Tag Archives: Violence

A history of Israel/Palestine in three minutes

Nina Paley, creator of the sublime Sita Sings the Blues, offers a primer on the history of conflict in the Middle East:

A guide to the various quarreling entities here.

“This Land is Mine” is the first completed segment of Paley’s “potential-possible-maybe” feature-length film Seder-Masochism (whose first phase has been successfully funded via Kickstarter). I can’t wait for the rest.

(via The Dish)

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The face of the enemy?

As the Republican presidential candidates beat the drums for war against Iran, a reader at Andrew Sullivan’s blog sends in a video reminding us — as we regrettably seem to need reminding — that the country that supposedly poses an existential threat to Israel and the West is actually full of decent human beings. Like this thirteen-year-old Iranian girl, who sings Adele and who is, quite literally, someone like you.

Before we consider turning people into collateral damage, we should think hard. Then think it over. Then think again. Then choose peace.

There will be no humans elsewhere. Only here. Only on this small planet. We are a rare as well as an endangered species. Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.

Carl Sagan

(via The Dish)

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A symptom of a deeper rot

A must-read: Bob Ostertag of UC Davis delivers a scathing condemnation of the militarization of the police, and demolishes the justifications for it:

Throughout my life I have seen, and sometimes participated in, peaceful civil disobedience in which sitting and linking arms was understood by citizens as a posture that indicates, in the clearest possible way available, protestors’ intent to be non-violent. If example, if you look through training materials from groups like the Quakers, the various pacifist organization and centers, and Christian organizations, it is universally taught that sitting and linking arms is the best way to de-escalate any confrontation between police and people exercising their first amendment right to public speech. 

Likewise, for over 30 years I have seen police universally understand this gesture. Many many times I have seen police treat protestors who sat and linked arms when told they must disperse or face arrest as a very routine matter: the police then approach the protestors individually and ask them if, upon arrest, they are going to walk of their own accord or not the police will have to carry them. In fact, this has become so routine that I have often wondered if this form of protest had become so scripted as to have lost most of its meaning.

No more.

What we have seen in the last two weeks around the country, and now at Davis, is a radical departure from the way police have handled protest in this country for half a century. Two days ago an 84-year-old woman was sprayed with a chemical assault agent in Seattle in the same manner our students at Davis were maced. A Hispanic New York City Councilman was brutally thrown to the ground, arrested, and held cuffed in a police van for two hours for no reason at all, and was never even told why he was arrested. And I am sure you all know about former Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull after police hit him with a tear gas canister, then rolled a flash bomb into the group of citizens trying to give him emergency medical care. […]

These issues go to the core of what democracy means. We have a major economic crisis in this country that was brought on by the greedy and irresponsible behavior of big banks. No banker has been arrested, and certainly none have been pepper sprayed. Arrests and chemical assault is for those trying to defend their homes, their jobs, and their schools.

These are not trivial matters. This is a moment to stand up and be counted.

I urge you to read the rest here. My personal reaction to the police brutality at UC Davis and elsewhere here.

It’s not just about police militarization, of course. The images are distressing, but they’re just symptoms of the much deeper rot: the social, economic, and political imbalance in America today, and the lengths to which the powerful will go to preserve the status quo. Robert Reich lays it out:

More from Reich here.

Time to stand up and be counted.

(h/t Boing Boing; photo by Stephen Lam)

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“Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable.”

And now the police are attacking nonviolent students and faculty at the City University of New York:

A birds-eye view with more context:

Cathy Davidson of Duke University calls on college presidents to exercise moral leadership:

What will we do next? We are at a turning point, a Gettysburg Address moment, where moral leadership is required, where moral authority and moral force need to be eloquently articulated before this historical moment devolves into violence and polarization. […]

We need prominent, articulate leadership that concedes that students putting their bodies literally on the line are also raising profound issues about the future of education, which is to say the future of our nation. We don’t just need better “procedures” or “task forces.” We need Lincolnesque moral fervor that honors the courage of young students who have put themselves in peril, to date with remarkable self-control and self-organization. And with the awareness that the education they support is rapidly becoming something only the elite — 1 percent — will be able to afford.

Our students are not wrong in the content of their protests on behalf of education. Calling the police does not solve their problems; as we have seen too often, it can foster violence — with an ever-more-imminent potential for tragedy.

Please, dear college presidents, stop sending for the police. Our students face a difficult future. This should not be a time to beat them up, to spray them with mace or pepper juice, to kick and hit them. On the contrary, in the brochures and in the Web sites advertising our campuses, we promise that we will inspire students to “change the world.” Isn’t that what these students are trying to do?

And if we are to call for moral leadership on this issue, surely that’s a responsibility that President Obama must meet as well. As FlickFilosopher has pointed out, he has spoken eloquently enough on the need to respect free speech and human rights in other parts of the world:

“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” — Barack Obama

But on the matter of the suppression of these rights on American soil he has so far been frustratingly silent. An Occupy protester in New Hampshire has handed him a note, taking him to task:

Mr. President: Over 4000 peaceful protesters have been arrested. While bankers continue to destroy the American economy. You must stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.

