Who’s Calling for Violence?

The question of “protestor violence” keeps coming up.  Politicians, the media, and bystanders are all asking: will the protestors be violent?  Will they break windows?  Throw rocks?

These are the wrong questions to ask.  They act like our world is a utopia of peace—until, that is, the evil activists come along and start creating violence.  But this is a fairytale.  America is not a peaceful society.  An interlocking system of violence plagues it and our world every day.  This systemic, pervasive, overwhelming violence has become so “normal” that more privileged people sometimes can’t see it—and worry mostly about whether or not activists will be violent. The activists working with the DNC Action Committee are fighting to drag that violence into the light, and to transform our world into a more peaceful and more just one.

So if we’re going to talk about violence, we need to talk about the kinds of domination that activists here and across the country face and are fighting against.

  • Let’s talk about police violence.  In 2015, the police in the US killed 1,146 people.  Black people were five times as likely to be killed by police as whites in that same year.  In recent years, Philly has seen the number of unarmed people shot at and by police more than triple.  Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative points out that racist police violence is the modern-day echo of the public lynching of Black people in America.
  • Let’s talk about the violence of the criminal justice system.  America jails more of its minorities than South Africa did during apartheid, and that was a racist society a lot like the Jim Crow South in 1950s America.  This mass incarceration is built mostly on drug arrests.  But people of color are not more likely to commit drug crimes than other groups.  And people are routinely put into solitary confinement for years, a kind of torture that causes insanity and suicide.
  • Let’s talk about the violence of gentrification, which raises rents in communities of color so that more privileged groups can move in.  Gentrificaiton goes hand in hand with “broken windows” policing, stop-and-frisk, and police brutality against Black people.  These practices that are supposed to make neighborhoods more “respectable”.  Instead, they are another form of colonization.
  • Let’s talk about violence against women.   The World Health Organization says that one in three women worldwide have experienced violence—whether physical, sexual, or both.  Over 38 million women in the United States have, at one time or another in their lives, suffered violence at the hands of an intimate partner.  Each day, reports CNN, “three or more women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands on average[.]”  Sexual assault is pervasive in colleges; a recent survey found that about one in four women reported experiencing such assault. Analyzing Justice Department data, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that 97% of rapists are never criminally punished in the United States. 
  • Let’s talk about the violence of military imperialism—our country’s invasion of other countries.  Let’s talk about how the surplus military gear used by soldiers to kill people of color abroad gets used by police to terrorize people of color back here, too.  Let’s talk about drone war, which kills combatants and civilians indiscriminately.  In 2013 alone, for example, over 200 people died through drone strikes, and only 35 of those were targeted.  During one period of five months, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”
  • Let’s talk about the violence our government inflicts upon the veterans of its wars.  For instance, those returning from invasions abroad, and even those enlisted that never experienced war, are at a much higher danger of suicide.  Our country fetishizes the honor of military violence—and then abandons those it’s recruited to crippling traumatic injury.  And we can talk about the fact our country lures undocumented immigrants into the military to fight in its wars with the promise of citizenship, only to allow them to be deported afterwards.     
  • Let’s talk about violence against the LGBTQ community.  The massacre at the Pulse club shows that this community lives under the constant threat of violence and death.  A 2014 national poll showed that a majority in this country are bigoted against gay people.  The number of transgender people murdered in 2015 was at an all-time high.  People who identify as transgender have a four times’ greater chance of living in poverty than the rest of the country. 
  • Let’s talk about the violence of ableism.  Our society values people with a very particular set of abilities, and looks down on, ignores, mocks, and attacks those who are different.  For example: transportation is designed to cater to people who have certain bodies.  This excludes and marginalizes the rest from one of the most basic tasks, moving from one place to another.  People labelled as physical and mentally disabled are at a much higher risk of being attacked violence—not to mention the threat and reality of daily indignities.    
