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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/2/20

As US protests show - the challenge is how to rise above the violence inherent in state power

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. Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms
. Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms
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Here is one thing I can write with an unusual degree of certainty and confidence: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would not have been charged with the (third-degree) murder of George Floyd had the United States not been teetering on a knife edge of open revolt.

Had demonstrators not turned out in massive numbers on the streets and refused to be corralled back home by the threat of police violence, the US legal system would have simply turned a blind eye to Chauvin's act of extreme brutality, as it has done before over countless similar acts.

Without the mass protests, it would have made no difference that Floyd's murder was caught on camera, that it was predicted by Floyd himself in his cries of "I can't breathe" as Chauvin spent nearly nine minutes pressing his knee to Floyd's neck, or that the outcome was obvious to spectators who expressed their growing alarm as Floyd lost consciousness. At most, Chauvin would have had to face, as he had many times before, an ineffectual disciplinary investigation over "misconduct".

Without the current ferocious mood of anger directed at the police and sweeping much of the nation, Chauvin would have found himself as immune from accountability and prosecution as so many police officers before him who gunned down or lynched black citizens.

Instead he is the first white police officer in the state of Minnesota ever to be criminally charged over the death of a black man. After initially arguing that there were mitigating factors to be considered, prosecutors hurriedly changed course to declare Chauvin's indictment the fastest they had ever initiated. Yesterday Minneapolis's police chief was forced to call the other three officers who stood by as Floyd was murdered in front of them "complicit".

Confrontation, not contrition

If the authorities' placatory indictment of Chauvin - on the least serious charge they could impose, based on incontrovertible evidence they could not afford to deny - amounts to success, then it is only a little less depressing than failure.

Worse still, though most protesters are trying to keep their demonstrations non-violent, many of the police officers dealing with the protests look far readier for confrontation than contrition. The violent attacks by police on protesters, including the use of vehicles for rammings, suggest that it is Chauvin's murder charge - not the slow, barbaric murder of Floyd by one of their number - that has incensed fellow officers. They expect continuing impunity for their violence @rob_bennett - 'overhead'.

Similarly, the flagrant mistreatment by police of corporate media outlets simply for reporting developments, from the arrest of a CNN crew to physical assaults on BBC staff, underlines the sense of grievance harboured by many police officers when their culture of violence is exposed for all the world to see. They are not reeling it in, they are widening the circle of "enemies" @AleemMaqbool.

Nonetheless, it is entirely wrong to suggest, as a New York Times editorial did yesterday, that police impunity can be largely ascribed to "powerful unions" shielding officers from investigation and punishment. The editorial board needs to go back to school. The issues currently being exposed to the harsh glare of daylight get to the heart of what modern states are there to do - matters rarely discussed outside of political theory classes.

Right to bear arms The success of the modern state, like the monarchies of old, rests on the public's consent, explicit or otherwise, to its monopoly of violence. As citizens, we give up what was once deemed an inherent or "natural" right to commit violence ourselves and replace it with a social contract in which our representatives legislate supposedly neutral, just laws on our behalf. The state invests the power to enforce those laws in a supposedly disciplined, benevolent police force - there to "protect and serve" - while a dispassionate court system judges suspected violators of those laws. That is the theory, anyway. In the case of the United States, the state's monopoly on violence has been muddied by a constitutional "right to bear arms", although, of course, the historic purpose of that right was to ensure that the owners of land and slaves could protect their "property". Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms.

Today, little has changed substantively, as should be obvious the moment we consider what would have happened had it been black militia men that recently protested the Covid-19 lockdown by storming the Michigan state capitol, venting their indignation in the faces of white policemen.

(In fact, the US authorities' reaction to the Black Panthers movement through the late 1960s and 1970s is salutary enough for anyone who wishes to understand how dangerous it is for a black man to bear arms in his own defence against the violence of white men.). 'The Black Panthers Vanguard of the Revolution'.

Brutish violence

The monopoly of violence by the state is justified because most of us have supposedly consented to it in an attempt to avoid a Hobbesian world of brutish violence where individuals, families and tribes enforce their own, less disinterested versions of justice. But of course the state system is not as neutral or dispassionate as it professes, or as most of us assume. Until the struggle for universal suffrage succeeded - a practice that in all western states can be measured in decades, not centuries - the state was explicitly there to uphold the interests of a wealthy elite, a class of landed gentry and newly emerging industrialists, as well as a professional class that made society run smoothly for the benefit of that elite.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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