It Has Begun

Reading the news of the latest police murders of African Americans in this country, I’ve been wondering how much state violence American elites believe African Americans are supposed to tolerate before they take matters into their own hands.

I suspect most officials, intellectuals, and journalists don’t think much, if at all, about that question. Back in the 1960s, they did. From the Kerner Commission to Hugh Graham’s and Ted Gurr’s lengthy two-volume study Violence in America, which was a report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.

Michael Walzer’s essay, “The Obligations of Oppressed Minorities,” which first appeared in Commentary in 1970, is an interesting document in this regard.

For two reasons.

First, Walzer’s description of African Americans as an oppressed minority in the 1960s features many of the elements you might expect: pervasive discrimination; limited economic power; social marginalization and exclusion; and continuously frustrated political action. Blacks, in Walzer’s treatment, are the victims of a white majority in a putatively free liberal democracy. That combination of systemic unfreedom and inequality, for the minority, amid relative freedom and equality, for the majority, is what characterizes their oppression as a minority.

But one element of their oppression does not appear in Walzer’s account: rampant extra-judicial murder by the state. Why it’s not there I’m not sure. Writing in 1970, as a participant-observer in the Civil Rights Movement, Walzer is certainly sensitive to the multiple dimensions of the oppression of black Americans and would have been aware of police brutality. But for whatever reason, police murder is not part of the story. Instead, what Walzer is interested in is the ways in which blacks are “the victims of popular oppression.” That is, blacks as the victims of whites as citizens, who constitute a democratic majority in a democratic state.

That gives Walzer’s story a particular spin, for contesting the more or less nonviolent modes of oppression that are inflicted through the mechanisms of a more or less democratic state imposes, Walzer claims, a specific set of constraints on that oppressed minority that a more straightforward situation of oppression—say, slavery—would not. As Walzer writes, “slaves owe nothing to their masters and nothing again to the ruling committee of their masters.” But democratic citizens in a democratic state, even if they are oppressed democratic citizens, have to negotiate a more complicated path.

But the police force of large or small city, even when the political leadership of that city is African-American, even when the police officers in question are African-American, poses an altogether different kind of challenge. For theirs is a mode of power that is especially unaccountable to citizens, whether majorities or minorities; theirs is a mode of power that is, for a multiplicity of reasons, highly protected against democratic challenge and rule.

The philosopher John Drabinski made an interesting observation today on his Facebook page:

In my corner of the world, I keep seeing the phrase “extra-judicial killing” over the last couple of days. Like, I’m seeing it a lot a lot. Everywhere.

I find this to be a really interesting and important phrase. Technically or by strict definition, that’s exactly what these police murders of Black people are: killings by the state without the adjudication of guilt or innocence, killing outside the law without consequences for that killing. But rhetorically, for me anyway, the phrase “extra-judicial killing” is the way we used to characterize military and militaristic dictatorships in 1980s and 1990s Latin America.

But I think we have to start associating extra-judicial killing and its broader (lack of) meaning with the notion of a military dictatorship. Think about it: what support is there, nationally, for continued presence in Iraq or Afghanistan? Or support for intervention in Syria? Do any of us, except those who read targeted stuff about that part of the world, really even know the extent of our presence, expenditure, death toll, and so on? No, of course we don’t. Because that’s the point: the military works (and has been for a very long time, maybe since the beginning) completely autonomously, bearing little if any relationship to the democratic arm of the state.

And who would ever question that autonomy? No one does.

The police operate with that autonomy, absolutely. Not unlike the paramilitary forces I associate with the phrase “extra-judicial killing.”

Which got me to thinking, with Walzer, about the obligations of an oppressed minority that is not only the victim of a popular majority and all the relatively non-violent ways in which that popular majority rules, but that is also the victim of a more specified kind of military dictatorship, which operates with relative impunity, murdering black Americans without accountability or remedy or justice at all.

Second, despite having defined the question of African-American oppression without reference to state violence, Walzer asks a fairly radical question:

What obligations can they [oppressed minorities such as African Americans] be possibly said to owe the (more or less) democratic state?

His answer is stark:

On this issue, liberal and democratic theorists have had very little to say, but what they have said is clear enough and, it must be admitted, very radical. They have argued, in effect, that oppressed minorities have no obligation at all within the political system.

Walzer takes that—”when justice is not done, there is no legitimate state and no obligation to obey”—as the premise of his essay. He proceeds to qualify and hedge that premise in all sorts of ways (I can’t do justice here to the richness and care of his argument), but what’s interesting to note, again, is that the oppression he had in mind did not include the open possibility, on any given day, that the oppressed minority in question could become, as the African-American congressman Keith Ellison put it so memorably today, a “hashtag.”

As Walzer suggests, the most basic texts of the liberal tradition are quite radical on this topic.

So let me close with the most liberal—and arguably radical—of them all, Locke’s Second Treatise.

Two passages seem relevant to me.

First, this, from the third chapter, on “The State of War”:

…nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law,…

And, then, this, from the fourteenth chapter, on “Prerogative”:

And where the body of the people, or any single man, is deprived of their right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to heaven [Locke’s frequently used term for the right to rebel], whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment. And therefore, though the people cannot be judge, so as to have, by the constitution of that society, any superior power, to determine and give effective sentence in the case; yet they have, by a law antecedent and paramount to all positive laws of men, reserved that ultimate determination to themselves which belongs to all mankind, where there lies no appeal on earth, viz. to judge, whether they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven. And this judgment they cannot part with, it being out of a man’s power so to submit himself to another, as to give him a liberty to destroy him; God and nature never allowing a man so to abandon himself, as to neglect his own preservation: and since he cannot take away his own life, neither can he give another power to take it.

