On Ferguson and violence
We heard the news of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown during my teacher education class. No one was surprised. Still, we took a moment. Sober and in some ways frightening – to think about the country we live in. I found myself deeply moved to be in the presence of these young future teachers. These hopeful teachers. These teachers who do something revolutionary and unusual: they see Black and Brown youth as human beings, full human beings with worthy lives. In other words, they defy the American norm.
When I drove home late in the evening, the freeway was jammed up with demonstrators. As I got out of the car in my driveway, helicopters were loudly flapping over my house, watching and directing police.
Next I heard the inevitable voice of the state. Don’t use violence. Remember Martin Luther King, Jr. You do not build a movement on violence. We are all against violence. The governor, the mayor, the president all instruct the oppressed with the same advice. As an aside: they killed Martin Luther King.
And it raises questions for me. First let me make a disclaimer: I am against violence. I am horrified by violence. I wish there were never violence in this world. But for representatives of the state, the entity which makes a science of violence, the ones who spend billions of dollars perfecting ways to make hot metal pierce soft flesh, the ones who are armed to the teeth all night and flying drones and helicopters overhead, the ones who extend violence around the world, for the state to preach against violence? Am I crazy or is this just a crazy world?
And they don’t just preach against violence. They presume to instruct us on how to build a social movement. Really, the state? The ones that the movement is up against? Why would they ever think that we would all stop and say, “Oh, right, yes, these people who are killing us have some ideas how we can best build our movement. Maybe the Ferguson police chief and prosecutor should be invited to our next meeting to help us plan movement building.” I mean, really, are they out of their minds?
We heard the very same thing from Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto when demonstrations erupted over the police disappearance and murder of 43 student teachers from the school in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero. Peña Nieto, his hands still bloody with the murders, had the gall to tell demonstrators how to demonstrate, how to build a movement.
I’m not sure what to do. It will be a long struggle for justice, that’s for sure. But I imagine that angry youth will only hear the voice of the state and decide to do just the opposite of what they are told.
As for violence. It is not something that one is “for” or “against.” It is. It is in the fabric of America, in its founding and in its continuing. I can tell you one president who did understand this, and that was Abraham Lincoln. Of course he was no abolitionist, he was no radical. But he saw the massive violence which tore the country apart and, in his second inaugural address, he admitted that the chickens had come home to roost:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Do you hear that? He’s talking about reparations, he’s talking about payback. If all the wealth piled up by stolen Black labor must be taken; if all the blood that has been shed in racist slavery must now be shed on white bodies, then so be it. That’s karma, motherfucker.
Was he happy about violence? Not in the least. But violence in the system begets violence.