  • Let’s talk about the violence experienced by people who can’t get good healthcare.  33 million people live without healthcare in the United States.  Let’s talk about the people whose only access to care is the emergency room.  Oftentimes, they are left to deal with major illnesses only when it is too late.  Those living in poorer areas in US cities like Philadelphia can expect to have much shorter lives: poverty doesn’t only mean lack of money, it means poorer health. 
  • Let’s talk about violence against those suffering from addiction.  Newsworks reports that nearly 2,500 Philadelphians in 2014 died due to overdose in 2014—“making addiction the No. 2 killer of those under 70 in the state.”   And yet the Pennsylvania’s state government refuses to offer adequate funding to grapple with the problem.
  • Let’s talk about violence against kids.  In 2015, nearly 700,000 children were subjected to abuse.  About 2.5 million kids are homeless. 
  • Let’s talk about the violence of homelessness and poverty.  On any given night, nearly 600,000 people are homeless.  45 million live below the poverty line in the US—that’s 14.5% of the country.  In 2014, a third of the population was in or near poverty.  Nearly half of children live below the poverty line.
  • Let’s talk about economic violence.  The richest 1% of the world own as much wealth as the rest of the world combined.   People at the bottom of the economy’s pyramid are targeted for the “poverty tax,” fees and fines that are fueling an entire industry leeching off the poor.  Women in America make 79% of what men make.  Black women make 64% of what white men make; Latina women, 54%.  Between 2000 and 2012, over 40% of women-headed families with children lived in poverty, according to the National Women’s Law Center. 
  • Let’s talk about the violence of debt.  The class of 2015 was dubbed “the most indebted ever” by The Wall Street Journal because it averages $35,000 in debt.  There is now $1.2 trillion dollars in student debt in this country.  This means being enslaved to loan companies for decades, or for life.  Companies are making massive profits off of this debt while people’s lives are becoming focused, more than ever, on finding ways to pay for their college rather than pursuing a fulfilling life.  Even death might not be enough to get rid of the debt; surviving loved ones can be saddled with it.
  • Let’s talk about the violence of Islamophobia.  Incidents of violence against Muslims have been on the rise in this country, with Muslim people being targeted for acts of discrimination like “shootings, personal assaults, harassment, and attacks on their houses of worship.” 
  • Let’s talk about the violence of ageism.  Let’s talk about the fact that people who are older—who don’t fit into our culture’s fetish of youth—are routinely subjected to physical, financial, and verbal violence.
  • Let’s talk about violence against immigrants, documented and undocumented.  Violence against Latinos and Latinas more than tripled in recent years; people from the Middle East are routinely demonized in this country.  Obama “has presided over one of the largest peacetime outflows” of immigrants in the history of the country, The Economist reports.
  • Let’s talk about violence against nature.  Fracking creates 280 billion gallons of “toxic wastewater” and 450,000 tons of air pollution in a single year.  It has been linked to manmade earthquakes.  Our economy is destroying the air, water, and soil, creating superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.  The destruction of our ecosystem hurts the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world first and foremost.  Our society has created a disaster that is wiping out other species so fast, it’s being called another great extinction event on the planet comparable to the one that killed the dinosaurs.   
  • Let’s talk about the violence of a political system that relies on voter suppression to fraudulently dictate what are supposed to be democratic processes.
  • Let’s talk about the fact that this list doesn’t come close to doing justice to the systemic violence in our country and our world.  It barely scratches the surface.
  • And let’s talk about the way that none of these kinds of violence exists by itself.  The many kinds of systemic violence combine, they reinforce each other, and they form a global and national culture of violence that keeps perpetuating itself.

So yes—let’s talk about violence.  But let’s give up the fairytale that activists are the ones we need to be blaming.  We need to see the system of violence that’s destroying our world and dominating, oppressing, traumatizing, and killing its people.  Activists like the ones working with the DNC Action Committee are offering visions of hope beyond this this cage of violence.

Photo cred: Devante Hill by Andrew Burton