As I finish this post, just past midnight, I take a quick glance at the news, and see that three police officers were killed, and seven others were wounded, tonight in Dallas during a demonstration against the recent police killings.

It has begun.

I pray, fervently pray, that we can step back from the abyss and resolve this issue without more killing; I have no taste, desire, or relish for violence. But that’s on all of us—citizens, elites, journalists, who must find the pressure points to eliminate this pervasive condition where a portion of us cannot feel safe on the streets.

Update (12:45 am)

Several people on Twitter have pointed out to me that we have no idea at this point who killed these police officers, what any of it means. It’s irresponsible for me to suggest that we do know what it means, without further information, and to jump to the conclusion that this was African Americans fighting back. My critics on Twitter are right. I shouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion. My apologies. I had just been writing, and thinking about this issue, for a good part of the night, and then was shocked by the news that I was seeing—which was, literally, a three-sentence article in the New York Times, with no mention of snipers, assassins, or anything like that—and put the two things together in my head. We’ll have to wait to find out more.

I should probably add—I didn’t think I needed to say this, given my last paragraph, but now I see, given tonight’s events, that I should clarify—that this post is in no way a call or endorsement or celebration of violence. As I said above, that is not my vision. What I am raising here is a different question that has been on my mind, and that I raised in the first paragraph: how long do we think this situation can go on like this, without the victims of police brutality fighting back, and what do some of our most mainstream traditions and voices, from the past and present, have to say about that question?


  1. Mike Pouraryan (@mikepouraryan) July 8, 2016 at 12:36 am | #

    It is critical that the insanity stops for all….that’s what we all must aim for.

  2. John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 12:43 am | #

    There is a fundamental moral difference between police officers who recklessly kill citizens while performing their duties, and assassins who murder innocent police officers because of their jobs. The bad cops may be incompetent, and even guilty of murder. But these assassins are pure evil. Anyone who thinks that murder can be used as a tool for reform has gone off the edge of sanity. I can give you all the pragmatic arguments for why that will backfire, but I think the morality of assassination speaks for itself.

    • mglongman July 8, 2016 at 1:07 am | #

      Well, one obvious difference between the police-who-kill and the ‘assassins’ is that the ‘assassins’ never purported to be figures acting in the service and protection of their targets’ lives. The police, on the other hand, purport exactly that. I’m not sure what sort of moral framework you’re claiming gives such certainty to the situation, but if that morality has anything to do with the legal authority of the state to carry-out violence, then your comment has absolutely nothing to do with the arguments Robin presented. You use the term ‘murder’, but, again, if ‘murder’ has anything to do with just-cause, or legal authority (specifically a lack thereof), then you’re not seeing that Robin is articulating some crucial points in the philosophical tradition of liberalism and the state, as well as some of the more radical analysis of modern American society, that deal directly with the issue that ‘just-cause’ and ‘legal authority’ are rendered moot points (in particular scenarios).

    • Corey Robin July 8, 2016 at 1:10 am | #

      I’ve written an update explaining this a bit better. When I wrote my original post, there was no mention of assassins, snipers, and the like. And my post was by no means a claim that violence was the way to go. At all.

    • mcarson July 8, 2016 at 1:28 am | #

      You are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
      The problem is not the cops who are killing civilians. The problem is the cops who supervise them, the cops who ride with them, the cops who hear the stories and don’t object.
      We can’t guarantee that no lousy cops will ever wrongly kill a civilian. We can ask that those who see it happening take action.
      Most murdering cops have a history of misconduct, usually going back years. At each point it was papered over, excused, called lack of judgement, poor training or whatever excuse worked to give the cop another chance.
      Up until now the people with the ability to solve this problem balanced their desire to be one of the boys against their own sense of right and wrong. Now they have another variable. When too many black men are wrongfully killed by their brothers in uniform they are at risk. Now ridding the force of unfit cops becomes important to all of them.

      • John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 2:17 am | #

        If you think the response to the mass murder of cops will be a more concerted effort by police chiefs to go after bad cops, you are completely delusional. This will lead to more trigger-happy cops, and everyone having their back. Even before this, Donald Trump had promised his first act as president would be to sign an executive order requiring the death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer. Although that’s obviously unconstitutional for many reasons, expect that kind of reaction to prevail.

        • Glenn July 8, 2016 at 4:14 pm | #

          Yes, John, things can only get worse: there will be more potential shooters and bombers pushed closer to their psychic edge on college campuses, in the workplace, and in the streets, under the watchful eyes of the militarized police, because toxic environments will grow evermore toxic by the toxic solutions of “wars on” this, that, and the other.

          As the techniques of social control come home from foreign wars, expect more suicidal attacks by people who have mastered control of their weapons but lost control of their lives.

          Today’s problems always seem to have roots to be found in yesterday’s solutions.

          Chicken Little discusses world affairs with Pollyanna.

      • Bill Michtom July 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm | #

        The problem goes way beyond the cooperation of their superiors and their colleagues. It is built in to the entire system:

        Police Brutality Isn’t the Exception. It’s the Policy

        “It is hard to imagine moving through the world and seeing every other human being around you, no matter how ordinary, as a threat. If I lived like that, I wouldn’t leave the house. But police are trained to see the world that way, and for at least fifty years, our courts have ratified their worldview.”

    • Edward July 8, 2016 at 10:21 am | #

      I am not convinced that we know enough about the police to characterize the police murders as merely “reckless”. The problem is so systemic that I wonder if there is an ideological component to it. Is law enforcement the dream job for white supremacists?