Yes. Are our rights not worthy of the same spirited defense as those of the people of Egypt or Libya or Syria, struggling bravely for their own freedom? Must lives be lost here, before our leaders can bring themselves to speak?

Shame on those who violate the Constitutional rights of free and peaceful citizens. And shame on those who keep silent about it.

(via The People’s Library)

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An open letter to the American soldier

If police brutality fails to put down the Occupy movement, can the mobilization of the US military be far behind? Army veteran Mitch Green makes an appeal to his fellow servicepeople:

The following letter reflects my view on the subject of civil disobedience…I offer my opinion as an Army veteran, student of the economy, and critic of an ongoing effort to wage economic war on the vast majority the population. If these words move you, I urge you to consider honestly the consequences if you decide to act.

As the Occupy movement continues to grow in defiance of the heavy-handed police action determined to squelch it, a natural question emerges: What point will the military be summoned to contain the cascade of popular dissent? And if our nation’s finest are brought into this struggle to stand between the vested authority of the state and the ranks of those who petition them for a redress of grievance, what may we expect the outcome to be? […]

I call upon my brothers and sisters in the armed forces to ink their pens and help us write these next few, and most important pages in the history of our social life. Soon, it is quite likely that you will be mobilized to aid the police in their effort to contain or disperse what their bosses see as an imminent threat to the sanctity of their authority. As that day draws near, I remind you of these familiar words:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Those that take this oath seriously are faced with a terrible conflict. You must battle internally between the affirmation that you will place your body between the social contract embedded in the Constitution and those that seek its destruction, while maintaining your loyalty to the government you serve and the orders issued by its officers. Sadly, society has placed a twin tax upon you by asking that you sacrifice both your body and your morality. This tax has been levied solely upon you overseas, and soon they’ll come to collect domestically. Your government in its expression of corporate interests relies upon your tenacity to endure, and your relentless willingness to sacrifice. And so you do.

Now, more than ever we need your sacrifice. But, I’m asking you to soldier in a different way. If called upon to deny the people of their first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievance, disregard the order. Abstain from service. Or if you are so bold, join us. Make no mistake: The consequences for such decisions are severe. You will be prosecuted under the full extent of the law. But sacrifice is your watch word.

If you’re an American soldier, please read the whole thing.

Your fellow citizens are not your enemy.

Thank you for your service.

(via Boing Boing; photo via Fear in Art)

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Fighting for the dream of America

This isn’t supposed to happen here.

Oh, I’m not that naïve; I know it happens here. I understand the long and harrowing history of the brutal power of the State being brought to bear upon its citizens. I know about the water cannons, the dogs, Chicago in 1968, Kent State. I understand that, to many blacks and Hispanics who have long borne the brunt of racial profiling and excessive force, the violence of law enforcement comes as no surprise. I’m aware that, in this country as in all others, power never easily concedes — and when faced with a real threat to the status quo, the forces that protect the social and political elite are ruthless and strong. I suppose it’s only to be expected.

But just because brutality is unsurprising doesn’t mean that it’s any less unjustified, or that it doesn’t deserve our horror, disgust, and undimmed outrage. Dammit, THIS ISN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN HERE.

I’m an American by choice. I grew up in a country where state-sponsored violence was common, where corruption was endemic, where journalists and politicians were locked up or exiled for speaking truth to power, where a dictator faced with mass unrest didn’t hesitate to send out tanks to sweep the crowds of protesters off the streets. I came to the United States expecting a different deal; I knew that crime and corruption exist here too, but I was (and I continue to be) inspired by the ideals that constantly call on Americans to rise to the challenge of building a better society — one that recognizes the right to free speech; to peaceful assembly; to freedom of religion and of the press; to protection from unreasonable searches and from cruel and unusual punishment; to a guarantee of due process. A society of laws, not of men, and one where, above all, the right to free and nonviolent expression is enshrined as the very heart and essence of a democracy. I fell in love not with the imperfections of the real America — of which I’m very much aware — but with the dream of America, what Bruce Springsteen calls “the country we carry in our hearts.”

Sometimes, though, the reality stands in such stark contrast to the dream that it’s enough to break your heart a thousand times over. And the reports and images out of UC Davis have made it painfully clear to me, as nothing else has, how much that dream is under siege.

It’s not just in Davis, of course. If nothing else, the Occupy encampments around the country have managed to reveal the conflict between protest and status quo in almost unbelievably black-and-white terms: it’s nonviolent protesters versus the thuggish police enforcing the will of the corporate state, over and over and over again. The police forcibly evicted OWS from Zuccotti Park and callously trashed the People’s Library. Clad in stormtrooper gear, they pepper-sprayed peaceful protesters in New York, in Denver, in Portland, in Seattle; wielded batons and unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets in Oakland; pepper-sprayed a pregnant young woman and an 84-year-old lady; fractured the skull of an Iraq War veteran with a tear-gas canister; and the atrocities go on.

