already seen how economic and cultural power is concentrated in white
hands and used to perpetuate racism through those institutions.
This section will discuss how political power to make and
enforce laws and resolve disputes is also concentrated, and how white
elites use political power to reproduce racism and extend it on the
one hand, and to physically smash any attempt at racial progress on
are serious purveyors of physical violence to people of colour.
This wasn’t always so: independent vigilantes like the KKK
used to play a much larger role.
Police violence one of the ugliest and most stark facts of
racism. I’ve tried
until now to bring the points up with statistics, and the statistics
here are shocking, but some incidents are so shocking we remember the
names. Rodney King,
Amadou Diallo, Dudley George come to mind.
The violence, the fear of violence, is why people of colour
force themselves to tolerate indignities heaped on them at work, at
school, in the media, in the mall, on the street.
They know what happens to someone who rebels (and to many who
does this happen? How can
police act this way? There’s
a theory of guerrilla warfare that says that the people are the sea
and the guerrillas are the fish that swim in the sea.
White people are the sea, and the police are the fish, here.
Some activists of colour have exhorted the white left to take
up arms against the police (Churchill, 'Pacifism as Pathology').
I don’t know about arms, but I can see why they’re so
frustrated—they want whites to do something about their own police
have the arms and the training. They
have the physical power. But
their agenda is set by political elites (who are white) and their
power is constrained by the fact that they need the community to obey
them and respect their authority.
They do not control the press nor do they raise money
independently. It should
be said, though, that both of these things are changing for the worse,
with aggressive police unionism that mounts political campaigns and
does raise funds—these are bad trends.
But as of now the police are subject to the economic control
and monitoring of the community, in particular the press, and civil
communities that suffer the violence of the police do not control the
press nor do they control the economy or the political overseers of
the police. And the
community that does control these powers, the white community,
doesn’t care what the police do to people of colour.
It doesn’t care in part because it doesn’t know; recall the
geographical and occupational segregation; and it doesn’t care
because it believes its own myths about crime and people of colour.
These myths are spread by the cultural media, described in the
culture section. If you
believe that crime is on the rise, that more police are the way to
stop it, and that people of colour are the criminals, you’ll support
the police in what they do. If
you’re a police officer and you hold these beliefs, you’re ready
to become a racial profiler. The
sea and the fish. Everything
is set for police to smash people into their racial roles, in brutal
Shalom points out various cases (in a Z Commentary, 1999).
In 1996, a Superior Court judgein New Jersey found that black drivers were 5 times as
likely as white drivers to be pulled over by police.
In April 1998 two NJ state troopers fired 11 shots into a van
with 4 unarmed black and brown males on their way to a basketball
clinic. They claimed the
van was trying to run them down and that they’d pulled the van over
for speeding, detected by a radar gun.
The troopers had no radar and witnesses claimed the van was
moving too slowly to be a threat.
Blacks and Latinos were 77.2% of those searched by police on
the NJ turnpike. In a
2000 commentary, Shalom describes the behaviour of the Street Crimes
Unit of the New York CityPolice Department. This
SCU stops and frisks people. The
New York State Attorney General data shows 175 000 such stops from
January 1998-April 1999—and officers say they fill out reports in
only 1 in 5 or 1 in 10 cases. The
SCU accounts for 10% of all these stops, and 62% of their stops were
black, 27% Hispanic, in a city about 25% black, 25% Hispanic.
Even after correcting for differing crime rates, blacks were
stopped 23% more often than whites and Hispanics 39% more often than
whites. For every nine
stops, one resulted in an arrest—breaking it down by race, for the
SCU, 1 in 16 black stops yielded enough evidence for an arrest, 1 in
10 white stops. The
Attorney General found that 25% of the reported stops did not provide
evidence amounting even to reasonable suspicion.
just in case you think that racist violence needs to hide behind a
badge and legal sanction, you should know about the Barnett Boys.
These white ranchers from Arizona lead an armed vigilante posse
that stops vans and trucks on the public highway, illegally searching
for migrants, tying them up, and radio-ing the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (Vijay Prashad reports about this in a Z
Commentary of 2000). Since
1994, 32 violent vigilante actions have been reported.
In May 2000, after 4 racist shootings, ranchers circulated
flyers asking others to join them in ‘hunting the Mexicans for
sport’. The economics
section showed why the violence can’t stop immigration.
What it can do, however, is serve elites by showing Mexicans
they are in constant physical danger and hence deter them from forming
attachments or communities or confidence to resist being exploited.