    • Whitford Kramer July 8, 2016 at 10:54 am | #

      “But these assassins are pure evil.” There’s really no room in this discussion for this kind of bullshit. Police brutality is a massive societal hazard and betrayal of the public trust, and when it falls disproportionately on a particular group, civility will erode as surely as night follows day, which is likely what we’re seeing. And here you are selling a Star Wars/Harry Potter fantasy. No thank you.

      • John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm | #

        So condemning the mass murder of cops is “bullshit” that shouldn’t be allowed in this discussion? I’m not sure what your babbling about Star Wars/Harry Potter is all about. Is it the word “evil” you don’t like? So you don’t think we should call mass murderers “evil”? Fine, mass murderers are a societal hazard. Happy? You know, it is possible to simultaneously condemn cop murderers and cops who murder—you might want to consider trying it, if I’m not being too Harry Potter for you.

        • Whitford Kramer July 9, 2016 at 12:24 am | #

          Correct — your pronouncement that one side comprises “pure evil” was what I found to be bullshit. Your entire argument rests on this arbitrary and, when it comes down to it, meaningless evaluation.

    • Jacob Steijn July 8, 2016 at 9:10 pm | #

      Arguing about what ought to be does nothing for the reality we are faced with, This person may have no justification for his actions but the actions remain and were triggered by a reality that will trigger more of these actions if not changed. We cannot change the past, only the future. We rarely change someone else, only ourselves.

    • ken barker July 8, 2016 at 10:34 pm | #

      “Anyone who thinks that murder can be used as a tool for reform has gone off the edge of sanity. I can give you all the pragmatic arguments for why that will backfire, but I think the morality of assassination speaks for itself.”

      Please be sure to tell that to Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki.

      And then the United States Government in it’s entirety.

  3. Joanna Bujes July 8, 2016 at 12:57 am | #

    I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Those citizens that the police recklessly kill, are they not also innocent?

    • John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 1:02 am | #

      Absolutely they’re innocent, in those cases. But the police are obviously not plotting to murder them.

      • Jos July 8, 2016 at 1:14 am | #

        In many documented cases, police are absolutely looking to scare, harass, beat, and by accidentally over-beating, kill citizens of color. Downplaying this common, pervasive, uncomfortable fact is part of the problem.

      • Gavolt July 8, 2016 at 4:12 pm | #

        And why should the intentions of individual police officers matter?

      • Frank Wilhoit July 8, 2016 at 4:20 pm | #

        Nothing could be further from “obvious”. The victims were targeted. Not by name, which gets out from under “premeditation” in the letter of the law: but certainly by group affiliation.

        But it is much worse than this, because it really is not racism; because the group affiliations that are targeted in any particular time or place are completely fungible. Raise the cost of one target, another will instantly be selected. Where I live, there are (statistically speaking) no blacks. Instead, there are other targets — including myself. This is why the thought experiment of somehow convincing “racist” police that blacks are henceforward off limits will not do anything to reduce the problem of the danger of unaccountable police.

      • Jacob Steijn July 8, 2016 at 9:13 pm | #

        That remains in doubt. Intimidation is a common tool of oppression.

  4. autonomous rex July 8, 2016 at 1:06 am | #

    Since we can not know if this is “it”, and if we could, we could not know what “it” is, it would be wise to hold back on the grim knowingness.

  5. kevin July 8, 2016 at 1:11 am | #

    Violence against black people has been happening with impunity in this country for over 200 years. It is true that wishing violent retribution or civil unrest seems wrong, but how long can we expect the victims to take the high road while the oppressors continue on the low road? The historical victims saying and doing “we won’t take it any more” seems just, even if we know the end result of the reaction won’t improve the situation much if at all. But I must say, nothing is less admirable than a silent populace only speaking up when the oppressed minority starts to find their voice and their acts of resistance, to the detriment of the majority.

    • John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 1:37 am | #

      How long can we expect members of oppressed groups to take the high road and not murder cops? I expect it to happen forever, because murdering cops (or anyone else) is always wrong. As for “doing ‘we won’t take it any more’ seems just,” that depends on what you’re doing. Tonight, the doing by two people was murdering cops, which I hope you’ll agree is not just at all, and is an act of murder, not an act of resistance. And that murder will undermine the work of a thousand peaceful demonstrations.

    • Bill Michtom July 8, 2016 at 1:48 am | #

      “for over 200 years”

      For almost 400 years. The first slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619.

      As to the discussion about “extra-judicial killing,” I keep thinking of Raul Hilberg’s comment in The Destruction of the European Jews: “In a completely totalitarian state the police organization alone dispenses justice.” That is a fair description of what happened to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and all the other murdered African Americans.

      Finally, at last look, there is NOTHING that tells us anything about the snipers in Dallas other than they were after cops. After concern for the wounded and the families of the casualties, I am worried that this could be used to delegitimize the protests as has happened with BLM over and over..

  6. Anonymous July 8, 2016 at 1:15 am | #

    If the argument “that oppressed minorities have no obligation at all within the political system” is radical, we are lost. Their oppression is a function of, at least, the political system. The Locke you quote is typically bland and almost tautological. “they have a liberty to appeal to heaven whenever they have just cause … sufficient” to appeal to heaven. I’m amazed the situation has gone on this long. I expected it decades ago.

  7. Ramesh July 8, 2016 at 2:56 am | #

    I have a different take on the source of the pathologies present in the world. Foremost, as Chomsky mentioned is the atomization of society that is THE major source of pathologies. Organizing and communities are solution. But our current top down system of governance, media and work hinder this. And this is by design.


    • Ramesh July 8, 2016 at 5:36 am | #

      BTW the entire surveillance state that has been built in the past 30 to 40 years is geared to snuff this out. Not for external threats but internal threats to 0.001%.

