“The report explores the ways in which lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the contemporary geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans. Most importantly, lynching reinforced a narrative of racial difference and a legacy of racial inequality that is readily apparent in our criminal justice system today. Mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were shaped by the terror era.
No prominent public memorial or monument commemorates the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in America. Lynching in America argues that is a powerful statement about our failure to value the black lives lost in this brutal campaign of racial violence. Research on mass violence, trauma, and transitional justice underscores the urgent need to engage in public conversations about racial history that begin a process of truth and reconciliation in this country.”
– The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) report, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror”
A cacophony of audio, visual and digital streams, feeds and tweets gleefully greeted yesterday’s global marches against gun violence in the United States. Culminating in the sort of single-issue apotheosis loved by the mainstream media, full of celebrities, The New Yorker joyously ran an article, titled, “The Extraordinary Inclusiveness of The March For Our Lives.” Inclusiveness in the US, when it happens, is extraordinary, and some Black and Brown speakers at the march and rally in Washington D.C., who I watched from Warsaw, Poland, definitely made larger structural connections between racism, policing and violence. However, in the main, the (white) speakers remained simply and singularly committed to getting guns out of the hands of civilians; for these activists, there was nary a word about US police brutality, US imperialism, or the role of economic and social anomie in acts of mass violence. For the most part, the speakers remained “on message,” demanding that the US government step in, reinstate the assault weapons ban, tighten background checks and implement broader gun control policies. All of this seems sensible, all of this seems realistic, as such a bill passed in 1994 (more on that in a moment), yet the fact that a mass shooting in a city that is 84% white has caused such an immediate uproar, empathetic media and celebrity support coupled with the way in which Black Lives Matter and Native American movements for land and ecological rights have been systematically shut out of any major national debate, led me to write this critique. Parkland is not just overwhelmingly white, it’s wealthy, “According to a 2016 estimate, the median [yearly] income for a household in the city was $131,340, and the estimated median house value was $596,212.”
“The gun” is emblematic, a sort of historical representation, both a conceptual fiction and a materially existing mechanism of aggression, despair and impoverishment. Three major structural features, all longstanding and all historically embedded in the genetic coding of the United States, create the ongoing crisis of domestic (national) gun violence. Slavery, and its legacy of structural and individual (white) abandonment of any sort of respect, dignity or love for Black people, has created a complete social breakdown in places like South Chicago and South-Central Los Angeles. Entire communities of Black people have been thrashed by white supremacy, indifference, and the destruction of urban manufacturing jobs; concurrently, mass incarceration has decimated Black and Brown families, neighborhoods and psyches. President Clinton’s Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which exponentially increased the prison population, filling jails and prisons full of Black men. The act, which banned assault weapons, also “effectively eliminated the ability of lower-income prison inmates to receive college educations during their term of imprisonment, thus ensuring the education level of most inmates remains unimproved over the period of their incarceration.” Putting 100,000 more police on the streets this piece of legislation created an evermore militarized internal police force, and the 1994 act also expanded cases that could incur the death penalty. (Interestingly, “the bill was originally written by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and then was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.”)
The second structural foundation of gun violence is the US westward expansion, the process by which it became a continental empire. Initiating America’s ungodly genocide, Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed the first “Thanksgiving” holiday in 1637, after a cadre of Puritans massacred over 700 Pequot men, women and children. Praising the Lord for manifesting their destiny to rule over the “new world,” the blood ritual had begun (John Two-Hawks, First Thanksgiving Myth). As immigrants from Europe poured into America they moved further and further west. Writing for The New Republic, Patrick Blanchfield, in reviewing Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, writes,
“America’s obsession with guns has roots in a long, bloody legacy of racist vigilantism, militarism, and white nationalism. This past, Dunbar-Ortiz persuasively argues, undergirds both the landscape of gun violence to this day and our partisan debates about guns. Her analysis, erudite and unrelenting, exposes blind spots not just among conservatives, but, crucially, among liberals as well.
