Contrary to the Hegelian assumption that civilization progresses in a linear mode, the contradictions of capitalism between the promise of prosperity for all, on the one hand, and the reality of perpetual capital concentration, on the other, undermines bourgeois democracy and leads toward a more militaristic-police state. The nexus of structural and behavioral violence has not been lost even on apologists of the status quo who question the degree of the militarized police in America. No one should be surprised with the US adopting police-state solutions with behavioral violence at home, considering it mirrors its military-solution approaches to political problems abroad.
The way a society approaches solutions to foreign policy crises and crime at home reflects its values and commitment to actualizing the social contract not for the privileged elites but for the people. Deviating very far from the liberal bourgeois ideals of the Enlightenment on which the American Republic was founded, militarist policies in the foreign and discriminatory policies in the domestic arena intended at social exclusion and marginalization of the lower classes reflect a country whose elites are prepared to sacrifice the Enlightenment values of the Republic in order to maintain their privileges. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27901-noam-chomsky-talks-us-militarism-and-capitalism-at-home-and-abroad
Jeremy Travis, chair of the Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States wrote in the Preface to a study on the subject: The transformation of U.S. punishment policy during the rise in incarceration reflected not just deep changes in society, but also a change in thinking. The country experienced a tumultuous period of economic and political change, rapidly rising crime rates, and changing race relations. The politics of criminal justice policy became much more punitive. Policy makers enacted laws that were meant to send many more people to prison and keep them there longer. These changes reflect a shift in emphasis among competing values. Public and professional discourses moved from a focus on rehabilitation as the predominant purpose of punishment to just deserts, or retribution, as the primary goal. Stated in colloquial terms, “tough on crime,” “do the crime, do the time,” and “adult time for adult crime” became the public narrative. https://www.nap.edu/read/18613/chapter/1
This brief essay shows that the US approach to the multi-dimensional and complex crime problem is not much different that the failed “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”. Policies of social exclusion and economic marginalization combined with criminalization of minor offenses rather than rehabilitation reflects an authoritarian approach to social problems that does not address the root causes of crime. Just as there has been a sharp rise in drug use since Reagan signed the anti-Drug Abuse Act (1986) and declared the ‘war on drugs’, and a similar rise in global jihadist activity since the “war on terror” it is inevitable that there will be a rise in crime as social exclusion and marginalization increases. The deliberate absence of examining root causes and proposing political solutions to address them rather than focusing on the symptoms is a prescription for failure. All three cases have in common an expedient political use as propaganda by the state and the elites to maintain a culture of fear and conformity. All three have been the result of a political economy that seeks capital accumulation on a world scale that marginalizes the vast majority that it then seeks to repress by military force abroad and police force at home.
The Nexus of Structural and Behavioral Violence
In all societies throughout history there is a direct correlation between the level of violence and the state structure that reflects the social order and value system. If society is geared toward a militaristic/police-state model and celebrates the culture of violence it is hardly surprising that there would be manifestations of social violence and criminal activity, as in modern US history that predates the rightwing Trump administration. Because structural violence imbedded in the state structure gives rise to behavioral violence, invariably the solution has been more punitive measures without addressing structural issues thus exacerbating the cycle.
Until the study on crime and punishment by the Enlightenment thinker Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), the Western World had dogmatically accepted the “Cain and Abel” (good vs. evil) Biblical assumptions to explain criminal behavior. Therefore, punishment as Hellish condemnation for the accused was morally justified from a religious dogmatic perspective; despite its inhumanity and regardless if it addressed the intended goal of crime prevention. Influenced by John Locke’s empirical philosophy on human nature (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689), Beccaria like other Enlightenment thinkers focused on how societal environment shapes human nature and determines human actions, including criminal behavior. Interestingly, both Locke and Beccaria had a profound influence on the American Founding Fathers, although Beccaria strongly opposed the death penalty and torture. http://digitalcommons.hamline.edu/jplp/vol37/iss1/1/
With Western industrialization that ushered the advent of mass politics in the last two centuries, scholars made the connection between behavioral violence and a violent society geared toward militarism and police state methods intended to preserve a socially unjust society regardless of the social contract promising egalitarianism. From Rosa Luxemburg to Nikolai Bukharin and modern existentialists like Albert Camus, the correlation between the state as an agent of injustice and behavioral crime was very real and could not be obfuscated by any justification in the name of law and order, or crypto-Social Darwinist theories thinly veiled in liberal rhetoric. Structural violence leads to behavioral violence in reaction to social injustice. This has always been the case from the slave rebellion of Spartacus’ Third Servile War (73-71 B.C.) in ancient Rome to modern America’s more tamed mass protests such a Black Lives Matter and others since the anti-war Vietnam era. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22498-coming-home-to-roost-american-militarism-war-culture-and-police-brutality; http://www.laborstandard.org/New_Postings/Luxemburg_imperialism.htm