  8. Frank Shannon July 8, 2016 at 4:04 am | #

    I don’t know if I disagree with anything else you said, but I disagree with this; “this post is in no way a call or endorsement or celebration of violence.” Not only will many people see this post that way, but I think they kinda have a point. You are saying people have a legitimate right to use violence against agents of the state. Or maybe I didn’t understand what you are saying at all. It is late.

  9. Thomas L. Dumm July 8, 2016 at 7:03 am | #

    What is the “it” that has begun here, Corey? I don’t see a beginning here: I see this as the latest iteration in the long history of the struggle to expunge the original sin of chattel slavery, against the wishes and will of a white majority that now, as it begins to become minority, sees an intensification of oppression as a viable option. Perhaps it is that shifting from majority to minority that is the new element in this tragic tale. I await the responses of the two major presidential candidates. Easy enough to predict: anodyne cliches from Clinton and more hate from Trump.

    • William M Brown July 8, 2016 at 4:27 pm | #

      You raise a very pointed question. And it has only one answer: The sources of the total institutional failure we are now seeing lie with failures present at the founding of those institutions.

    • Terry July 10, 2016 at 4:14 pm | #

      “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” Ta-Nehisi Coates from “The Case for Reparations,” June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. Would that the abolition of slavery was the end. Please educate yourself, or simply stop the willful blindness.

  10. Will G-R July 8, 2016 at 7:07 am | #

    To me the most crucial aspect of this situation (especially in light of the Dallas police shootings) is the question raised here, which in so many words is the difference between reactionary armed vigilantism in defense of the state and revolutionary (or at least potentially revolutionary) armed vigilantism in opposition to it. Disregarding the whole campy pseudo-revolutionary “don’t tread on me” thing, white NRA reactionaries are ultimately allies of ruling-class power (as evidenced by their trust in the military and police) and they’re also clearly the people whose gun ownership the 2nd Amendment was intended to protect in the first place: those who in the event of an actual revolution would drop their bickering and coalesce into “a well-regulated militia” to defend “the security of a free state”. Should the military and police fail to stop a revolution, the George Zimmermanns and Dylann Roofs and Anders Breiviks of the world would be called upon to pick up their guns and start killing commies, just like the German freikorps (perhaps the most perfect archetype of a 2nd-Amendment-style militia since the 2nd Amendment itself) almost a century ago. When class is as racialized as it is in the US, members of the disfavored racial group are entirely excluded from membership in this well-regulated militia/freikorps, so their gun ownership makes them either criminals or terrorists practically by definition.

    In other words, it would seem absurd to attach the ominous, universally understood sense of foreboding embodied in the title “It Has Begun” to an event like the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, or even the Oklahoma City bombing. Not only that, but it would probably seem no less absurd even to the people carrying out those actions to begin with, which after all is why they’re called “reactionaries”.

  11. John Maher July 8, 2016 at 9:45 am | #

    I see the comments here as enabling.

    I have long said and wrote the same thing in the context of animals.

    After a police shooting in the MIdwest and an acquittal a year or so ago, the individual names do not matter because the shootings repeat with names and hashtags changed, a mainstream lefty friend asked me what the legal implication means. I told her that my reading of the COurt’s decision was a coded message tarted up in the jargon of 42 USC Sec. 1983 that blacks have only a qualified right to bodily integrity and life. The implications is if you are black you might as well carry a gun and shoot first at the police because you are a non-legal person or a sort of subperson in the eyes of the law (avoid Carl Schmitt’s theories of extralegality here). That was my point, you are ‘outside the law’ literally and metaphorically so have nothing to lose.

    • John K. Wilson July 8, 2016 at 10:00 am | #

      I regard your comments as enabling the murder of police, and the murder of black people. Your advice is dangerous, evil, and insane. When you say, “if you are black you might as well carry a gun and shoot first at the police,” what would be the result of that? First, there would be more murders of police. Then, trigger-happy police would be much more likely to murder innocent black people out of this fear you’ve inspired. The idea that black people are always treated “outside the law” and have “nothing to lose” by murdering cops is absolutely inaccurate and morally repulsive.

      • John Maher July 8, 2016 at 5:17 pm | #

        No doubt you do. I ask you to step outside that box.

        “I regard your comments as enabling the murder of police”

        That is what the Court;s rulings are doing. Enabling killing of cops by telling blacks they have nothing to lose.

        “and the murder of black people”

        Clearly the opposite. If blacks can read the Court rulings a s shoot first invitation then that acts to preserve life.

        “The idea that black people are always treated “outside the law” and have “nothing to lose” by murdering cops is absolutely inaccurate and morally repulsive.”

        The problem here is what you write is not my ideas that you should find repulsive but the effect of Court rulings and grand juries who refuse to convict or indict cops who terrorize blacks.

  12. troy grant July 8, 2016 at 10:22 am | #

    Jake Johnson’s article on Common Dreams a few days ago explained that it is not racism, but wealth inequality that is causing this blowback. Elites want people to think racial problems are the cause, not the growing wealth gap, something seldom if ever mentioned except by their nemesis, Bernie Sanders, whom they effectively helped to take down.

  13. Edward July 8, 2016 at 10:25 am | #

    Actually, there is a precedent for that Dallas murders; there was a black LA police officer who went on a murder spree against his colleagues a few years ago.

    The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was formed in response to police violence, as recounted in Bobby Seale’s memoir.

