Violence Just May Be The Answer

Although many people approve of and participate in peaceful protesting, violent protesting, on the other hand, faces major backlash by communities, media, and politicians alike. I am interested in understanding why protestors would deliberately choose violence over peace as a tool for activism. And more importantly, I am interested in how the Black Lives Matter movement addresses the quotidian forms of violence directed towards Black people in America since the 18th century.

The Black Lives Matter movement was created by three black women activists: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. The Black Lives Matter website defines the movement as,

“An ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

“Deadly oppression” literally refers to the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and countless others who died at the hands of the police. Looking back at the Ferguson riots- riot denoting “a situation in which a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way” (my emphasis)- it’s hard not to question these men and women’s turn to violence as a tactic to explicitly disrupt, shake up, and wake up an entire ideological and political body of mass murderers. To be specific, this body consists of law enforcement, politicians, and everyday people whose privilege are fundamentally built on the violent oppression of people of color.

In a 1972 interview of Angela Davis during her imprisonment in the California State Prison, Davis was asked if violence was necessary to dismantle racism. She responded as such:

“When someone asks me about violence I just find it incredible because what it means is that the person who is asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what Black people have experienced in this country since the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”

Violence against Black people is embedded in the entire American fabric- which is to say Blackness as a social construct created America. From the Atlantic Slave Trade, to Jim Crow Laws, to public lynchings, to the ghettos of our country that too closely mirror housing of the enslaved, etc., Black people have been and are still facing violence. Looting stores, explosions, stopping entire freeways, etc. are justifiably proportional attacks against a system that wants Black people dead. So is fighting violence with violence a viable tool? At the very least, it suspends the myth of “America the Free” when confronted by a community of people who say, “Enough.”

Violence is also inextricably bound with Foucault’s formulation of the “docile body.” Are violent protestor’s bodies docile? For Foucault, “a body is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (Discipline and Punishment 136). The violent protestor’s body, I would argue, is not docile to patriarchal power but to the cause it represents. In other words, the cause itself has power to subject, use, transform, and improve a manipulated, oppressed, and violated body. Again I ask, is fighting violence with violence a viable tool? In this case, it uses, to quote Audre Lorde, “the masters tools” to invade the masters house, even if it doesn’t quite dismantle it. Violent protesting as a response to the quotidian forms of violence directed toward Black life is an assertion of autonomy, power, and will in a system that clearly views these bodies as expendable. Although violence may not be a sustainable form of protest, it still functions as an affirmation of voice and materiality that has the potential to reexamine what it means to be Black and what it means to matter.

(Below is a rap titled C.O.P (Criminals of Permission) by J-Jon. It summarizes how the state is complicit in the murdering of Black lives and how police are protected by law from punishment.)