Il suffit d’ajouter “militaire” à un mot pour lui faire perdre sa signification. Ainsi la justice militaire n’est pas la justice, la musique militaire n’est pas la musique.

It suffices to add “military” to a word for it to lose its meaning. Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.

Georges Clemenceau


It is a common bit of rhetoric by all governments in the world, that violence can’t be justified under any circumstances. This, despite the fact that government is by definition a perpetual application of violence towards the governed. And without being entitled to murder their people, the regimes condemning and criminalizing the violence of the governed could never have existed.

Any violence by US protesters in Baltimore can be justified by the fact it was the only thing “starting the conversation” on the plight of Black people at the hands of US police officers, Phillip Agnew wrote in a compelling article at TIME, 29 April (photograph by Patrick Semansky – AP)

Of course, what governments really mean when they condemn violence is that they condemn illegitimate violence, while they use their own theories of political legitimacy to rule that their own violence is in the national interest and therefore justifiable.

I avoided commenting on the recent American protests in Baltimore that are believed, according to the press and Twitter, to have gone ugly and become violent riots due to the protesters’ actions. However, I helped to circulate some of the excellent commentary being put out at Counterpunch and I believe we can ask some serious questions about the issues raised by the unrest. Polls show that most white Americans view the Black population as angry and violent, and hold them to blame for all violence taking place in such “riots”. Further such riots are expected this year, and white people believe that they will be instigated by Black people. In their view, Black people are the sole instigators of both their own economic miseries in the United States and the violent events that take place in their streets, ranging from crime to riots against the (often lethal) conduct of police officers.

There is a common reflex in the US media to blame the oppressed in all conflicts – to blame whoever is most vulnerable, as the originators of all the miseries of violence and terror plaguing their lives. They are especially blamed if the violence creeps anywhere near the living rooms of better-off, richer, whiter people. We see this US reflex to blame oppressed people not only in the coverage of the plight of their own people but the plight of other peoples overseas, such as the Yemeni people and the Palestinians. The ones already lying on the floor are kicked, blamed for their own plight, and vilified as the sole violent ones who are creating chaos and suffering for themselves, their own streets, their own communities. Those at the epicenter of violence are indeed easy to mistake as the source of violence, while others who sit at peace in richer and more comfortable settings rarely attract their share of political condemnation.

It might not really be white racism that leads to police brutality at all, but rather the tendency of modern governments to isolate people who are near violence and disorder and a compulsion to collectively punish and excise them. The same mentality of stabbing at the source of violence informs drone strikes, wherein any building thought to harbor terrorists is blown up, without consideration that innocent civilians will also be hit. States are hopelessly addicted to illusions of control. They need someone or something to blow up, stab or shoot – whether that object is innocent or not – or they feel that they are losing legitimacy and confidence. Gunning down some poor soul they encountered in an area afflicted by violence is the way they achieve this illusion of bringing social problems under control, without actually accomplishing anything substantive.

Are the Palestinians really violent people, or reacting to a violent occupation?

Palestinian resistance groups are condemned as “terrorists”, for using armed force. The Israelis are given the right, sanctioned by their US allies, to engage in a brutal armed occupation, but any violence against such occupation is “terrorism”. In such a way, the violence of the Israeli state is sanitized and regarded as legitimate, even though the majority of the casualties of that violence are babies lying in cots. The violence of the Palestinians, often by children throwing stones at the tanks rolling through the rubble that was once their homes, is ruled to be completely unjustifiable and unprovoked.

Are Black people filled with hate, or victims of white hate?

Black people who turn over police cars in the street are condemned as “rioters”, “looters”, “criminals”, et cetera. The US police forces are given the right, sanctioned by the US government, to brutally kill any of them who they deem to be threatening, and any resistance, using a rock, a molotov cocktail, bare hands or anything else, driven by the passions of the moment and the violence before one’s own eyes, is quickly deemed to be illegal and immoral.

For many people who have not faced oppression or been institutionally subjected to treatment as an inferior person, people who have not faced hardship, it is easy to believe that violence comes from people who are downtrodden, and that they should be blamed, shot at, or in extreme cases, bombed in war. The people who had cushy lives do not feel responsible for violence, because they don’t personally get involved in it, whereas people who had hard lives are often more likely to have been involved in violent incidents or violent groups. However, the state employs violence, and is often involved in killing more people than the terrorists and criminals it portrays as the source of all evil and violence. It does so, to protect and shelter those rich people who don’t partake in violence. The media, the politicians, the rich and indeed the white people of America may indeed be less violent than Black people, but they are still responsible for a violent regime that treats Black people as inferior and drives them to despair, desperation and ultimately violent rioting as they often find that it is the only way to draw any attention to their economic and social plight.

History has repeatedly torn the existing laws and states apart to pronounce judgment on immoral regimes and the henchmen who worked for them. Therefore, it is clear that even the courts or democratically elected officials are no guarantee that violent police actions are legitimate, and yet still people find it easier to believe that the “criminal”, the poor man, or the Black man whose fists are actually engaged in violence is the sole source of violence. That the sole source of terrorism is the man with the mask, and not the ones who have forced him to wear it by threatening him and his family. It is easier to believe that the oppressed are the source of violence, which is why that narrative is still the dominant one. We are told that someone’s unfortunate background is no excuse for their behavior, but such a narrow view occludes the truth about the real instigators of violence, who are the instigators of injustice and state-enforced brutality that runs amok under the shallow guise of liberal democratic governance.


By Harry J. Bentham

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