Structural violence is a long-standing policy of the US political elites seeking to engender sociopolitical conformity of the masses by several methods, inculcating fear of the violent enemy within and outside of the country, and mass incarceration of minorities mostly for lesser crimes. The contradiction in such an approach is that the hegemonic culture celebrates violence in everything from the militaristic manner it conducts foreign policy to the way the police deal with unarmed black and Hispanic youth in the inner city, to the mass media glorifying militarism as patriotism, and motion pictures glorifying gun homicides as a sport that enthralls the human spirit. The hegemonic culture that promotes violence on a mass scale with small and large-scale wars abroad turns around and violently crushes behavioral and political violence as an expression of resistance to the status quo. Astonishingly, Republican lawmakers in ten US states went as far as proposing criminalizing political protests. In Indiana legislators proposed the police use any means necessary against demonstrators, and in North Dakota allowing motorist to run over and kill demonstrators in the way of automobiles. In short, the punitive method of dealing toward criminals – behavioral crime – extends to political dissent. http://billmoyers.com/story/gun-culture-and-the-american-nightmare-of-violence; https://theintercept.com/2017/01/23/lawmakers-in-eight-states-have-proposed-laws-criminalizing-peaceful-protest/
Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage the lower classes; minorities much more so than the white majority, as much in the US as in post-apartheid South Africa. Institutional forces of violence such as police, military, and all organs of the state employing such methods enjoying legitimacy have license to subjugate non-conformists outside of the privileged social classes. Social exclusion and marginalization of large segments of the population from mainstream institutions with the goal of perpetuating a hierarchical social structure, and the use of institutional violence to maintain such social order, necessarily leads to the creation of behavioral violence that the state criminalizes. http://www.structuralviolence.org/structural-violence/
Because the US ranks as one of the world’s most violent societies, certainly number one in gun violence among all industrialized nations, it would stand to reason that there would be more resources to scientific research on gun violence and prevention. However, exposing the ugly reality of the convergence between behavioral and structural violence in a neoliberal society where corporate profits and the preservation of the institutional order is the only priority, the US congress since 1996 has blocked funding for such scientific research. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-guns-scientists-idUSBRE90915F20130110; http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-gun-research-funding-20160614-snap-story.html
The US has more gun homicides per capita than any developed nation, and more people killed by guns at home, given that there more guns per capita than any other country. Not just hunters or people with legitimate security reasons are able to purchase guns, but individuals that the FBI has on a terror watch list. If Congress has its way, even the severely mentally ill will be able to purchase guns without any background checks, indicative of the celebration of the Second Amendment (A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.) that transcends all other considerations in society.
Although there is a lot of data on gun violence, scientific research has been thin since 1996 when government cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by passing the Dickey Amendment. The goal was to prevent any scientific study on a topic related to gun violence that would then be used by gun control advocates and liberal politicians to pass more restrictive laws. According to the World Health Organization the gun-related murder rate in the US is 25 times higher than in 22 other high income nations. One could argue that the absence of laws on gun regulation is a testament to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying influence that gun violence research is limited to about a dozen people and most of the funds come from private sources. However, the issue goes beyond the NRA, its political allies and the profits of the gun and ammunition manufacturers. American militarism and the police state model applied to a political and socioeconomic problem is at the heart of the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/
Whether in the battlefield as a soldier, as a police officer in a minority neighborhood or a petty thief holding up a liquor store and killing in the process justify the action either ideologically and/or as a matter of self-preservation. Invoking the Catholic Church’s (Thomas Aquinas) “just war theory”, one could argue that there is no moral equivalence of a soldier following orders to drop bombs that kill thousands, and a gunman killing in the process of a robbery. By the same token, one could argue that the police officer gunning down an unarmed black youth is acting in the name of law and order, similar to the soldier acting in the name of national security. Therefore, both the soldier and the police officer are morally absolved killing en mass in the name of preserving the social order rather than social justice. But does such moral equivalence obfuscate the thin line between behavioral and structural violence, the latter which gives rise to the former because it is the instinct of every species to survive? (David DeCosse, Authority, Lies and War: Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory, Theological Studies, 67, 2007; http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/)
Certainly a segment of American society believes that the structural violence causes behavioral violence. Similarly, they believe that deadly violence by police targeting minorities is a very clear illustration of this argument, regardless of what politicians and judges argue. In December 2015, Harvard University Medical scientists requested US public health agencies to record deaths that the police cause (1058 killed in 2015) as an endemic public health issue. It is not just a segment of American academia that is convinced of structural violence reflects a society immersed in militaristic and police state policies, but most of the world sees the US as a very violent society whose history of warfare and its own lack of social justice reflects these conditions.
