Cincinnati riots result of an undemocratic system
The Daily Cardinal
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." — John F. Kennedy Jr.
As the march of time and progress plows forward into a new century, of late I have acquired a creeping sense of vertigo. While of course we move forward with our many new technologies, as a society I can't help feeling that we are moving backward.
Historically, the U.S. government has used whatever violent means necessary to take what it wanted. It wanted cheap labor and land to build up its empire, so it encouraged the enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of Native Americans.
This pattern of violence used by the U.S. government against other groups has spread to its own citizenry. Popular expressions of discontent with the status quo are increasingly being met with tear gas and pepper spray. Because the military is not ideologically trained to battle the people of its homeland, the police become the brutal face of the state.
The role of the police is to unquestionably guard the social order of the state. They are used as tools to hold back insurrection. Their mission is not to protect the people, but to protect private property. This can be seen in situations where the best interests of the people do not correspond with the best interests of the economic order.
When workers go on strike, it is the police that crack heads for the corporate bosses to maintain their profit margins. When blacks and whites demanded civil rights, it was the police who beat them bloody to uphold a two-tier society. In Seattle, when the U.S. citizenry demanded that they be participants in the future of global trade talks, it was the police who shot them with rubber bullets and concussion grenades for multinational corporate stability.
For the past several days, African-Americans in Cincinnati have burst onto the streets as an expression of their outrage against the police. The response from the police has been to shoot them with bean bags from rifles. People are in the streets because the police have killed 15 black men in the last five years. The examples are disturbing.
Michael Carpenter was a casualty of the Cincinnati police. He was shot after being stopped while driving. No charges were filed against the officers. Darrell Price also died at the hands of the Cincinnati police. He died after restraining officers smashed his head on the concrete. Despite the suspicious circumstances of his death, all of the police officers were exonerated.
The latest victim of the brutal pathology of the Cincinnati police was Timothy Thomas. The police claim that he was shot because he was running away, but since when have we given the police the right to shoot first and ask questions later? Under the law, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but the police now believe that they are above the law. The police in Cincinnati have become the judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. Thomas and other African-Americans in Cincinnati know that if they encounter the police, they may well end up dead. Thomas was running for a reason.
While the mainstream media would like the public to think that the police problems are caused by a "few bad apples," police brutality against African-Americans is systemic in America. African-Americans are far more likely to be targeted, imprisoned and killed by the criminal system.
Amadou Diallo is one of the more famous examples of police murder, but several cases can be found in every major U.S. city. How much brutality can a people be reasonably expected to endure before their obedience to the rules of the social order starts to break down?
For years, much lip service has been given but little action has been taken to improve the status of African-Americans in this country. Not until the recent unrest in Cincinnati has the city taken seriously the anger of African-Americans.
The media coverage of these protests has been grossly one-sided. Angry citizens are called "rioters" to discredit their message, and the violent actions of the police are downplayed with statements like, "people don't understand how tough police work is."
Rioting and disorder are consequences of the abuse of police power. Calls for calm are irresponsible, without demands for immediate rectification of gross incarceration, discrimination and economic deprivation experienced daily by African-Americans.
Kennedy's quote is a potent reminder that when the peaceful channels of governmental change are closed off, the only recourse left for the attainment of justice will be rebellion.
This column first ran on April 17, 2001, in the University of Wisconsin's daily paper, The Daily Cardinal. It is provided here courtesy of U-WIRE.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, April 18, 2001