Summary: National protests erupted in the wake of two separate instances of grand juries failing to indict police officers for killing unarmed black men. News networks have featured a parade of senior legal analysts and representatives of the law enforcement community, all jockeying to shape what will become the official perspective, but whatever the content of their remarks, it seems virtually every guest concludes with their own version of the same platitude. They either tell viewers that "violence is never an acceptable form of protest," or that "violence has never been an effective form of protest." These assertions frame the discussions about protests and work to delegitimize those who engage in violent protests as simply troublemakers, and because their protests are "pointless," they are also deemed irrational. • The question of whether it is ever right to protest with violence is a moral one, but the question of whether violence has ever effected social change is empirical. The fact is that while it may be comforting to believe violence is never effective, it is just not true. For instance, the success of the American Revolution depended on violence. Nearly two hundred years later, violence played another pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, for it was the violence associated with the likes of Malcolm X that made Martin Luther King, Jr.'s demands seem both moderate and reasonable. The post-colonial social theorist Frantz Fanon argued that organized violence was a centrally important tactic of resistance, not only for overcoming the material conditions of oppression, but also for nurturing a revolutionary consciousness among the oppressed. • The above video is an excerpt from the documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 and features an interview with activist and scholar Angela Davis, who at the time of the interview was facing charges of murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy. In the interview, Davis' is asked whether she thinks liberation can be achieved by confrontation and violence. Instead of pointing to instances in history where violence has been effective, Davis draws attention to another curious feature of the American discourse about violence: protestors are often asked about their use of violence, as if to suggest they are the instigators of violent tactics. When Black communities are regularly defending themselves against organized, systematic, and state-sanctioned violence, how is it possible those same communities are the ones fielding rhetorical questions about whether violence is appropriate? Why isn't there a similar urgency to pose this question to police commissioners, or to state and national politicians? • The average number of annual arrest-related deaths between 2003 and 2009 was about four times higher for blacks than whites, Looking at teens aged 15 to 19, who were shot and killed by police, the racial gap appears to be even greater. Between 2010 and 2012, police shot and killed about 21 times more Black youth than white youth. The racial disparity in police violence points to the fact that Black outrage is justified, as Black communities really are being targeting. Commentators on the growing protests against police brutality in Ferguson, New York City, and other cities in the U.S. would do well to use their platform to hold public officials and police accountable for their use of violence. If they want to continue asking protestors about their violence, perhaps they should also ask public servants about their use of violence and why it appears to be applied in such a discriminatory manner (Note that The Sociological Cinema has also explored the role of violence for promoting social change here.).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist