In Ferguson the Violence of the State Created the Violence of the street
In Ferguson the Violence of the State Created the Violence of the street
By Gary Younge / theguardian.com

Nobody in their right mind wants more violent protests. But, as Martin Luther King said, ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’

In 1966, Martin Luther King started to campaign against segregation in Chicago only to find his efforts thwarted by violent mobs and a scheming mayor. Marginalised by the city’s establishment, he could feel that non-violence both as a strategy and as a principle was eroding among his supporters. “I need some help in getting this method across,” he said. “A lot of people have lost faith in the establishment … They’ve lost faith in the democratic process. They’ve lost faith in non-violence … [T]hose who make this peaceful revolution impossible will make a violent revolution inevitable, and we’ve got to get this over, I need help. I need some victories, I need concessions.”

He never got them. The next year there were more than 150 riots across the country, from Minneapolis to Tampa.

As the situation escalates in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, where police recently shot an unarmed black man as he walked down the street, many are clearly losing faith. As the first day of curfew drew to a close, hundreds of police in riot gear swept through the streets, using tear gas, smoke canisters and rubber bullets against an increasingly agitated crowd. Earlier Monday morning the governor, Jay Nixon, deployed the national guard.

Protesters insist the police action was unprovoked. Police say it followed shootings, firebombs, looting and, crucially, an attempted attack on the area they are using as a command centre. Ronald Johnson, the Missouri highway patrol captain drafted by the governor to take over security in the town and calm the situation down, blamed “premeditated criminal acts”. Late last week, Johnson was the darling of the crowds as he expressed sympathy with their cause and frustration with the tactics of the local police department. Now the situation seems polarised once again.

Johnson said the attacks were clearly provocations against the police. “We had to act to protect lives and property,” he says. In a statement explaining his deployment of the national guard, the governor, Jay Nixon, blamed “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts”.

“Tonight,” he said. “A day of hope, prayers and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organised and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk.”

Such statements ignore the nature, scale and source of the problem. When an 18-year-old is shot in daylight for walking down the middle of the street holding his arms up; and when his shooter is whisked out of town by the state, then the residents of Ferguson were clearly already “at risk” from those who would commit “premeditated criminal acts”. What could be more “deliberate” and “coordinated” than releasing a video that claims to be of Michael Brown stealing cigarillos the same day the police finally release the name of the policeman who shot him, when the alleged theft had nothing to do with the shooting. (Even if it had, since when has the charge for shoplifting been summary execution?)

According to a preliminary autopsy, Brown was shot six times including twice in the head. Dr Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who performed the autopsy at the request of the family, said: “In my capacity as the forensic examiner for the New York State Police, I would say, ‘You’re not supposed to shoot so many times.’ Right now there is too little information to forensically reconstruct the shooting.”

For some then the police have come too late to the notion that they are there to “protect” lives. “The law,” wrote James Baldwin, “is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.” Those who call for law and order now must understand that there is no order because men with badges have been acting lawlessly.

As I wrote after the riots in London three years ago: “Insisting on the criminality of those involved, as though that alone explains their motivations and the context is irrelevant, is fatuous. To stress criminality does not deny the political nature of what took place, it simply chooses to only partially describe it. They were looting, not shoplifting, and challenging the police for control of the streets, not stealing [policemen’s] hubcaps. When a group of people join forces to flout both law and social convention, they are acting politically.”

For good reason, the nature of such rebellions troubles many. They attract opportunists, macho-men and thrill-seekers as well as the righteously indignant and politically militant. Resistance to occupation is often romanticised but never pretty. And Ferguson – a mostly black town under curfew in which the entire political power structure is white, with a militarised police force that killed a black child – was under occupation.

Riots are also polarising. They narrow the base of support for campaigns, sending potential sympathisers into the arms of the state, demanding a police crackdown. People ask: what could violent protest possibly achieve? It is a good question. But it only has any validity if they also question the nature of the “peace” preceding it. Those who call for calm must question how calm anyone can be in the knowledge that their son, brother or lover could be shot in such a way.

People have a right to resist occupation, even if we don’t necessarily agree with every method they use to do so.

As I also wrote, following the British disturbances: “One should not overstate the case: [throwing firebombs and shooting at police] are not the hallmarks of political sophistication. But then nor are riots. They are the crudest tool for those who have few options. By definition, they are chaotic. Rich people don’t riot because they have other forms of influence. Riots are a class act.”

Nobody in their right mind wants more violent protests. But nobody wants more Michael Browns either. And those two things – the violence of the state and the violence of the street – are connected. “A riot,” said Martin Luther King, “is the language of the unheard.” The people on the streets don’t donate thousands of dollars to anyone’s campaign. They don’t get a seat at any table where decisions are made or have the ear of the powerful. But with four black men killed by the police in the country in the last four weeks, they have a lot to say, and precious few avenues through which to say it. The question now is who’s listening.

3.0 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 13,219 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 11,951 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 11,558 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 10,833 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 6,596 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 6,526 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Forest Man
16 min · 6,459 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 5,646 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 4,242 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 4,090 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 3,729 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 3,619 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
Do You Have Time to Love?
Thich Nhat Hanh · 3,321 views today · The greatest gift you can offer loved ones is your true presence.
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 3,021 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 3,011 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Capitalism Is Just a Story - Rise Up and Create a New One
6 min · 2,421 views today · How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of...
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 2,247 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 1,961 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 1,949 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 1,945 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
In Ferguson the Violence of the State Created the Violence of the street