  14. Roquentin July 8, 2016 at 10:35 am | #

    Not surprisingly, I’m less concerned with liberalism and view it more through Weberian and Althusserian ideas about the state. The state is the group which has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, and the police are the domestic institution (the military being the institution of violence against foreign nations) tasked with wielding that monopolistic violence. That is the core function of the police force: to use violence against those the people controlling the apparatus of the state deem necessary.

    This is a long way of saying I object to the use of the term “extra-judicial killings” because it argues that this isn’t the precise thing the police for was designed to do. It’s like saying “Someone used shovel to dig a hole. That’s not what shovels are for.” Hammer pound nails, scissors cut paper, and the police use violence on citizens. It’s what they are there for. If you are going to have an organization such as the state, a group which wields legal, institutional violence on its behalf necessarily follows from it.

    Since certain ethnic groups have more control over the apparatus of the state and the power which accompanies it, this violence is applied unevenly to a similar degree. At a certain point, the dominant groups hold on the apparatus of state power can become so tenuous and their application of state violence so self-serving, that their control collapses and a revolution occurs.

    Also, on a side note, guns are behind all of this. Guns, guns, guns, and more guns. The US and its damn firearms. Trigger happy cops. Concealed carry mixed with overt racism. Assault rifles in Dallas. Wild west cowboy bullshit. The US in a nutshell.

    • bitman July 8, 2016 at 1:40 pm | #

      The state is the group which has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, and the police are the domestic institution (the military being the institution of violence against foreign nations) tasked with wielding that monopolistic violence. That is the core function of the police force: to use violence against those the people controlling the apparatus of the state deem necessary.

      This is a long way of saying I object to the use of the term “extra-judicial killings” because it argues that this isn’t the precise thing the police for was designed to do.

      The problem with this reply is not that it is wrong, it’s that you’re failing to make an important distinction. There is no possible sense in which it can be said that the death of non-political black civilians after routine traffic stops is “necessary,” even for advancing the state’s broader agenda of minority suppression and social control. “Necessity” might require (in the minds of our sick governing elite) using law enforcement to kill/infiltrate/immiserate black activists Fred Hampton-style, but BLM has formed in response to the new social media-driven visibilizing of the always-present and brutal surplus of violence that destroys the lives of blacks who pose no threat to the system of power. “Surplus” meaning: violence that serves no viable political purpose and which arguably hampers the larger project of domination.

      • Roquentin July 8, 2016 at 2:13 pm | #

        I want to clarify one thing, I said “state deem necessary” (I’ll even include the typo when it should have been “deems”). I don’t deem them necessary, nor do many others.

        However, I disagree with your larger point. The mere fact that many of the cops who do these shooting face no legal repercussions, many don’t even lose their jobs, indicates that our current political system absolutely does consider these killings necessary. It’s morbid to think about and obscenely racist, but these killings serve the purpose of making sure black and brown people “know their place.” They have to live with the knowledge that they can be killed over nothing or next to nothing at any time, and that fear is a powerful political tool. It’s “necessary” from a different angle. If anything, calling these killings “extra-judicial” gives them too much credit and somehow delegitimizes killing which had already been legitimized by both our legal system and the police as an institution.

        One of the biggest ideological distortions of liberalism is somehow passing off the idea that in a democracy the state only possesses “soft power” which somehow makes it distinct from more authoritarian societies. Democracy merely submits the same apparatus to popular control, nothing more and nothing less.

        • bitman July 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm | #

          I strongly concur with your impulse here, Roquentin, particularly when liberal discourse is happy to categorize the all-too-normal brutalizing of blacks as aberrant. It’s utter bullshit, that claim. And I don’t at all hold to the “soft power” thesis you noted. Fact is, though it’s entirely avoided in polite circles of discourse, the US is basically a military dictatorship. There’s not a single politician or interest group in the political mainstream that opposes, or dares to oppose, the monstrous size of the military (dating back way before 9/11) nor its metastasis across the globe. It’s rule by force, including within the US.

          My quarrel is with the contention that overt murder of an already docile population by police officers is necessary in cases where there is no real resistance happening. This does not encourage people to know their place. It encourages them (quite properly) to wonder what the fuck they could ever do to avoid becoming a statistic. It makes them wonder what on earth they can do, if they’re ALREADY BEING DOCILE, to protect themselves and their children. The murder of innocent, law abiding, non-threatening black adults will be the impetus for the destruction of the present system. Policing would better serve power by toning down the overt violence and continuing in the New Jim Crow vein, but its so soaked in blood, become so militarized, and so addicted to impunity that it just cannot.

          • Roquentin July 8, 2016 at 2:47 pm | #

            I see your point that the killings are counter-productive and that stability would be betters serve by a less violent police force, but the portion of the population who encourages such violence on the part of police wants things that are so selfish they are undermining their own interests. To put it another way, they want something from the state that serves short term interests over long term interests. They never say it this way, but a significant portion of the white citizens in the US like the fact that either they personally (stand your ground laws) or the police working on their behalf can kill blacks and Latinos based on the slightest provocation.

            It’s sort of like the guy who shot the kids over “loud music” in Florida. Thankfully, he went to jail, but that’s the kind of power a lot of them want, the way they want to feel. Those who are ethnically other make them uncomfortable and scared, and they take solace in the fantasy they could legally kill them if they were threatened past a certain point. This is one of the few things the political right is offering people. It’s nasty, sure, but it holds a distinct psychological appeal.

          • tony July 8, 2016 at 6:34 pm | #

            Randomly murdering the docile is effective because it makes sure they can never feel safe and must always demonstrate their submission. It gives the aggressor sadistic pleasure or an outlet for bent up anger, and causes the aggressor to invent justifications for the aggression. It also causes the victims a feeling of helplessness, and puts them in a double bind. That prevents effective self-protection. If the victim lashes out it can be used as justification for more violence, if the victim is emotional they can be dismissed and ridiculed, if the victim is calm their argument can be ignored.

