Historically speaking, the American social formation is predicated on violent protest fronts. Colonial rejection of British taxation, most often, resulted in countless violent incidents with royal guards. The Declaration of Independence was a document concealing imminent violent confrontation against oppressive systems of the English crown which outlined the American revolution. The most deadliest war in the history of America, the Civil War, that claimed over 650,000, was a violent protest between two dominating ideals, slave dependent agrarian conglomerates versus industrialization. America uses violent tactics of suppression to expand democratic values or capital investments; Guam, Vietnam, WW I and II, Korea, and Iraq to name a few. Violence, as a means to progress or deny ideals, is a much American as the dollar bill. In the case of democracy, America has used violent tactics to both advance and suppress citizenship using the finely scripted ideological blueprint of white-supremacy. Quite frankly, Charles Barkley’s rendition of the America past has to be in the fictional section of history.
The non-indictment of police officers in these two high profile cases speaks volumes about the political climate of America. Several truths rise to the surface which the American public has to contend with. First, lets be clear up front, we don’t live in an equally shared democracy. Second, leadership during movements have never centered around the “messianic” individual despite what popular historical narratives claim. Lastly, violent protest is the direct response to the political climate and tacts of institutionalize government. While these two cases caught international attention, the numerous local cases spark just as much of an outrage and reaction in their region.
Democracy, as we know it, is an elusive ideal that is privy to only a few Americans. Particularly, if you are white, a property owner, and have an influential relationship over production, democracy tend to fall in your favor. It’s not to say others don’t experience some form of it, but it is not equally distributed, shared, practiced, and, in this case, respected by the law and judicial system. Historically speaking, democracy was possible for the planter and elite class sheerly because of the existence and maintenance of the slave institution, the subjugation and labor exploitation of Africans. After the ratification of the 14th amendment in 1868, (Black folks became citizens) elite white America extended unsurmountable legal resources to deprive civil liberties to Blacks, particularly in voting rights and in educational equity. The Tilden vs Hayes compromise, and the Democratic Party’s effort to undermine the Populist Party (the illusion of white solidarity) are historical examples where Black democratic access were compromised for white American advantage and benefits.
Since the 1865 ratification of the thirteenth amendment, the ruling elite class, and its political factions, have employed various systems of social control tactics. Political disenfranchisement, Jim Crow segregation, economic exploitation via sharecropping deeds, and the slavery replicant peonage system all became entrenched methods purposed to racially stratifying the social order. Law enforcement and the judicial system (criminal justice) are the evolved and often violent arm of this social control strategy. Notably, It’s an infringement upon constitutional liberties. More often than not, behind every democratic infringement is a gun. In order for a “few” to experience democracy, “others” have to be denied in some manner.
Your asking, “where is he going with this?” Bare with me as I unpackaged this!
State authorities, usually in the form of law enforcement, has a deep history of denying the democratic civil liberties of Blacks, primarily Black males, and it’s intricately related to social control maneuvers for politics. Rejection of Black citizen’s civil liberty happens right at the moment an officer “engages” an individual. For instance, at that very moment Darren Wilson drove up to Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson, we can factor a few elements. First it is the totality of 200 years of white-minded ideas and beliefs. Second, it’s cumulative of 25 weeks of police academy training, which among other things specializes in increasing the “Black male aggressive threat” stereotype. Third, it is a micro level expression of state authorized commissioned authority to subjugate civil conduct. Lastly, it’s several decades of sanctioned violence against Black citizens with impunity. By separation of purpose, this is your 21st century recipe for lynching. However, keep in mind that a lynching often was a political move. Its purpose was to deter political movement, gain property, deflate economic endeavors in Black communities, and project a social statement of white superiority. From 1881 to 1901, a Black person, particularly males, were lynched every 48 hours. Further, it is reported that between 1900 to 1932, two Black individuals were lynched per week until several federal initiatives intervened during the Roosevelt administrations. Thanks to the research and dedication of Ida B. Wells and Nellie Francis, we are aware that 82 percent of Black males lynched were “race progressives”, business man, and political leaders. During this span of 50 plus years, 96% of lynchings never concluded with any convictions, or with minor arrests or jail time of the assailants. It’s interesting that in the article “Operation Ghetto Storm” published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the authors claim that a Black person is killed every 28 hours by a state authorized individual, defeating lynching stats by 20 hours. Whether the data is accurate or not, the point is clear that a Black citizen is either harassed, assaulted, and denied their civil liberty daily often ending fatally. I’ll close this ideal here and save this for another article. The political ramification of Black lynching by law enforcement today has require studious research data collection.