In a 2016 Global Attitudes survey, half of those surveyed characterized Americans as greedy, arrogant and violent, with 68% of Australians and 57% of Britons seeing the US as a violent society, percentages greater than we find in Muslim countries. Half of US Democrats polled also see their society as violent, while just 29% of Republicans agree, indicative of a huge gap in the value system, ideology and tolerance for structural and behavioral violence. In other words, the attempts by the corporate media and political elites to accord legitimacy to structural violence and separate it from behavioral violence has limited appeal with people around the world and within US borders; much more so with Republicans. More than two million Britons have signed a petition not to permit President Donald Trump to have a state official visit, many holding a widespread view that government is the source violence owing to racism and xenophobia. http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/harvard-medical-police-killings-public-epidemic/; http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/06/28/americas-international-image/; www.independent.co.uk/news/home-news/britain-racist-violence-bullying-rise-far-right-groups-hail-donald-trump-election/
Selling Guns to the Mentally Ill
One could argue that to murder another human being requires temporary or absence of suppression of empathy either through indoctrination, environmental (existential) conditioning, and the temporary or permanent dysfunction of the brain or a combination of such factors. It can be argued that human beings are predators and enjoy killing as an instinctual predilection of survival like some other predators. However, mass killing of its own species is uniquely human and an integral part of structural violence rather than behavioral. If we are to accept that a segment of the population suffering mental illness could be prone to harm against others or self, does it stand to reason to make firearms available to those people? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/09/human-violence-evolution-animals-nature-science/
Shortly before leaving office, President Obama blocked the Social Security administration from providing disability benefits to individuals with mental disorders from applying to buy guns. Because so often the perpetrator is killed rather than arrested, it is difficult to determine with accuracy the percentage of murders carried out by mentally ill people. It has been estimated that at least one-quarter of gun violence acts, especially mass shootings, are carried out by individuals deemed mentally ill people. Despite the broad recognition about the dangers of having mentally ill people own guns, the House of Representatives on 2 February 2017 voted 235 (all Republican except for 6 Democrats) to 180 Democrats to lift the Obama ban on gun sales to the severely mentally ill. After all, President Trump ran a campaign on a stronger militaristic and police state society, so the Republican-controlled House was in line with the Executive Branch.
Theoretically and for all practical purposes, mentally ill people are not able to have gainful employment but they ought to be able to buy a weapon as far as the majority of the House is concerned. Gun sellers would no longer be required to submit background check information about the buyer to the FBI. On the pretext that the “Obama rule” also applied to some benefits recipients needing assistance managing their benefits, 235 congressmen confirmed that the state as an agent of structural violence withdraws any restrictions that would prevent behavioral violence. Ironically, every time there is a mass murder or random killing, the media and authorities immediately relegate the incident to terrorism unless it is disproved after the investigation, thus using violence to further the political goal of justifying militarism and police state methods because terrorism is ubiquitous. http://www.politicususa.com/2017/02/02/house-republicans-voted-severely-mentally-ill-people-buy-guns.html
Is there scientific evidence that there is a direct correlation between mental illness and gun violence?