      • Roquentin July 8, 2016 at 2:19 pm | #

        Also, the mere fact that these cops aren’t charged with manslaughter or murder and makes calling these killings “extra-judicial” incorrect. They do all of this with the full implicit support of the legal system and they know it. This is a cynical hand-washing gesture by judges and lawyers who want to absolve themselves of involvement with our system.

  15. jonnybutter July 8, 2016 at 11:46 am | #

    on a side note, guns are behind all of this. Guns, guns, guns, and more guns. The US and its damn firearms. Trigger happy cops. Concealed carry mixed with overt racism. Assault rifles in Dallas. Wild west cowboy bullshit.

    Agree with you Roquentin. It is absurd. It is not *tempting* fate – it’s taunting it. We are floating in an ocean of guns in this country. And they ain’t muskets. It’s absurdly too quick-n-easy to kill a person with modern guns, and there are 300+ million of them.

    Someone on twitter said, bitterly, that only when cops start getting shot, like last night in D, we will get some action on gun control. I fully understand the bitterness, but that is still as good a reason as any, AFAIC. I don’t want to live in a place where any nut/fill-in-the-blank might have an assault rifle or glok. Pretty sure most urban police unions were already for gun control, but maybe this will finally make things move. Guns in the US are a problem from hell though.

    • Will G-R July 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm | #

      johnnybutter: Given that our modern gun restrictions in the US largely originated in efforts by conservative legislators to crack down on the Black Panthers, you may well be right about what it’d take to motivate a new wave of gun control. The problem is that the on some level the US capitalist class would probably prefer to let white reactionaries have all the guns they want, so they can form up in defense of the system if need be à la Spartacist uprising, even while criminalizing guns for those who might be potential revolutionaries. Sure you can criminalize black communities en masse and make it illegal for ex-convicts to own guns, but as we’ve seen this obviously comes with problems of its own.

      Methinks this is why Republicans will eventually come around on something resembling the “no fly, no buy” bill. Selectively define disfavored vigilante groups as “terrorists” based on whatever extralegal standard you want (which is basically what we’ve already institutionalized *coughmujahideencough*) and just like that you have a wonderful way to make sure the Klan can legally get guns but the Panthers can’t. Gee, seeing John Lewis’ name connected with that sit-in is starting to look pretty ironic…

  16. jonnybutter July 8, 2016 at 2:49 pm | #

    “the US capitalist class would probably prefer to let white reactionaries have all the guns they want…., ”

    Yes, I know all this, but the fact is, no one, white or black, is going to succeed in doing a violent uprising against the US or a local government. It is a fantasy, whether it’s black ppl or white militia-types indulging in it. And guns – esp. modern pistols and assault rifles – are simply a problem in themselves. There is no good reason they can’t be regulated and kept track of like explosives are now. Or some other solution. I don’t know how you decrease the number of guns already out there – buybacks are expensive when there are 300+ million! But the status quo is insane.

    • Will G-R July 8, 2016 at 4:05 pm | #

      No no no, I’m not saying the white reactionaries want to rise up in revolution against the US government, I’m saying exactly the opposite, that they want to rise up in defense of the US government from the real revolutionaries. (This is why we call them “reactionaries”, because it’s a reaction to the threat of revolution.) They don’t imagine a scenario where they have to fight their own revolution against the US armed forces, since after all they perceive the US armed forces as being made up of people just like them; they imagine a scenario in which the US armed forces have been rendered impotent by treasonous fifth columnists in the civilian government, and in which their militias are the last line of defense protecting the nation from the various scary foreigners trying to destroy it.

      With all due respect to Mr. Godwin, the Nazi analogy is actually quite robust in this case, the ideology here harmonizing quite well with the fascist ideology that Germany only lost WWI because the army was “stabbed in the back” by German politicians who were either foreign infiltrators (i.e. Jews) or else sapped of their national vitality by association with said infiltrators. As I hinted above, if any real-world historical scenario resembles the present-day right-wing militia movement’s ultimate fantasy scenario, it’s the role of the German ex-Army paramilitaries known as the Freikorps in stamping out German leftist insurrections in the early post-WWI period, when the early Weimar government was at its weakest and the threat of communist revolution in the West was at its most imminent. The fact that Freikorps veterans from this period formed the core of the rising Nazi Party, and that the organizational structure of the Freikorps directly preceded that of the SA and SS, is ominously instructive as to where these sorts of fantasies ultimately lead.

      • bacchus422012 July 10, 2016 at 8:02 am | #

        Excellent historical information. Our Freicorps are groups like the Oathkeepers.

  17. jonnybutter July 8, 2016 at 6:33 pm | #

    I’m not saying the white reactionaries want to rise up in revolution against the US government, I’m saying exactly the opposite, that they want to rise up in defense of the US government from the real revolutionaries.

    I guess we’re generalizing about slightly different people. ; ) The RW gun nut paranoid libertarianism I was talking about very definitely is extremely anti-government, certainly including the US military. The explicit reason they need their guns/ammo/etc, we’re told over and over, is to resist, and maybe overthrow, the Federal gov. There might be cultural affinities with the military, and there is a long racist heritage in the American tradition, too. But it’s these people who are at, so to speak, the rhetorical front lines of gun laws. My comment was about guns themselves, the politics of getting at least minimal regulation on them.

