. This is not to indicate that we have all threatened cops with crowbars, or all had violent episodes. Rather, for me, it was because I can understand what it is like to be subject to your brain warping reality. Six years ago I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The thing about mental illnesses is that since they affect the brain, they skew perception—because you perceive the world differently from how you would otherwise, you make choices within the world of that perception. Think of it as living in alternate universes simultaneously. Your brain lives in one universe, but your body lives in another. Your brain makes the choices that it believes are best suited for the universe that it lives in, but your body is the one that carries them out, and so there’s a distance between those choices and the choices that might seem most “logical”. Now, six years after being diagnosed, I’m still constantly negotiating the distance between Anxiety/Depression world and the real world.

This being said, let me make something abundantly clear: I am not saying that all people with mental illness are incapable of controlling themselves or making choices, or that they’re violent, or anything else of that sort. I’m not even saying that we should never be held accountable for our actions. Rather, I want to emphasize how incredibly important it is that mental healthcare is made easily accessible to everyone. Mental illness is something that you can establish control over, but it is infinitely easier with the proper resources. In the case of the student, his family reportedly had a history of manic depressive disorder, but the signs hadn’t manifested in him. It is reported that he sought counseling at student health recently, but they referred him to outside sources. If he was, in fact, having a manic episode, it was probably his first major one. This means two things: 1. The first episode of mental illness is oftentimes the hardest to deal with, since the person is unprepared for the ways in which it will affect them, and might not necessarily be cognizant of what’s happening to them, 2. Even if he followed up on the outside counseling that he was referred to, it was recently enough that he did not have the time or ability to get the help that he needed before this happened.

Situations like these require care and empathy, and the stigmatization that has been demonstrated needs to disappear. It will hamper a clear view of the situation and of mental illness as a whole.

Us v. Them

The final thing that I wish to discuss is the emphasis that has been placed on the student’s being a student. Over and over in the discourse, the sentence has been, “UCPD shot a student”. An argument to be made is that this is because the UCPD is specifically in place for the protection of students. However, even in this idea of “protection of students”, there is an implicit “us v. them”—the students v. the other residents of Hyde Park.

As a result of white flight, Chicago is an incredibly segregated city in terms of race and socioeconomic class. Demographically South Side Chicago is over 93% African American, and because of the interaction between race and socioeconomic class as a result of systematic oppression, many neighborhoods in the South Side are of a lower socioeconomic class.

The University of Chicago sits in the middle of South Side Chicago and is, like most private universities, a predominantly white and upperclass space. Because of this, and because of the slow creep of gentrification that the university is bringing to the surrounding area, there exists a constant tension between the residents of the university and the residents of Hyde Park. The newest dorm that the university built, campus North, represents this—its very physicality is that of a barrier between campus and the surrounding area.

With this in mind, the emphasis that has been placed on the shooting happening to a student is shown in a different light. If the UCPD had shot a Hyde Park resident under the exact same circumstances, would there have been as much of an outcry? Would as many people have spoken up in his defense? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

In Samantha Irby’s book of essays, “We are never meeting in real life.” she says on page 116, “Do black girls even get to be depressed? If I ever have more than $37 in my pocket I’m going to open a school for girls with bad attitudes where we basically talk to therapists all day while wearing soft pants and occasionally taking a field trip to the elote cart.” This quote draws an important distinction—white people get to have their mental illness acknowledged, people of color are just seen as having bad attitudes.

While the student in question was actually a POC, this delineation still applies in how perception operates at the university. Because of the student’s affiliation with the university, an “us”, his mental health is closely examined. However, had it been a member of Hyde Park, a “them”, the likelihood is that there would not have been near so many voices jumping to his defense. He might’ve been dismissed as “crazy”-- “crazy” in the way that people call other people when they don’t want to think about them anymore, “crazy” in the broadest, vaguest, most offensive and dismissive way. It is important that attention is drawn to this shooting, not because he’s a student, but because he’s a person.

People deserve to not get shot when there are other options. People deserve to have their perspectives taken into account. People deserve proper treatment and care. People deserve to be treated like people, equal to all other people.

Cover Image Credit: Sarah Saltiel

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