Downtown vandals: Presumption of guilt is dangerous

As I left work in downtown on May 1, glass littered the street, a few planters were turned over, some windows in the Grove Arcade were broken and some personal vehicles were smashed up. Police were everywhere; I went to check my vehicle, parked in the Wall Street deck, and saw black clothes ditched after the rampage. Outside the deck, a couple police officers stopped me and — pointing to my apron, which is black, and my T-shirt, also black — inquired about my comings and goings. I still had my work shirt on and protested, offering to corroborate my statements. These are not the droids you are looking for.

Back inside work, the kitchen staff buzzed about what they saw and suggested possible reasoning for the action, noting a mainstream media outlet and a bank being attacked. In the following days, the chorus sang out about the damage to small and local businesses, the implication being that the action might have been supportable had only large corporate targets been attacked. Frankly, I think the protesters did the people of Asheville a disservice by coming halfway across the country or state to indiscriminately smash a town they know nothing about. As if there aren't symbols of our corporate domination in Raleigh or Carrboro. It's sloppy.

That said, if shooting a cyclist in front of his family will only merit a four-month sentence, how much punishment should a broken-glass spree whose total doesn't exceed the value of a used luxury car merit? Hardly any, if past indications could be trusted. However, we do not live in this world. Smashing and burning with intent to collect insurance money, i.e., fraud and property destruction, carries less of a sentence than the same destructive actions carried out with a political purpose. That is because ideas are dangerous.

Also dangerous, is the presumption of guilt — a campaign of which the Asheville Citizen-Times has embarked upon. It is altogether unsurprising as they were one of the targets. I wish the protesters had stayed there and worked over the Citizen-Times, that conglomerate-owned, yellow-journalistic, four-page coupon sheet. There would be no hand wringing. Ignorance of events and relying on only hearsay is no way to draw conclusions about groups of people.

That said, let's assume for a moment that everybody is right. This was a perfect example of spoiled-rotten, half-baked rioters messin' with our nice quaint little town. The flip side is right too: Our economic system, based on importation of vital goods and tourism, is bound for collapse and ecological destruction. This is already occurring in slow motion. Our institutions are hollowed out and politicians throw us semantics like scraps from the table every four years when they take a break from collecting corporate donations to run for the office they have been neglecting. The older generations of our society are succumbing to the psychology of previous investment, like a lemon of a car, worked on and tweaked, barely running and holding on until it is gifted to the youth. We recognize this for what it is, a lemon and unpaid bill with our name on it. But it's not a car; it's our future.

There is great work to be done anywhere you look and we — anarchists, anti-authoritarians and decentralists — cannot afford to be needlessly destructive. We will need help to build a culture of direct participation, ecological justice and equality. Let's get busy building it up and we'll find some allies to help us tear it down.

— Martin Ramsey

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2 thoughts on “Downtown vandals: Presumption of guilt is dangerous

  1. Liz

    I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who thinks there has been a rush to judgement for the ‘Asheville 11′. I heard that at least one of the suspects said she had no idea that there was going to be violence and began running when she heard breaking glass. Next thing she knew, she was ordered to the ground, arrested, held and never questioned. Obviously, there were those doing damage and they should absolutely be held accountable, but make the punishment fit the crime. If all eleven people arrested had been yielding hammers to do damage, seems like there would have been a lot more than $18,000 worth?

    Has anybody ever been in a bar when a bad fight breaks out? Do you arrest and convict everybody the police can round up, because they happened to be there?

    Hope the truth sets those who deserve to be, free and the ones who did the crime? Hope they have the guts to id themselves so the rest don’t burn for their crimes. Then make them work their asses off to pay off the damage and court costs. There’s a lot of work that needs doin’ in NC and Asheville – put em to work, not pay to have them sit in jail.

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