Our national mythology encourages Americans to see the Second Amendment as a result of the Revolutionary War—to think of it as a matter of arming Minutemen against Redcoats. But, Dunbar-Ortiz argues, it actually enshrines practices and priorities that long preceded that conflict. For centuries before 1776, the individual white settler was understood to have not just a right to bear arms, but a responsibility to do so—and not narrowly in the service of tightly regulated militias, but broadly, so as to participate in near-constant ad-hoc, self-organized violence against Native Americans. ‘Settler-militias and armed households were institutionalized for the destruction and control of Native peoples, communities, and nations,’ Dunbar-Ortiz writes. ‘Extreme violence, particularly against unarmed families and communities, was an aspect inherent in European colonialism, always with genocidal possibilities, and often with genocidal results.”
Quite, and the US, by 1890 – having killed off the majority of the Native American population, perhaps some 20 million persons – began its transition from a continental to a global empire. Shockingly, since 1900, the US has virtually bombed, invaded, occupied or otherwise interfered in the domestic affairs of nearly every nation on the globe.
This brings me to the third structural foundation of US violence, imperialism and militarism. Notably, the Parkland shooter,
“Nikolas Cruz, 19, was wearing a maroon shirt with the logo from the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he was arrested Wednesday shortly after the shooting. Former JROTC cadets told The Associated Press that Cruz was a member of the small varsity marksmanship team that trained together after class and traveled to other area schools to compete.
‘He was a very good shot,’ said Aaron Diener, 20, who gave Cruz a ride to shooting competitions when they were part of the same four-member team in 2016. ‘He had an AR-15 he talked about, and pistols he had shot. … He would tell us, ‘Oh, it was so fun to shoot this rifle’ or ‘It was so fun to shoot that.’ It seemed almost therapeutic to him, the way he spoke about it.’
More than 1,700 high school JROTC programs nationally also receive financial support from the U.S. military and are typically supervised by retired officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The military collaborates with school systems on the training curriculum, which includes marching drills, athletic competitions and shooting teams.
Cadets wear military uniforms with ranks and insignias similar to those of the military branch with which they are affiliated.
Arsu Noorali, a former JROTC cadet at Stoneman Douglas who participated in marksmanship training, said she hopes the program doesn’t get a bad name because Cruz was in it.
‘The program is about discipline, and family and love,’ said Noorali, 19. ‘You hang out with these people, getting up at 4 a.m., and going to competitions, and they become your family.”
Discipline. Family. Love. All words that immediately come to mind when I think about the US military. Just days before the March For Our Lives demonstration, Trump, awkwardly holding cardboard signs with pasted images of jets, tanks and other weaponry, sealed a deal to sell around $54 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia. Yemen, suffering from a relentless three-year Saudi-led, US-backed war, is on the verge of social, economic, physical and psychological collapse. Haaretz reports,
“Some 10,000 people have been killed during the Yemeni war and more than 50,000 wounded have fought for their lives in a country in which half of the medical clinics and hospitals are not functioning. More than 3 million of the country’s 11.5 million citizens have been rendered homeless. About 8 million of them are at risk of severe hunger, and about 2,200 people have died of cholera. It has been difficult to get humanitarian assistance to those who need it, both because aid organizations have no money and because of the blockade the Saudis have imposed on ports in the south. And every aid convoy must undertake a perilous route in order to reach its destination.”
In addition to arming dictators, Reuters reports that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has killed around a million people there. $800 billion and 17 years later, some hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, maimed and displaced because of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Discipline. Family. Love. Uh huh.
The triple evils of America: slavery, genocide and militarism create a deadly social and cultural admixture. The US military trains High School students how to use AR-15s. Think about that. What good would another assault weapons ban do, if it is not connected to campaigns against militarism, policing and racist mass incarceration? What types of racist “law and order” provisions will be added to a gun control bill? When marching, why do we (white people) march for “our” lives? Does this myopically focused election-year fodder displace other movements? Does this march obscure the living history of US government brutality by focusing on actions of (certain) civilians without criticizing the military that trained them?
I ask again, what and who is “our”?
. . .
|Featured image: Bombing of Baghdad, March 19, 2003, Courtesy: http://framework.latimes.com/2013/03/17/war-in-iraq-a-look-back-10-years-later/|