Power and Subjugation

The murder of Jamar Clark, and subsequent failure of the justice system to indict the officers involved, has sparked protests across Minneapolis that have illuminated the power structures of society that use police, oppressed races, lower classes, and oppressed gender identities and sexualities as their instruments. Richard Quinney understands society to be comprised of two classes: the subordinate class and the dominating class, who both create criminal laws in their interests as well as determine the application of these laws, such that the subordinate class experiences more forceful repercussions than the dominating class. In light of this dichotomy, social movements, specifically Black Lives Matter, have begun observing solidarity not only within race, but across races, classes, genders and sexualities. This serves to draw a line in the sand, such that we see two distinct sides reflected in the mass media: establishment and anti-establishment, perhaps better understood as status-quo vs reform. In this way, we may begin to understand that structural racism and economic forces are driving citizens to reject the system as it stands, and are possibly even reviving the question of reform or revolution.

In order to understand the power struggle between established government and disenfranchised citizens, we may turn to the sociological concept of conflict theory, which states that social definitions of right and wrong that decide deviancy are entirely fabricated by the ruling class in order to maintain power; this theory was largely developed by Karl Marx, as such it focuses on class struggle rather than race, gender or sexuality.

With this framework in mind, Jamar Clark’s death presents a tragic metaphor for this struggle: one officer stated his reason for using deadly force was he believed Clark was reaching for the officer’s gun, an implement of sovereign power. When he states that Jamar Clark was reaching for the officer’s weapon, he is saying that the black man in society is attempting to take power back from the white, patriarchal government. He also claimed the exact same thing in a report after performing an illegal choke-hold on a 13-year-old girl.

We can see this same rabid clenching of power expanded out from the mindset of this officer, throughout the entire police department of Minneapolis. Police Chief Janee Harteau warned, before the officers were absolved, that any “violence and vandalism” will not be tolerated in the wake of the decision; this serves as a brilliant example of how the law serves to protect the interests of the dominant class. When a black man is murdered in the street by two police officers, there is only a facsimile of a trial, with no conviction. However, if property is damaged, especially that of the white or wealthy, then the full force of the law may come crushing down on the beaten subordinate class. This also serves to remind us that in the United States, black life is still valued less than white property.

The effect this power structure has on the subordinate class is staggering; class differences, now more than ever, are playing into the unification of the subordinate class, such that we seem to be approaching a revolution of labor in society. The financial collapse in 2008 dramatically increased inequality, however the recovery has done little to remedy this widening gap. Throughout Obama’s presidency inequality has continued to deepen, such that we are one of the least equitable nations among global superpowers with one of the worst functioning democracies. This naturally leads to a progressively larger base of citizens disenfranchised and frustrated by an economic and political system that seems to function entirely for itself rather than for the working class. Further, recent legislation regarding gender-neutral bathrooms has served to alienate non-cis students, as well as pit the non-cis and non-heteronormative communities nationwide even more deeply against the establishment. Finally, the murder of Jamar Clark is just one in a long line of police killings against young, black men, which reinforces the black community’s alienation from white society.

All these forces act in the immediate sense to unite large swaths of the victimized groups in society directly against the dominant group in an enormous struggle for power and representation. This unity is best exemplified in the movement politics of Black Lives Matter, simply through their chants; they deal with police violence as it relates to race, but also include trans, queer, poor, and working class interests in their rallies. When one tries to comprehend the vastness of this movement, and to unite it in one way or the other, the common thread that emerges is simply power.

With the growing public concern over income inequality, this election cycle has seen an explosion in equality as a talking point, which may be seen as the extent to which the subordinate group must cease to function in order for positive change to occur. For the years between the World Trade Organization protests and the Occupy Wall Street movement, inequality and capitalism fell out of the public eye, allowing both issues to continue their destruction of the middle class. Only now that the subordinate class is uniting across lines of race, gender, sexuality and location is the dominant class interested in addressing these issues.

In effect, we’re seeing a revitalization of public protest which is uniting marginalized citizens across boundaries of race, gender and sexuality, and is serving to change the dialogue of public politics, offering an opportunity for the reform of our oppressive system.