    I think who you’re talking about is more the Trump and/or brand-fascist types – in your scenario, the few military, civilians, and probably some police, who are also members of biker gangs, ‘nationalist’ clubs, etc. While these people are def more recognizably fascist/nazi, they aren’t the Freikorps. I mean, maybe *they* think they are, and if that’s what you’re saying, fine. But these people are not on any rhetorical front line. The right libertarians, paranoid though they are, are at least talking in terms of defending an important American value – freedom; I don’t see our petite Freikorp gaining a rhetorical foothold. Not saying we can’t have fascism here, but I think it’s literalistic to think it has to look like Germany 1930, has to have the black boots, iron cross tattoos, etc.

    Our fascism needs to be in the name of a value like ‘freedom’. There’s a ton of evidence, including from Corey and his cohort, that supposedly freedom-loving Right libertarianism very often boils down to something more simple: authoritarianism. Why are most LP libertarians who also fetish guns and gun rights so jealous of the 2nd Amendment, but so oddly blase about brazen violations against other amendments in the BOR? I have asked many LP members that very question, and the answer is usually a variation of ‘Oh man, it’s too late for all that”. They actually facilitate government intrusion. Because they’re really authoritarians. We know what they really mean by ‘freedom’…

    When the NSA et. al. wipe their ass with the 4th Amendment, they do it in the name of freedom, too (eg ‘They hate us for our freedom’).

  18. Raven on the Hill July 8, 2016 at 6:52 pm | #

    It appears there has been another shooting of police, in Tennessee.

    The one that scares me is the Republican National Convention in Cleveland two weeks from now. The neo-nazis have promised to show up, and #antifa (violent anti-fascists) are recruiting on Twitter.

    Two days ago I wrote a Brexit post entitled “Are we within the peace?”

    The world is spinning like an unbalanced wheel and faster and faster. I think I’m going to find a corner, tuck my head under my wing, and make soft chirping sounds.

  19. Tim Morris July 8, 2016 at 7:45 pm | #

    When i saw what happened to the 2nd guy i knew what happened in Dallas was coming, i didnt’ think it’d be so quickly and in the way it did but it was happening In Baltimore and other places to police officer.
    Like you said, we as black people feel like we get no justice so there will be a time when we feel we should take it into our own hands.

    I was recently presented a story where someone asked “where’s the outrage for this young white kid who was unarmed and killed by police” the story was from august 2015 so i did my research, you know how that ended? The family was awarded several million in a civil case and laws were changed, how many times has that happened to a black family whose family member was killed? I’ve seen many one and it was nowhere near how much that family received.

    The problem, I feel, isn’t so much that justice isn’t done, it’s the fact that our death and our grieving is brushed to the side as if unimportant, and every time one of my people are killed, what’s the first thing brought up? A mugshot, his criminal record, why was he there? What was he doing before? It’s always “well, he was probably doing a crime and deserved it.” No one, NO ONE deserves to die that way, why is it the police are always so fearful of the black man that they feel like they have to go for the kill shot huh? Why when a blackman says “hey just to let you know i have a PERMIT for a gun and it’s on me but i am going into my wallet, which is here on my right side’ and he gets shot huh? Why did that cop fear for his life? I’ve seen white men and younger white males brandishing a weapon and running a cops and just get tased or reasoned with, heck they might not even take out their gun! We are no more powerful than any race on this planet, why are we so feared huh?

    • s. wallerstein July 9, 2016 at 9:25 pm | #

      I’d say that you’re feared because you’re oppressed. Any group that oppresses another group fears that oppressed group since they believe that the people whom they are oppressing hate them because they are oppressing them and will seek vengeance for all the injustice that they have suffered when they have the chance. It’s the same reason that Israelis fear Palestinians or that any tyrant fears their subjects.

      We need to build horizontal relations between people, relations without domination. The problem is that groups which oppress others generally value their power over others more than they value creating decent human relations without domination and as a result, do not give up their tyrannical power without a struggle.

  20. Micki July 8, 2016 at 8:22 pm | #

    Thanks so much for writing this, Corey. I have been so gutted by the last week that I have been at a loss for words. Your analysis is bracing, but feels spot on.

  21. John Maher July 8, 2016 at 8:46 pm | #

    “this post is in no way a call or endorsement or celebration of violence.”

    Then where is the line for taking up arms? What would it take to get Corey or any of us into the streets to fight back? What is the police started killing middle class? other minoriteis? College professors?

    • Raven Onthill July 8, 2016 at 9:52 pm | #

      Can you see any way in which African-Americans taking up arms is likely to end well? If hope is not a plan, still less is anger. It is satisfying to strike back, but striking back is not likely of success.

      • John Maher July 9, 2016 at 9:52 am | #

        Yes and Black Lives Matter has already started this by using means such as bridge shut downs which are an act of temporal and aesthetic violence — the interference with capital and its agency. What is the Dallas gunman had not killed replaceable policemen but had looked for choke points in the capital used by structures of power? There are many, product tampering, blowing up dams, disabling electrical grids, etc. Like Corey I am not suggesting anyone undertake this form of violence as a means of political change. Unlike Corey I say it is part of human nature to be violent and seems to be a sort of species teleological right. I personally would prefer whatever means involve the lesser environmental impact, but I argue that the the use of his kind of violence, which is not non-violence however Ghandi and Dr. King continue to be misunderstood, would be more effective than shooting random police. The police certainly represent the patriarchal structure of oppression but one may not say with certainty that the individual policemen shot in Dallas deserved to be shot. Attacking capital avoids to the greater degree this problem.

