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Issue #1919      June 15, 2020

US protests

A lesson in violence

The last few weeks have given US citizens an extraordinary practical lesson in what Max Weber called the state’s “monopoly over violence.” Mass protests against police brutality have been met with an obscene increase in police brutality as the state attempts to reassert control over the people and maintain the status quo.

At the time of writing, over 10,000 arrests have been made and several protestors have been killed. Indiscriminate use of “non-lethal” ammunition has resulted in hundreds of injuries, with many people permanently blinded after being shot in the face with rubber bullets. The use of tear gas, which is banned in conventional warfare, has also been heavily criticised, especially as any harm caused to protestors’ respiratory systems will exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19.

Despite the violence – or perhaps because of it – some progress has been made. The Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department and to explore community-based public safety models. Protestors in other states have been pushing for police services to be defunded, while those at the most radical fringe are calling for the abolition of police altogether.

There is, however, a further lesson to be learned from the situation. Despite the immediacy of the ongoing conflict, protestors in the US must also realise that what they are currently experiencing is the same brutality and repression their own nation has always inflicted upon the global south.

The daily violence brought against black Americans (and now their non-black allies) in the imperial core is the same daily terror inflicted upon millions of ordinary people on the imperial periphery. Indeed, we can say that the relative comfort and prosperity enjoyed by Americans comes at the cost of millions of others living in misery, and that this exchange is guaranteed by US military force.

The US maintains more than 800 military bases outside of its own borders, all of which are crucial for continuing the empire’s stranglehold on global politics and economics. Since 2003, over 200,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by US forces as part of the empire’s effort to maintain control of the global oil industry. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, over 2,000 civilians have been killed by illegal US drone strikes, with Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump all sharing responsibility. On more than one occasion, these barbaric drone strikes have deliberately targeted wedding parties and other social gatherings in full knowledge that civilians were at risk of injury or death.

The 2011 US-led military intervention in Libya, orchestrated by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, turned a thriving, cosmopolitan nation into a boneyard. Under the false pretence of humanitarian concerns, the US targeted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi because of his vocal anti-imperialism. Gaddafi’s pan-African vision for economic independence was unacceptable to the US, especially considering Libya’s vast oil reserves.

The murder of Gaddafi, aided by US drone strikes, tipped Libya into a downward spiral of civil war. Now, Libya is the epicentre of the modern African slave trade. Refugees from across the continent attempting to cross the Mediterranean are captured, tortured and sold. This is a humanitarian crisis created by US military violence, once again in the interests of maintaining US control of global markets and politics.

And let us not forget the United States’ outsourcing of violence through proxies. The US is currently providing material and logistical support to Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. The Yemeni population has been utterly devastated by this ruthless conflict. Over 16 million Yemenis are suffering from malnutrition as their entire country is effectively under siege. As many as 100,000 Yemeni children have died of starvation since the conflict began in 2015. Some critics have gone so far as to label the war as an act of genocide. The destabilisation of Yemen bolsters Saudi Arabia’s presence in the region, which ultimately serves US interests.

If progressives in the US are serious about achieving real change, they need to recognise that this change must also extend beyond their own borders. US police brutality at home and US military brutality abroad are two sides of the same coin. Yes, systemic racism and violence against people of colour must stop, in the US and everywhere. But it is not enough for protestors to demand an end to police brutality within the US while ignoring the violence their nation inflicts upon people in other countries, especially when Americans benefit from this violence.

Should the protests succeed in putting a stop to police brutality in the US, this momentum must then be directed towards solving the broader problem of US imperialist violence. Only the abolition of the US as a global military empire will bring true justice for the oppressed peoples of the world, and this change must be led by Americans themselves. Whether those in the US who are striving for change can summon the self-awareness to recognise this need remains to be seen.

Next article – Restraint in South China Sea needed against US inflammatory opinions

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