Its vital to know and be mindful that functional democracies protect core values, such as
equality before the law and full political expression. Ultimately, discrimination is less of an occurrence, and violent protest and rebellion are less often employed. America is not nearly close to democratic practices as its citizens and government officials would like to assume. Because law enforcement is the violent arm to project and distribute democratic access, each and every encounter is aggressive. Its unthinkable and insulting to assume that rebellion should not take form in violent protest. The more violence used by state authority and law enforcement, the more likely protest will take violent shape. You don’t have to be a social scientist to make this connection.
Ferguson’s citizens struggled to maintain civil obedient protest for the mere fact that violence was the original deed inflicted upon the community. The same way Newark, Watts, and New York all blew up in 1964 and 65 from violent police assaults against citizens, the reaction was the rightful violent protest. Fifty years ago when America witnessed the Red Hot Summer, the social rebellion against violent assaults on behalf of local police precincts, it indicated Black folks deep awareness that equality and democratic respect will not come by civil disobedience alone. Identical to Ferguson, politicized young leaders were in the forefront of the 1964 rebellions with a clear statement that if America chooses violence as a means to interact with the Black community, violence will be the language to demand our rights as citizens. Even in 2015, we have to contend with the notion that violence and aggressive tactics on behalf of law enforcement conveys the idea that America is not a democracy for all. If the critical mass of Blacks experienced a democracy, violent protest would not be a necessity because there would be trust for the legal process, belief in equality, and full access to political expression. Because these elements are void by a large critical mass of Blacks, it becomes conclusive that a functional American democracy do not exist for everyone. Another way to summarize, the more democratic the political environment, the greater the chances will be to voice opposition nonviolently.
Throughout Black folks struggle to democratize America, there has never been a point when the only strategy was to wait on the messianic figure to lead and guide the people. At the junction when necessity meets the grievance and empowerment of the people, it was only numerous small group collectives in many localities that influenced and set the trend for the masses. Cornel West was able to inspire and frame the context of the moment, but he had no power to guide or direct anyone or group in Ferguson. Local small collectives were already mobilizing reaction and response to the climate. It was out of respect for his courage that he was able to catapult himself to the front of the march, not out of leadership. It’s this misconception, and the exploitation of the people, that got Al Sharpton and Jesse
Jackson in trouble when they went to Ferguson trying to co-opt the movement. Their age old strategy to monopolize leadership and direct strategic alliance was met with rejection from local Black citizens who was not disillusioned. History has countless evidence demonstrating small local collectives as the only sustaining viable change agents to social reform over any influence from national charismatic leaders. Mississippi changed because of efforts of the small collectives at various times such as; Aamzi Moore, Fanie Lou Hamer, Hollis Watkins, Medgar Evers, Yuanita Blackwell, or Victoria Gray. Like numerous examples across the nation, Mississippi local Black collectives’ commitment to social equality set the trend for succeeding efforts of political and economic development. This in effect set the stage for larger national organizations, such as Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to come in with aid, support, and variable expertise if needed. It’s not to argue that Ferguson did not warrant national support from influential figures. However, to assume that Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton can come to the city and galvanize the people, primarily for their own monetary benefit, and dictate how protest politics is played is an erroneous buffoonery move on their part. Did I applaud the rejection of them? You damn right!
We have a lot to evaluate and reflect upon with Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Sanford, and the numerous other cities that tallies fatal encounters of unarmed Black men by police officers. Protest is the response to discrimination, infringement, and exploitation. It’s nature for protest to take the form of language of the oppressive agent. Democracy will never be the reality for our government system if the legal lynching of Black men and women is concretely sanctioned in the fabric its law enforcement.
(For the sake if this article, violence will be defined as any act inflicted upon another and or property that result in damage, physical pain, blood, loss of life, or incarceration.)