        • Rolf Wiegand July 9, 2016 at 3:22 pm | #

          BLM most definitely has NOT “started this”.
          “This” started 400 years ago when the first White man in America killed a Person of Color (Black, Indian, Hispanic, Oriental, whatever) without cause and Without Punishment.
          Americans’ addiction to violence has taken from us the ability to understand the message “STOP THIS!” delivered by any other medium.
          Why are we called to be “outraged” at the murder of five police officers, but merely “angry” at yet another spate or murders by police of innocent Blacks? Both are horrors. But is the gunning down of three Black men — by agents of civil authority, no less — somehow less of an outrage, less horrible?
          We are watching the first scenes of a Greek tragedy about the consequence of unbridled hubris; the first scene in Act N-1 of that American tragedy “The Fruits of Whiteness’ Unjust, Unrepented Violence”.
          Nor are people of Color the only people with “skin in the game”. When Justice fails, All become prey.
          Guns make it so easy, so quick, so mindless.
          May this cup be taken from our lips that we are not forced to partake.
          But — even moreso — may true Justice be found and served.

          • John Maher July 12, 2016 at 10:18 pm | #

            You misunderstand/misquote me:

            “BLM has already started [to do] this” I was not referring to temporal significance in terms of first in time but in terms of BLM’s inception

          • Rolf Wiegand July 12, 2016 at 11:26 pm | #

            I sincerely apologize for misunderstanding the meaning of your words.
            A friend recently pointed out that electronic texting seems to be particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding; and its inherent rapid-response capability often generates an avalanche of angry replies when the issue was simply that someone did not understand what another person meant.

  22. Rolf Wiegand July 9, 2016 at 12:21 am | #

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,
    “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (Emphasis added)
    And maybe not all those standing ready to oppose further police lynchings have dusky skin.

    • Bill Michtom July 10, 2016 at 12:29 am | #

      The list of grievances ends with this:

      “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

      The domestic insurrections are slave uprisings. I need not explain the rest, but together they are the original sins of our country that continue to corrupt democracy.

      • Rolf Wiegand July 10, 2016 at 12:55 am | #

        I spoke elsewhere to the tragedy of Americans’ deep-seated addiction to violence, which you vouchsafe as “the original sins of our country.” And, yes, they are.
        Your excision of the “right to revolution” clause in my Declaration of Independence citation obviated its purpose. Those shots in Dallas (the recent ones) might be — just might be — an encore to “the shots heard ’round the world”.

  23. Ramesh July 9, 2016 at 11:59 am | #

    I am afraid after this ALL African American veterans with arms expertise will be under intense surveillance. This will lead to side effects as we see with Moslem people surveillance.

  24. monicka July 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm | #

    it might be time to read Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide to get a better handle on how the police/military oppress the lumpen.

  25. David July 9, 2016 at 10:46 pm | #

    This is a complicated issue. However, as a result of having been on this planet for a long time, I am convinced that over the years there has been a marked deterioration in the character of those men (I am excluding women) who join police forces and the military. More and more of them are “gun happy” and very eager to strut about in uniforms subjugating the general population, especially minority groups.

    • Zach Braff July 11, 2016 at 3:16 pm | #

      I’ve wondered for a long time whether we could push for instituting higher police salaries as part of policing reform.

      I know two people who went into policing — one could barely get full-time work, had student (2-year criminal justice) loans, a young family, and had to work a lot of the time as a prison guard to make ends meet. In the prisons, he picked up some gleeful stories of inflicting violence on prisoners. He’s a member of my family, and hearing him tell those stories made me basically hate him, except I also saw the desperate situation he lived with.

      Second person I know is young, a woman. She’s very nice, not someone anyone had expected would become a police officer, maybe seemed to “girly” or “frivolous.” She almost immediately landed in the local paper for some heroic feat of policing she had done. Meanwhile, the state did not provide her with equipment – like body armor – that she needed. She didn’t make enough money to buy them herself either, so she setup a gofundme for friends and family to help.

      Police are wrong to feel under siege from protesters or minorities, but they are part of our burgeoning precariat class. Paying them well would probably help ease some of that psychic tension. (Why should they be valued less by society than a UX analyst or marketing middle manager?) It might attract a “better class of people” to the job, too, if the opportunity to wield power isn’t its strongest incentive.

    • Zach Braff July 11, 2016 at 3:17 pm | #

      Just typing the word “incentive” is enough to make me puke, but still

  26. Chris July 10, 2016 at 2:44 pm | #

    You say murder, but that hasn’t been proved.

    • Bill Michtom July 13, 2016 at 12:26 am | #

      OTOH, Chris, the cops (and some so-called journalists) say “officer-involved-shooting,” as though the cop happened to trip, fall and shoot someone.

  27. Frank Shannon July 10, 2016 at 2:53 pm | #

    Is there a reason my comment is stuck waiting for moderation?

    • Corey Robin July 11, 2016 at 9:37 am | #

      It’s out.

  28. mark July 11, 2016 at 10:34 am | #

    Michael Mann ‘The Sources of Social Power, Volume 4: Globalizations’ (p40) says that in the Eugene Jarecki film ‘Why We Fight’ Eisenhower’s children told Jarecki that the penultimate draft of Eisenhower’s speech referred to the “military-industrial-congressional complex” but that “congressional” was deleted by Eisenhower on the advice of his political advisers.

  29. Dan Knauss July 11, 2016 at 10:41 am | #

    Here’s the most prominent theocratic popularizer of Dominionism today — and a Ted Cruz SuperPAC director — expounding on the biblical significance of Locke’s “appeal to heaven” in the American Revolution:

    I doubt such people ever think the concept should be applied universally to aggrieved minority groups.

  30. Lorenzo from Oz July 11, 2016 at 7:37 pm | #

    A better question is “why now?” since the propensity for police to kill African-Americans has declined considerably since the late 1960s.

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