Posted on December 26, 2014

In Support of Violence

Gordon Barnes, CUNY Advocate, December 3, 2014


The 24 November grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson over the 9 August fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown has been met with a mixed consensus amongst people in the United States. On the one hand, there are those who claim that the rule of law has prevailed, and that there is nothing else to do. For others, there is a feeling of indignance that has catapulted people into large, sometimes violent, demonstrations in Ferguson and across the United States. State officials and political pundits have either vilified the protests or appealed for some semblance of calm in the wake of the grand jury’s decision. There is almost no discussion on the anti-democratic nature of the grand jury process, on Jay Nixon preemptively calling a state of emergency, or the role that the police play in this society. The focus, it seems, is on the lack of so-called civility on behalf of some of the protesters. Conservatives often use racialist, if not overtly racist, rhetoric when considering what is happening in Ferguson. Liberals appeal to the protestors to harken to the whitewashed legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and engage in peaceful demonstrations.

The time for peace has passed, indeed it never existed in this country. It doesn’t matter if Brown robbed a convenience store, or even if he assaulted Wilson. What matters is that the case highlights the depths to which the capitalist state and its police forces will protect their own and attempt to stifle any sort of dissent. Imagine if Wilson was the aggressor in the situation–which is more likely than Brown being the aggressor–and Brown defended himself with deadly force, mortally wounding Wilson. Brown would have likely go to prison for life, whereas Wilson has been cleared for what has been deemed a justifiable shooting. And it is justifiable based on how police operate within the United States: with near impunity.

The violence of the police is almost always defensible in the eyes of the ruling elite, as evinced by Barack Obama’s platitudes to liberal desires to the rule of law in the aftermath of the grand jury decision. So, why then is the violence of the protestor so reviled? It is confounding that the people seem more concerned about the loss of property than the loss of life in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision. While there are opportunists who have used the protests to their own end, the acts of looting, destruction of property, and violence directed towards state representatives is not only warranted, it is necessary. If people could, they would target the police, but the protesters know that a direct confrontation (with what is now a military force in this country) at this time would likely result in their deaths. The destruction of property in the area is the next best option. And while it is lamentable that some so-called mom-and-pop shops are targeted alongside the larger businesses, it is the truly dispossessed, downtrodden, social ostracized, and oppressed peoples who are engaging in the only viable option to lash out at an increasingly militarized, bureaucratically regimented, and authoritarian society. It is clear that while the murder of Michael Brown was the catalyst for these events, it is not the cause. The cause is the decades long, the centuries long, daily oppression people experience at the hands of the capitalist state.

{snip} The problem with the protestors’ violence in Ferguson is that it is unorganized. If the violence was to be organized, and the protestors armed–more so than the few that sparingly are–then the brunt of social pressures would not be laid onto middling proprietors, but unto those deserving the most virulent response of an enraged populace.

Calls for calm emanating from the upper strata of society are an attempt to mitigate the popular indignation that has long been bubbling under the surface of the society. The violence against property, that is destruction and theft, is only an unorganized form of something with the potential to be far more revolutionary and inspiring. To say that an all-out class war is on the horizon would be hyperbolic at this point, and maybe even myopic, but the undergirding social structures that position disenfranchised and working class peoples well below the dictatorship of capital are being pressured, the police being only one such institution. With increased organization, the Ferguson protests and riots do have the potential to transform from seemingly random attacks to ones that aim at puncturing the status quo. This is not a quixotic notion, it is within the realm of material possibilities, and activist-scholars should be lending their weight to this and other attendant struggles. The reliability and social productivity of voting for bourgeoisie parties is long dead. The demonstration turned riot, turned revolt, is the most effective means to bring about a new, more egalitarian social paradigm. {snip}

The death of Michael Brown has spurred this process and has fomented mass discontent with the government. Furthermore, the events in Ferguson have fomented the most visible resistance to the status quo in the United States. What is needed now is to take the next step from indiscriminate attacks to ones directly pointed at state power as well as at the lackeys and apologists who allow it to prosper. The transformative potential emanating from the protestors’ violence in Ferguson and elsewhere will not help recoup some “golden age” in the United States–there never was one–but can hopefully prove to be the kernel of radically altered social relations.


While the Advocate is opposed to state violence, and we support the protests on Ferguson, and we do not think that Wilson should be free, this editorial represents the individual views of the Editor-in-Chief, not the views of the Advocate or the DSC.