It can also cause a lot of unnecessary deaths.
In addition to the ones who are shot there are the ones who die
of hypothermia and sunstroke, trying to cross the border at dangerous
places to avoid the police and vigilantes.
One estimate is that 450 have died this way since 1994.
There are a number of ways this situation can go.
It can continue as it is, or the US government can complete its
takeover of the repression of Mexican immigrants from the vigilantes
(which isn’t really a change and what the racists are asking for
anyway), or the US and Mexican governments can negotiate some kind of
sensible resolution. A
very minimalist, short term resolution would include land reform in
Mexico with income guarantees and real development for people on the
land, macroeconomic policies in Mexico to increase employment, changes
in labour relations to allow unions to support workers' efforts to win
higher wages and better protections, and protection of the human
rights of people who immigrate to the US.
Unfortunately, even such a policy would require major changes
in US policy toward Mexicans. In
the meantime, Mexicans, like other people of colour, live in fear of
But the racism doesn’t
stop on the streets and highways.
Every part of the justice system is filled with it.
Judges, lawyers, and white juries ensure that the court system
has asdisparate an impact as policing.
from the economics section the way racism places fewer people of
colour in positions of power by discrimination, concentration of
wealth and educational and job opportunities, connections, and income.
The educational and occupational process which ends in a job as
a lawyer or judge acts in such a way that people of colour who tend to
reach these positions have a proven ability to at least tolerate
racism and a good chance of believing racist myths about their own
every stage of the justice system, authorities have some discretion in
their actions. In an
overall context of racism, this discretion invariably gets used to the
detriment of people of colour.
could start in childhood, with Dr. Frederick Goodwin’s proposed
Violence Initiative. (Most of the data here and below comes from Farai
Chideya’s ‘Don’t believe the hype’)
His analysis begins with the idea that monkeys kill each other
by violence and some monkeys are more violent and sexual.
From this observation Dr. Goodwin planned to identify 100 000
‘inner-city’ (a code word for black) children as violent, and
administer drugs to them to combat their natural tendencies.
Black people are arrested at rates disproportionate to their
commission of crimes. Victimization
reports, for example, show 35% of women reported raped said their
assailant was black, and black rape suspects are 43% of those
arrested. In Florida in 1993, police rounded up black males between 15
and 21 in Jefferson county to look for a murder suspect.
In 1992, all black men at Oneona College in New York were
questioned as suspects in a crime because of their race—college
officials provided names and locations of all black male students to
police when asked. 29% of those arrested are black, but the US
population is about 10% black.
Black sentences on weapon and drug charges are 49% longer than
for whites and are disproportionately convicted—even officials admit
this. In a New Jersey
poll, 26% of judges said prosecutors were more likely to insist on
more serious charges against minority defendants than whites and 20%
said sentences for minorities were more severe.
Sentencing is even worse. Five
grams of crack cocaine, a ‘black’ drug, gets you five years, and
500 grams of powder cocaine, a ‘white’ drug, gets you the same
penalty. 500g of powder
is worth $40 000, 5g of crack is $250.
Arrests for possession are two times the rates for manufacture.
91% of prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimum sentencing
are nonviolent, first time offenders.
Death Penalty. A
murderer is 10 times more likely to be sentenced to death for killing
a white person than for killing a black person.
Even at equal ‘brutality’, murderers are 4 times more
likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white.
In 1995, 3 250 of every 100 000 black males were imprisoned.
In 1996, 1 571 of every 100 000 were serving sentences of at
least a year in federal or state prisons.
688 of 100 000 Latinos were serving such sentences, and 193 of
100 000 whites. (This is
from Shalom’s 2000 commentary).
are being operated as welfare programs, with small communities
aggressively lobbying for them because they want the jobs and incomes.
Meanwhile real development, featuring useful goods and services
and meaningful work and education is not happening or on the agenda.
A prison built for the jobs will be filled, and discretion and
racism will ensure its racial composition.
US also has the honour of being the only country on earth to take away
the vote for life from offenders who have finished serving their
sentences. Through this
process, as of 1999, 1 367 100 black men have been denied the right to
vote, and that number is growing (also from Shalom, 2000).
This group is one of many whose disenfranchisement won George
W. Bush the 2000 election.
is so much sadder because the causes of crime and violence at such
high levels are known. Elliott
Currie and other criminologists have shown that economic equality,
employment, education, social bonds, and participation reduce crime,
while heavier justice system responses do not.
