...and then I'll shut up about it. For now. (Also! Very important disclaimer! I do not advocate window-smashing as a form of political expression, and especially not when that window-smashing involves a private home with children inside. But if we're going to write about and think about this stuff, I think we should do it right.)
First. Recognizing a linguistic and moral distinction between smashing a window and smashing a person is hugely important to me*. Judging from the comments on my post and Eli's post, it seems like some of you regard the distinction as blurry—which is surprising, but there you go. Because I prefer a strong distinction, I like the World Health Organization's definition of violence:
The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.
And I prefer precision and non-sensationalism in our language, saying "violence" when we mean violence and "vandalism" when we mean vandalism.
Some of you have said that vandalism always implies violence, but I disagree. If the demonstrators wanted to hit defenseless people with sticks, they would've. (They certainly had the opportunity.) Eli writes: "Was the intent of yesterday's window-smashing simply vandalism? Was the smashing of Mayor Mike McGinn's windows last night just property destruction? I don't think so."
Um... why not? What evidence indicates that people wanted to hurt other people? There was recklessness and the chance of accidental injury, but we have zero indication that any demonstrators wanted to hurt people.** Based on what I saw on May 1 and my conversations with demonstrators, they did exactly what they intended to do, no more and no less.
Second. This comment on Eli's post speaks volumes about "violence" vs. "vandalism":
If I am not secure in my property, then I cannot feel secure in my person. Violence directed at property is an implicit threat of violence directed at a person.
So... are banks that foreclose on homes and farms and repossess property committing acts of violence on American families? I wouldn't say so. But this line of thinking points in that direction.
*To answer one commenter from my original post—yes, I'd be unhappy if someone who disagreed with something I wrote smashed my windows with brick. I'd be a lot more unhappy if that person smashed my face with a brick.
**Side story: As I was leaving a downtown bar around on May 1, after some post-demonstration chowder and beer, the bartender said: "Be careful out there with all those crazies." Though I had been standing mere feet away from all the smashy-smashy, it never even occurred to me to be afraid of the smashers. They weren't after people, they were after windows, in a clearly planned-out and—if I can use the word here—orderly fashion. I've covered a few tense demonstrations for newspapers, and have never once feared or been harmed by protesters, even those who are vocally hostile to the press. The only harm I've ever encountered at demonstrations has been at the hands of police officers.