It is estimated that 32,514 people die from guns each year, with an average of 17,000 under the age of 19, and another 75,962 injured annually. Yet, congress has allocated ten times more money to CDC to research the common headache than to address the public health danger of gun prevention. Although 5% of those killed by guns fell victims to confirmed mentally ill perpetrators, authorities admit there is a gap of the diagnosed mental ill because so many die along with their victims. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/health-care-policy/article/mental-illness-really-behind-most-gun-violence
Psychiatric studies have concluded that while not all mentally ill people are violent because of their illness, there is a direct correlation between mental illness and violence. Those who were male, poor, and abusing alcohol and drugs were much more likely to engage in violent acts. In1968, the Gun Control Act prevented people with a mental illness history from purchasing firearms. As part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, the law of 1968 was reinforced after a fierce political battle, but was loosely enforced until the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act of 2008. http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ps.41.7.761?journalCode=ps; http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/almost-link-mental-health-gun-violence; https://psmag.com/what-we-actually-know-about-the-connections-between-mental-illness-mass-shootings-and-gun-violence-4d550c45ee90#.k3np08eun
About half of the NRA annual political contributions have gone to congressmen that will advocate for the mentally ill to own guns. As if giving guns to the mentally ill is not sufficiently worrisome, it is estimated that the FBI has between 5000 and 15000 people on such a terrorist list, all eligible to buy a gun. In December 2015, the majority of the Senators voted against Sen. Diane Feinstein’s proposed legislation to block gun sales and explosives to those individuals on the various terrorist data bases of law enforcement Just as US lawmakers have no qualms about restricting firearms sales to terrorist suspects at home, similarly, they have no such qualms about providing massive military sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that in turn support various jihadist groups from Yemen to Syria. http://www.factcheck.org/2016/06/suspected-terrorists-and-guns/; http://www.salon.com/2016/10/11/leaked-hillary-clinton-emails-show-u-s-allies-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-supported-isis/
It defies logic that the same “law and order” Republicans and Democrats argue in favor of defeating terrorism at home and abroad have no problem with suspected terrorists buying arms and explosives. Beyond the gun lobby and the gun and ammunition manufacturers that provide campaign contributions to politicians, at the heart of the problem is American glorification of violence and militarism with a value system that places the rights of the individual to own guns above those of societal harmony and peace, not just with the current Trump administration but historically. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38711-war-culture-militarism-and-racist-violence-under-donald-trump
Despite legal battles at the federal level for stricter gun laws, states circumvented federal procedures allowing mentally ill people the right to purchase firearms. Because of a series of mass shootings during the Bush and Obama presidencies, carried out by mentally ill people (Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora, among others), and because the mentally ill had legally obtained guns, there was popular and political drive to address the problem. The same simplistic arguments always emerge, namely, “people kill not guns, criminals have guns and so must honest citizens to protect themselves, and terrorists and illegal aliens are the culprits for much of the gun violence.” This too is a deliberate effort to pursue mass incarceration and more police state methods rather than address the problem by looking at the political economy that marginalizes and excludes large segments of people. http://csgv.org/issues/guns-and-mental-health/
Gun Violence and Rightwing Ideology
There are an estimated 270-310 million guns in the US, or just about one gun per person, while guns kill 85 people per day, or more than auto accidents. About 5% of the world’s population, the US is estimated to have gun ownership rate of at least 35%. According to a PEW research study: “Roughly three-quarters (74%) of gun owners are men, and 82% are white. Taken together, 61% of adults who own guns are white men. Nationwide, white men make up only 32% of the U.S. adult population. Gun owners and those who do not own guns differ politically. While 37% of all adults identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, that proportion jumps to 51% among gun owners. Among those in households without guns, just 27% identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while a majority (61%) are Democrats or lean Democratic.” http://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/section-3-gun-ownership-trends-and-demographics/#who-owns
Hardly convinced by the need for a class struggle against the tyranny of capitalism, it is evident from the Pew research profile of gun owners that they are ideologically and politically conservative. The American Dream of the rightwing gun owner is to be capitalist, a dream intertwined with the gun culture of xenophobic and racist groups that would have no problem ending the existing liberal bourgeois system and supporting an outright authoritarian regime. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the profile of the average gun owner and the militarist/police-state advocates.
From the KKK to survivalist groups, ‘gun-Fascists’, as some liberal groups call them, have been used by the political and financial elites to break the solidarity of the popular classes and to inculcate fear into them so they submit to police-state institutional structure. As Newsweek noted in an article early in 2016, rightwing gun owners have killed more people in the US than jihadists since 9/11. Authorities have no way of documenting the degree to which survivalists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and other varieties of rightwing ‘gun enthusiasts’ mentally stable. http://www.newsweek.com/2016/02/12/right-wing-extremists-militants-bigger-threat-america-isis-jihadists-422743.html
Apologists of the political economy, insist that America is not a quasi-police state as critics contend, and the lifting of the ban on mentally ill to own a gun proves nothing. After all, officials are elected from within the two-party system and the division and separation of powers proves that there is no concentration of power as would be the case in authoritarian countries. Despite differences in style and procedure as well as catering to different identity politics groups, of which the gun lobby and gun control advocates are a part, both political parties serve the same socioeconomic elites.
As far as the division and separation of powers, judicial decisions from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court reveal that the system is the sentinel of the political economy and social order. Politicians and the courts alike have equated gun ownership with liberty as though it is a civil or human right. Absolving the gun and ammunitions manufacturers, the legislatures, the courts, socioeconomic conditions and unjust policies that give rise to behavioral violence, politicians and the media blame the individual, invariably arguing that it is the jihadist-inspired terrorist, the Mexican immigrant, inner city black youth, and minority drug gangs that are at fault.
