Sometimes a Slap Is Justified | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Andrew Tallman during a Newsweek bonus episode of The Debate about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. You can listen to the podcast here:

There were all kinds of better alternatives for Will Smith. Going up to Chris Rock and saying "Hey man, you hurt my wife's feelings. Would please say something and apologize to her?" [would be] much better, so much more relationship-building. And, clearly, doing nothing is well within the scope of acceptable behavior too. I'm not necessarily saying that it was the best thing to do. I just want to get to a space where it was allowable or within the realm of an acceptable response.

I don't want people taking an offense and turning it physical, whether it's about a comedian or a political commentator or anybody else. And that's always a risk when you start affirming "dignity slaps" as response. But the notion that words can never justify a physical reaction isn't accurate. We have fighting words as a legal doctrine for a reason. There are times when you have righteous anger and getting physical is acceptable because you're righteously justified. I don't want a world where that can't be considered.

Chris Rock
Will Smith appears to slap Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. Video of Chris Rock looking stunned after Oscars slap sparks sympathy online. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

In misdemeanor battery, when the victim declines to prosecute, if there's not a domestic violence element to it, the victim can decide the outcome. And I think that's wiggle room built into our law that would allow for "minor fighting" as solution among people who aren't going prosecute each other. It's kind of like the law is saying, "this is a little bit more of a gray area and we're going to allow it."

Andrew Tallman is the Co-host of The Debate, and Host of the Daily Break at Newsweek

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.