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Inciting Violence: Is It Right?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
February 6, 2022

On the radio this morning I heard a story about how 1 in 4 Americans think that violence against the government is sometimes okay and about 1 in 10 believe it is justified. This made me wonder what our society—where violence is becoming acceptable in any form—is coming to. On one hand, I appreciate how public radio helps keep me informed and understand the issues that are affecting our communities. On the other hand, it seems as though all the stories I’ve heard have taken a fairly violent turn. A notable comment made by the King County Prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, says the recent uptick in violence is “a uniquely American experience in response to the pandemic.” So what happened in the past two years that would endorse violence as the answer, and why has it become so prevalent across the Nation? Why is extraordinary violence uniquely American, and how can we interrupt that pattern to better develop our communities into successful ventures where everyone feels safe and comfortable to live their lives.

As public administrators, it is important to remain engaged and understand the social circumstances in our communities in order to have a pulse on what issues impact the people we serve. One of the leading debates across the country has involved decreased funding for local police departments in the past two years, amidst riots, protests and increased violence against one another. However, in this case, what would serve as the safety net to ensure the continued safety and security of our constituents—especially during a time when gun and interpersonal violence is at an all-time high? How can we best understand and support our communities through times of change and increased violence, while holding our law and policymakers accountable? As the leaders in our communities, we must be the example, modeling the behaviors and expectations we wish to see. We want to be able to tell the people in our communities not to be afraid, and to go out and live their lives, but until we get a handle on the violence, we will not be successful.

Throughout the pandemic and highly charged political scene during the 2020 election, many communities across the country verbalized their objections, concerns and stances through protests, riots and attacks on local, state and national government entities—and against one another. Social media became a platform through which opinions could be shared using a wide cast net, without any consequences. So when polls are conducted, which show that violence against the government is supported in some instances, it makes me wonder if people realize that violence involves humans, the natural targets of any uprising. Violence in the name of politics doesn’t serve anyone in the long term, despite the short-term goals that parties may have in mind. It always ends poorly, with many victims and consequences for future stability. Public administrators have the power, education and knowledge to develop policies and procedures by which successful communities can be developed, and endure in the long term. There may be times when violent protests against the government are justified, but the expectations of how these violent tendencies realistically turn out, and the lasting impressions they have upon our communities, must be further researched.

Standing up against injustice and modeling the behaviors we wish to see as community leaders requires confidence and a willingness to take charge when those around us are feeling uncomfortable or are unwilling to push back. Public administration is about leading into the future and recognizing the gaps and opportunities for development, while understanding the complex needs of those we serve. Reaching out to our constituents and identifying the themes, concerns and values important to them requires a strength and resiliency beyond that found in your average boardroom. It takes grit and strength to dive deep and explore the difficult emotions and highly charged scenarios that our communities face day to day. Inciting violence in today’s world should not be supported, simply because by now we should have learned from our history. Our technological advances, understanding of the human condition and abilities to communicate across time zones, countries and platforms should all lend well to improved relationships with those with whom we are at odds. We as public administrators, can use the unique perspective we have to heal the world.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State.  She may be contacted at [email protected].

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