Organizers from the group declared recently that, “The war on Black people in Baltimore is the same war on Black people across America. Decades of poverty, unemployment, under-funded schools and police terrorism have reached a boiling point in Baltimore and cities around the country."
The scenes of civil unrest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray – the latest in an alarming number of young black man to end up dead at the hands of the police or while in police custody – broke with a recent pattern of non-violent protest and attempts to gain justice and redress through the system. Despite six of the cops involved in the Freddie Gray case being charged with Gray’s homicide, it remains to be seen whether the unrest in Baltimore is a one-off event or a deepening of a developing crisis that appears to have no end in sight.
According to figures compiled by the Free Thought Project – a US justice advocacy group – 136 people had been killed by the police across the country. It’s a figure that makes sober reading when we break it down into one victim every eight hours, or three per day. No other industrialized nation compares in this regard, highlighting the extent to which social cohesion in a country that extends itself in lecturing other nations around the world on human rights is near non-existent.
That said, those included in the aforementioned number of victims of police violence are not only black people, and it is a fact that more white people have been killed by the police than black, until of course we break that statistic down to factor in the proportion of black victims from the population as a whole.
It would be a mistake to put this crisis down to a few rogue and racist cops. It runs much deeper than that, exposing the ugly truth of a society that operates according to the maxim of all against all. In other words, the culture of racism and brutality that pervades increasingly militarized police departments is a symptom of the foundation of injustice upon which the nation and its institutions rest. Rather than the land of the free, the United States of America is the land of cruelty and barbarity, a corporate dictatorship under which the poor and dispossessed are locked out of society, denied healthcare, housing, education, and life chances compatible with a humane system of government and economy.
The corollary to this is a male prison population of over two million that is disproportionately black, making the US, a country that makes up just 5 percent of the entire world's population, home to a quarter of the entire world’s prison population. This in itself is a withering indictment of a nation that extends itself in claiming exceptionalism based on its self-appointed status as the land of the free. This view is based on a belief that the majority of crimes are a product of poverty, alienation, and social exclusion. The black American novelist, Ralph Ellison, in his most famous novel – ‘Invisible Man’ – opines that, “Crime is an act of unconscious rebellion.”
In the US in 2015 there is much to rebel about.
I saw it for myself during a recent visit to Los Angeles, a city where the sheer number of homeless human beings is simply staggering. Everywhere I went I came across them shuffling up and down the street mumbling to themselves, carrying their earthly belongings in plastic bags or, if they’re lucky, pushing them in a shopping kart.
This huge colony of homeless people exists in the entertainment capital of the world, home to Hollywood, where the mythology of the American dream projects the lie that poverty and social exclusion are products of individual failure rather than systemic failure, while material wealth and success is a measure of human worth and moral rectitude. It is of course a lie, one that has succeeded in acting as a smokescreen to conceal the widening and deepening cracks in the nation's foundations.
Those suffering under the weight of this system should not expect to receive any succor from Washington anytime soon.
On the contrary, here resides a political culture and political class slavishly devoted to the rights, interests, and advancement of corporations and their very rich executives, shareholders, and investors – i.e. the rich. The by-product of this culture has been the normalization of social and economic injustice, which as mentioned is the foundation of a foreign policy of war, military intervention, and the blithe disregard for international law and national sovereignty as and when those aforementioned corporate interests dictate.
Some may question the validity of linking US foreign policy to the state of its society at home, but they'd be wrong. Both are inextricably linked, forging a circular relationship of injustice, violence, leading inexorably to atomization and crises. Malcolm X put it best when he said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.”
In the US class and race constitute two sides of the same coin. Black people make up around 13 percent of the population, which translates to just over 30 million people, the majority of whom can trace their roots in the country to slavery, with the argument gaining traction that the plantation still exists for young black males today in the shape of a vast network of Federal and State correctional facilities.
No justice, no peace and black lives matter are the clarion calls of a movement that has emerged in response to a wave of violence committed by police departments viewed increasingly as forces of occupation rather than law and order.
Who will guard the guardians?