FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Violence, Police Authority and Black Lives Matter

“When we include, we find ourselves.”

— USC President Max Nikias, 2016 Annual State of the University Address

Dallas has been known for its notorious shootings in the past. In 1963, its claim to the books of murderous posterity was affirmed by the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. On July 7, it became even more notorious, this time for the slaying of five police officers by gun suspect Micah Johnson. Dallas bore witness to the closure of a good deal of the downtown area to Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy had been shot.

A degree of background filling is necessary for the scene. There were two recent fatal shootings that had taken place prior to these onslaught in Dallas, that of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Both deaths had registered emotions and stirred protests, one of which was the gathering in question in Dallas on Thursday.

Trigger happy policing has become something of a modus operandi in the frontier mentality of law enforcement. Bullets come before negotiation; arrests are inconveniences of afterthought. In 2015, 1000 people were slain in police operations, a third of them black.

In Baton Rouge, Sterling was shot in ghoulish circumstances, lying on the ground before the authorities trained their guns on him. Gov. John Bel Edwards had a rather feeble observation, thinking that the shooting should be a basis for revised law enforcement training. “That’s one way we are going to come out of this tragedy better than we were before.”[1]

Such comments make the assumption that the nasty streak in a culture can be neatly amputated. In terms of an institutional culture, police officers know how far they can go. “Use of force” complaints previously lodged against two white police officers connected with Sterling’s killing suggest a familiar pattern.

Castile was shot in Minnesota by Jeronimo Yanez. Since that shooting, attempts have been made to excuse the killing on the basis that it was not motivated by race but by “the presence of that gun and the display of that gun”. Not that it makes much of a consequential difference: one is either shot by a racially fearful police officer, or an incompetently crazed one.

The circumstances remain sketchy, and do nothing to alleviate the sense that the use of the gun remains a default position in the highly militarised police forces of the United States. According to Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, Castile was shot several times after explaining to the officer that he had a gun, with a legal permit, and was again shot on reaching for his wallet.[2]

A response to such killings has been the Black Lives Matter movement, one initiated in 2013 by Alicia Garza who used Facebook to say that, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”

This has been said to be, potentially, the next civil rights movement in the United States, though no revolutionary movement was ever effectively launched on a hashtag. The movement has also been seen as outside the bounds of respectability, employing “disruptive, discomfiting tactics” that upset “established black leaders”.[3]

Johnson was said initially to be one of a few enterprising snipers, and was eventually killed by an explosive robotic device after hours of negotiations proved fruitless. Johnson, it was said, was taunting and teasing his targets.

According to Dallas police chief David Brown, “The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent shootings, he was upset at white people.” One guiding principle captivated him. “The suspect said he wanted to kill white people especially white officers.”

Ideology and causes are often only deemed respectable if they stick to the realms of adjusted decency. If change is to be affected, neither boat nor cradle shall be rocked. Such a view fails to match the expectations of historical change.

Changes in society are affected according to several jolts, some comprising of hefty violence, some of the more reformist tendencies. The United States itself is not alien to such shocks of violence, be it the Civil War for the sanctity of the Union, the campaigns against slavery and Jim Crow, and gun culture itself. Some also come from servants disenchanted with the US project; the Dallas shooter was himself a military veteran, and one deeply affected by that experience.

A storm has been unleased with these killings. A very polarised state is fracturing further, with remarks being made by former Representative Joe Walsh that the shootings of police officers could be laid straight at the feet President Barack Obama. This suggestion is as absurd as any other, given that Obama himself has been criticised as being all too lenient in the face of police brutality.

“Cops trying to do their job are killed in the streets,” tweeted Walsh on July 8. “Narrative turns to action. This is a dangerous time.”[4] In the social media flurry, Walsh insisted that “BLM should be categorised as a hate group.” (Do not hate those who shoot you; hate those who protest at being shot at.)

While the police have been dishing it out extensively for years to the black community, often with murderous effect, retaliation was bound to come. A movement scolded for being narky and lacking respect became a sounding board for some who felt that violence was merely logical, the last refuge for the desperate. This is hardly an excuse, but it constitutes some explanation. The motor of revenge tends to be a hungry, and not always rational one.

Walsh, in his blood curdling talk, may well have been correct about one aspect of his tirade: this was war, though the ones with the weapons for too long have been the supposed protectors of the public welfare. Fittingly, in a country where the gun is a fetishized saint, deliverance tends to come full circle. The calculus of violence has a certain grim smoothness to it.

Notes. 

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/07/485168247/at-prayer-vigil-baton-rouge-mourns-death-of-alton-sterling

[2] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/09/lawyer-minnesota-cop-reacted-gun-not-race/86894752/

[3] https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/black-lives-matter-higher-learning/#!

[4] https://twitter.com/WalshFreedom/status/751240993035386881?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail