Asheville had several protests this summer, several of which turned violent and destructive. The only protests seemingly happening now involve a sort of unite-the-right cosplay, but they’ve been sparsely attended to the point of embarrassment. Still, many businesses downtown remain boarded up, many of those boards covered in colorful murals.
Last week UNC Asheville went into a shelter-in-place lockdown because someone emailed the school and threatened violence unless they painted over an on-campus Black Lives Matter mural. Nothing happened, thankfully, but it reminded me how viscerally so many people react to the mention of anything Black Lives Matter, and how deeply triggered some people in my own orbit have been by the destruction of property that’s occurred during this summer’s protests. Curious, since many of these people know a thing or two about trashing a place.
This may be a bit of a generalization, but for a middle-class white guy, at least in my experience, damaging property is more or less a rite of passage. Rite of passage might even be a bit dramatic, as that denotes something monumental and it’s such a part of coming of age it’s practically mundane.
Part of me fears that I just outed myself as a real degenerate, that people will read this and think, “well no, that wasn’t part of my upbringing,” but I also think there’s enough people who’ve become very adept at lying to themselves. Other people legitimately may not have done this, but I know that where I grew up, it was the norm and I also know that where I grew up it isn’t particularly special.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. We’ll start with possibly the most universal example: smashing pumpkins. a teenage rite of passage so ubiquitous it helped generate the name of a well-known band I can’t name a singly song by. Now, smashing pumpkins is ultimately harmless, yes? Arguably, but it’s still taking something that someone else paid for and destroying it. If we’re being technical, it’s destroying property, thought it’s often brushed off with the whole “boys will be boys” mentality that turns privileged teens into Supreme Court Justices.
I know a thing or two about the plights of privileged teens. I spent 10 years as one. I’d like to think the garden-variety destruction of property I enjoyed was mostly harmless. My friends and I would steal street cones or other construction site paraphernalia, and put them on the driveway of other friends’ homes. I don’t know that I ever egged anything myself, but I 100% drove the getaway car. When college rolled around I also 100% engaged in the destruction of the homes my friends and I rented in the “hill section” of good old Scranton, PA. Now, those were shitty homes rented to college students the owners knew would get trashed? Sure, but again, if we’re being technical, helping put holes in drywall, chucking dressers out windows, and allowing a kiddie pool of jello to explode, permanently staining my rented kitchen a vibrant strawberry red were all destruction of property. So was the egging. And someone had to replace those cones.
I’m not even saying this to be self-serving, but I was on the low end of the property-destruction spectrum growing up. I mean, I never even smashed a pumpkin! But I could name tons of people who were on the high end, some well past their teen years too.
I remember people I was friends with driving around throwing bouncey rubber balls into plate glass storefronts to try and smash them, and one time succeeding with the window of a local Chinese take-out spot. I remember hearing how a group of guys I know broke into an empty hunting cabin and legitimately trashed it, and many years later getting confirmation from someone who knew that this definitely happened. Smashing glasses, tables, and other taproom accruements in bar fights or just plain drunken sloppiness costs money. Someone has to pay for and clean up a trashed hotel room or Air BnB. This isn’t a pandemic that only haunts Northeast PA either. I know that because of lists like this and because of how people I know who live in center city Philadelphia will move their cars out to the suburbs before big playoff games so they don’t get destroyed in possible celebrations.
I bring all this up, because it’s so very, very frustrating to log onto my social media and see the same people who I know gleefully joined riots at Penn State to support Joe Paterno (who…he knew guys, but that’s a whole other rant for another day) or spent their youth using the “I was drunk” excuse to break shit bitch and moan about “animals” destroying property. Those are the ones who are proud of their ignorance. There are others who are a little smarter about what they post. They won’t directly call rioters derogatory names, but they also won’t address what people are rioting about. They’ll just post pictures of burned out store fronts in Philadelphia, New York, or Baltimore and talk about how sad it is that these cities they love are so caustically being destroyed.
I don’t engage in social media feuds, but if I did, I’d write something to the effect of, “I know destruction of property isn’t the answer, but I’ll be the first to admit that if someone I loved was unnecessarily killed by police and and investigation and consequences weren’t issues next to immediately, I’d be breaking shit too. Also, you did worse. You hypocritical morons.”
I’d then, in this hypothetical scenario where I’m a social media shit stirrer, I’d point out that if you’re someone who watches the news, and only really comments once property gets destroyed, but doesn’t feel the need to post when Ahmad Armery is murdered by vigilantes while jogging, or Rayshard Brooks is murdered by police officers after what was essentially the kinds of drunken escapades you love to reminisce about, then maybe you should do some real soul searching about what bothers you and why.
I’m beyond frustrated with the hypocrisy I see. I’m disappointed by the people who I know destroyed with reckless abandon when they were bored, privilege teens having the nerve to talk about how it’s unacceptable and tearing the country apart when people do it out of legitimate frustration.
I hope this finds its way to some of them, and that since it’s not a direct attack on their Facebook wall or Instagram post, that they won’t immediately get defensive, but rather think long and hard about why it was ok for them to destroy for their own amusement, but it’s not ok in the name of social justice.
I’m feeling triggered now.
Glad you spoke up. It’s irritating, and should be chilling, when people consider minor vandalism and even graffiti to be “violence”. My mother used to teach us “People are more important than things.” Wish more on the right would admit the distinction between real troublemakers and people who were just pushed past their limit by miscarriages of justice.
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