The tragic night of July 7, 2016, was the most visible manifestation of U.S. wars reaching our own soil. To be clear, I am not talking about the absurd and insulting notion that there is a war between the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the police. This racist intellectual nonsense has been spewed by commentators like Rush Limbaugh labeling #BlackLivesMatter a terrorist group, former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) tweeting “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you,” or in the New York Post’s headline of “Civil War”. These reactions are not only despicable in their tone and message, they are entirely missing the point.
#BlackLivesMatter is a call by black activists to end violence, not escalate it. The movement aims to “fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialog among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement”.
#BlackLivesMatter understands that the most effective form of social protest is creative nonviolence, in fact in adverse conditions like the U.S status quo it is the only path toward success. It is a very necessary form of participating in democracy to challenge unjust status quo, not some sort of war on the police.
The war that has come home is that of unchallenged U.S.militarism. While easily identifiable in wars abroad, the sometimes subtler forms of militarism played out in six ways over the last days.
First, there are too many weapons in the hands of too many people. These weapons killed Philando Castile in a very minor traffic stop (broken tail-light, not even a complaint about his driving), they killed Alton Sterling for selling CDs outside of a convenience store (neither of these men had a gun in their hands), and they killed officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens at the hands of a sniper identified as Micah Johnson. Johnson was killed by robot armed with explosives. The entire US is “gun country” and every effort to create meaningful change is undermined by the NRA and their anti-factual propaganda and the virtually sanctified Second Amendment.
Second, there is an ongoing glorification of violence. Hollywood Blockbusters glorify snipers, the top grossing computer games and cell phone apps are war games, sports events nationwide and TV ads promote the military, and the U.S. Army Marketing and Research Group National Assets Branch maintains a fleet of semi-trailer trucks whose highly sophisticated, attractive, interactive exhibits glorify warfare, are designed to recruit impressionable youth.
Third, media often valorizes violence, nearly worships warriors, is often seduced by war-fighting gear, and ignores analysts who offer cogent transformative paths to peace.
Fourth, the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans have unprecedented rates of physical, mental, and abuse disorders, as well as high rates of suicide, homelessness, and unemployment. The studies are abundant and they are worrisome. Veterans don’t receive the necessary support in any of the areas in a severely under-resourced veteran care system. The suspected sniper was a Veteran who served in Afghanistan.
Fifth, there is a troublesome militarization of police with regard to equipment and tactics visible in armored carriers, grenade launchers, and sniper rifles to name a few. In the Dallas shootings, police used a robot armed with explosives to kill the suspect while he was hiding out in a parking garage. This move was criticized heavily by legal experts as a dangerous precedent in the wrong direction and contradicts the entire notion of policing and law enforcement. The influx of combat veterans into society in general in the past 15 years, plus the police hiring preference for veterans, plus DoD distribution of military armaments to domestic US police guarantees further police militarization.
Sixth, the social injustices and inequalities cannot be addressed sufficiently due to missing resources. Public debates on entitlements and minimum wage neglect the elephant in the room – a bloated military budget where almost half of the taxpayers’ money in federal taxes goes to the military. #BlackLivesMatter certainly has a focus on injustice against black people in the U.S., but that takes place within a broader narrative of inequality, “security” spending, and war profiteering.
To be sure, this is not a specific analysis of these specific incidences over the last days. At this point little is known about the victims and perpetrators. It is clear, however, that the events took place under certain social conditions which were conducive to those and many more to unfold.
If we start focusing on fixing the factors outlined here, we might actually change the future course of events. We need to get rid of too many weapons in too many hands. Gun control, and gun control now. Stop glorifying violence in TV and in the media and be inspired by movies like “Selma,” not “American Sniper.” Move away from the violent media bias and instead toward truth, people, and solution-oriented journalism. Give our veterans all the support needed – ideally beginning with not waging wars. Insist that policing is a necessity in our society where citizens are protected and the police are respected out of admiration, not fear. See, respect, and support #BlackLivesMatter for what it is – a movement that advocates dignity, justice, and freedom for all in the face of oppression against black people. We can do this.
Photos: Militarized police (wikipedia creative commons); Black Lives Matter – New York City, courtesy of Len Tsou; Custom Rambo (creative commons); Black Lives Matter – St Louis, MO, courtesy of Heather Wilson.