The economic system precludes equality in income, wealth
employment, or education for blacks and Latinos; the police’s
disruptive presence and use of informants destroys social bonds, as
does removing so many black people from their families to prisons; and
things like voting laws, as well as spatial segregation help chip away
at participation. On the
other hand, if you consider that black youth are 48 times more likely
to be incarcerated for drug offenses than whites with the same record
(cited in Tim Wise's Znet Commentary 'an Open Letter to the Pioneer
Fund' of November 3, 2000) you realize that police will find more
criminals where and when they look hardest.
Where do they look the hardest?
the justice system and vigilantes, racism has the violence it needs to
contain its victims. But,
like the media, politicians' rhetoric and campaigns keep the racist
sea favourable for the justice system's fish to do their work.
Duke's 1991 campaign for the Louisiana governorship was such a
campaign. He used his
platform to spread all the usual myths: of the black welfare queen and
her high birth rate, of the affirmative action monster denying whites
jobs rightfully theirs, that the Klan and the NAACP were the same, and
more simply, that blacks were closer to the jungle.
Duke won 55% of the white vote with his campaign.
But Duke is just an extreme example of something that is part
of the political system. George
Bush's 1988 presidential campaign made a symbol of Willie Horton, a
black criminal. Clinton
approved the execution of a black mentally ill (he'd lobotomized
himself trying to commit suicide) prisoner in the midst of the 1992
politicians traffic in racism because they think it will get them
votes, and it does. But
their campaigns and misinformation also help create the context, frame
the issues, and set the terms of debate.
Hate groups flower when overtly racist politicians are in
power. They did in the
1910s under Woodrow Wilson and they did again in the 1980s under
Reagan (James Loewen talks about this in 'Lies My Teacher Told Me').
of colour, in North America and abroad, have an excellent chance of
being jailed or simply murdered by authorities.
The Black Panthers were decimated
by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, as were many members of the
American Indian Movement. Members
of the MOVE were murdered by the Philadelphia police force.
Mumia Abu Jamal is on death row, Leonard Peltier is in prison
after being passed over for clemency by Bill Clitnon (who pardoned
some white and white collar friends).
Again, reducing police's power to kill and jail antiracist
activists, and reducing white society's acceptance of the
criminalization of dissent, of poverty, and of people of colour, would
be a huge help to all struggles for social change.
Even a simple reform like making police stick to their own laws
and operate openly would be a huge help.
(Ward Churchill has done great work on COINTELPRO, in 'Agents
of Repression' and 'The COINTELPRO papers')
economic interventions of the IMF, World Bank, WTO, FTAA, and
multinational corporations, act to preserve a racist colonial world.
But when these fail and are resisted, elites have many
political resources to deploy. Economic
and ideological support for sympathetic Third World elites against
those who would pursue some kind of self-determination starts the
process. If those third
world nationalists are still successful and popular, they can be
vilified in the press through the US's many international media
connections. If this
doesn't work, it may be time to deploy armies-- private or state,
purchased and trained and armed courtesy of first world taxpayers or
first world drug users via the CIA (the CIA often uses drug money to
fight dissident guerrilla movements in the 3rd world, as
that saves having to account for public funds.
It does so in Colombia, did so in Southeast Asia, and in
Afghanistan as well). If
even this doesn't work, bombings, and marines directly by the colonial
governments are available, if they aren't deterred by their own
populations. (For about
100 examples of this pattern, see William Blum's book 'Killing Hope')
Taking these instruments away from elites would do the world a
world of good.
what about preventing genocide, or terrible human rights abuses?
Shouldn't the US maintain its forces and foreign policy to make
the world safer, or if not the US, the UN?
The question sounds fair, but it isn't.
The US doesn't prevent genocides.
It has attempted them (against blacks and native people), aided
attempts by others (Indonesia's against East Timor, Turkey's against
the Armenians), and was complicit in others, refusing to take action
until too late (the Nazis against the Jews) or even preventing others
from taking action (the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis).
If the US government weren't either an armer, perpetrator, or
preventor of action to stop horrible crimes against humanity
everywhere; if the governments of most countries weren't either its
clients or afraid of it; if indigenous nations had some kind of self
determination; if the existing international body were even close to
democratic and not controlled by the veto, military, and financial
power of the US, maybe it would make sense to talk about what kind of
international political systems could prevent horrible crimes from
occurring in the 3rd world.
But the first answer must be for the 1st world to
stop perpetrating them, get rid of its means to do so, and start over
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