Now they’re enforcing media blackouts and arresting reporters. They’re striking unprotected students with billy clubs. And at Berkeley they’re beating up professors and poets. Former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass:

Once the cordon formed, the deputy sheriffs pointed their truncheons toward the crowd. It looked like the oldest of military maneuvers, a phalanx out of the Trojan War, but with billy clubs instead of spears. The students were wearing scarves for the first time that year, their cheeks rosy with the first bite of real cold after the long Californian Indian summer. The billy clubs were about the size of a boy’s Little League baseball bat. My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down. […]

My wife bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines.

NONE of the police officers invited us to disperse or gave any warning. We couldn’t have dispersed if we’d wanted to because the crowd behind us was pushing forward to see what was going on. The descriptor for what I tried to do is “remonstrate.” I screamed at the deputy who had knocked down my wife, “You just knocked down my wife, for Christ’s sake!” A couple of students had pushed forward in the excitement and the deputies grabbed them, pulled them to the ground and cudgeled them, raising the clubs above their heads and swinging. The line surged. I got whacked hard in the ribs twice and once across the forearm. Some of the deputies used their truncheons as bars and seemed to be trying to use minimum force to get people to move. And then, suddenly, they stopped, on some signal, and reformed their line. Apparently a group of deputies had beaten their way to the Occupy tents and taken them down. They stood, again immobile, clubs held across their chests, eyes carefully meeting no one’s eyes, faces impassive. I imagined that their adrenaline was surging as much as mine.

[…] One of my colleagues, also a poet, Geoffrey O’Brien, had a broken rib. Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair when she presented herself for arrest.

If these accounts of violent repression don’t set off an alarm in everyone’s head — an alarm that Naomi Wolf, for one, has been trying to sound for years — then I’m not sure what can.

I’m keenly aware of the bitter irony that these kinds of crackdowns on free speech are precisely what my family wanted to escape when we emigrated to the US. And when I recall that, back in “the old country,” the tanks dispatched to quell the crowd actually stopped in their tracks, and that the soldiers refused to fire on the people; and when, these days, I read in the news that the country’s former president has been placed under arrest for electoral fraud — the nation’s leader actually being held accountable for her crimes, in a way that George Bush and Dick Cheney never were and never will be — I have to wonder, at least a little, if perhaps my family had moved in the wrong direction.

I do see hope. As I wrote in my last post, the UC Davis video shows the ugly side of America on full display — but it also shows the students rising to the moment, refusing to respond with violence, unflinchingly asserting their rights, and stubbornly practicing the peaceful civil disobedience that is just as much a genuine American tradition. (The next night, in another incredibly powerful display, they confronted the chancellor who authorized the police raid — not with outraged chants but with devastating, shaming silence.) In New York, volunteer librarians are rebuilding the People’s Library book by book. In Berkeley, as a response to the ban on camping, the protesters have attached tents to helium balloons and floated them into the sky: as Robert Hass beautifully observes, “occupying the air.” And in cities everywhere, encampments are razed and protesters are evicted — but they keep coming back. They keep coming back. This, too, is America — the dream of America, bruised and bloody, refusing to die.

There’s plenty of talk of what the Occupy movement needs to do now (see here, here, here, and here), and I agree with much of it: Occupy needs to expand, to incorporate other strategies to get the message out, to embrace (eventually) some kind of leadership structure in order to participate in the political system and enact the legislative reforms that will have real impact on society. But even as the movement diversifies, I don’t think it should abandon the goal of occupying real, physical space. For the value of taking up space in the real world — as events at UC Davis and elsewhere demonstrate — is that it shows, more vividly and viscerally than anything else, just what people are up against when they call for a radical rethinking of society, and just how viciously the status quo and its police enforcers will fight back. To abandon the encampments, to retreat into the safety and modern familiarity of online forums, is to be silenced and ignored.

But something is awake, now, something that demands full expression, a cry from the bottom of the American soul.

And I don’t think we’ll be easily silenced this time.

(Photos by Wayne Tilcock and Brian Nguyen)

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And I can’t begin to describe how angry this makes me:

What the cops did to those kids is unspeakably un-American. And what the students did in response is America at its best.

I’ll have more to say about this later, when I’ve stopped trembling and I can think. In the meantime, go read MaryAnn Johanson’s thoughts on the matter, and Xeni Jardin’s post at Boing Boing, which offers lots of relevant links, including to an assistant professor’s impassioned letter calling for the UC Davis chancellor’s resignation. Andrew Sullivan also offers some thoughts and links to a HuffPo article with more details.

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