Hate-peddling in national and local politics is intertwined with culture. Xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms is an integral part of a society where the dominant culture reinforces divisions. Solutions, interventions, and fixes that take symptom for cause often push the deeper problems into the background like untreated wounds. For the elites and their followers that want to keep things as they are, it is convenient to blame the individual and never the institution for what takes place in society as though the individual lives all alone on Mars.
Does a federal law easing gun control restrictions make any difference against the background of states passing the own laws?
Besides the federal government’s schizophrenic gun policy as part of the root cause of structural violence, the states also play an important role. Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have relatively strict gun-control laws, had an average of only 3.4 and 4.9 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, each year from 2007 to 2010, while Alaska and Louisiana, which have some of the loosest laws, had 17.5 and 18 per 100,000 people, respectively, the study revealed. “More than 20,400 pieces of gun-related legislation have been proposed following mass shooting events in the past 25 years. Of those bills, more than 3,000 have become law, according to a working paper recently released by researchers at the Harvard Business School. If you have a Republican legislature in your state and you have a mass shooting, the net effect if you look at the actual bills that get passed is there’s a significant increase in bills that loosen gun restrictions.” http://www.npr.org/2016/07/12/485726439/mass-shootings-influence-spike-in-gun-related-laws-at-state-level
During the Obama administration there was a rise of police shootings of unarmed black youth. Yet, the African-American-led Justice Department rarely launched an investigation. Instead, it defended the police force and left it to the local courts and municipalities to deal with the issue. The courts rarely convicted police officers, leaving the black community to view structural gun violence so detrimental to all blacks that it gave rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
At the same time of rising legal gun violence, a number of states introduced legislation to modify federal laws regarding firearms, or even make them inapplicable if it pertained to guns and ammunition produced, sold, and used within the state. The NRA and Republicans backed the states’ challenge to Congressional authority to regulate commerce of the states extending to guns. Although the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) contested states’ rights in this domain, it was never easy operating in a political environment of majority Republican state legislatures and governorships..https://www.nraila.org/articles/20170203/when-laws-collide-federal-preemption-and-state-firearm-freedom-acts
The nexus of structural violence as the source of behavioral violence can be seen very clearly by what the federal government has done to foment violence in the inner city. In 1994, President Richard Nixon’s domestic advisor John Ehrlichman admitted that the administration deliberately criminalized small use and drug dealing, mainly targeting the black community and ‘white hippies” amid the anti-Vietnam War movement. It is important to stress that the billions from the drug trade that were laundered through banks and other legal businesses such as real estate in places like southern Florida remained beyond the reach of law, while the small time dealer and user languished in prison. This issue has received little attention by the corporate media because it is so explosive in its political dimensions. http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/
In the 1990s, the CIA was dumping crack-cocaine coming from Latin America and flooding black communities especially in Los Angeles, California. When that case came to the forefront, the corporate media defended the CIA and kept their focus on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/10/gary-webb-dark-alliance_n_5961748.html The violent results in the streets involving guns can be traced to institutional root causes. If it were not for the ubiquitous drug problem, the rate of gun violence would be far less considering that drug homicides averaged 1,100 a year from 2006 until 2011. “The number of people murdered in the drug war inside the United States between 2006 and 2010 exceeds the US-troop death toll in the Iraq War since it was launched in 2003, according to a Narco News analysis of FBI crime statistics. The US drug-war homicide tally also is nearly three times greater than the number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the first shots were fired in that war in 2001.” http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/bill-conroy/2012/03/drug-war-related-homicides-us-average-least-1100-year
The media, the politicians, the judges, and of course most ‘expert analysts’ from corporate-funded think tanks never mention the structural-behavioral nexus because it exposes the entire political economy, institutional structure and social order as the culprits of violence. Focusing on the symptoms and on the individual, the political establishment and business elites demand locking up more people of whom the vast majority are minorities at the end of the chain of crime that starts with the elites.
Gun violence symptomatic of a culture that glorifies violence rooted in a militaristic/police-state
There are countless books scholarly and media articles arguing that at the root of the gun violence problem is a culture that glorifies it. However, it is more than just the issue of culture, even the hegemonic commercial culture. This issue extends to the larger matter of militarism and police state approach to maintaining the social order and mass conformity. Obviously, we cannot compare the US or to a utopian society but to other nations like Japan with low violence rate that operates under the same capitalist world economy. Switzerland is one old society as a bastion of finance capitalism but so is Japan for that matter albeit very different in demographic composition. (Toni Hart, Gun Culture in the USA, 2016; http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729
While the US ranks number one in the world for gun ownership, Switzerland ranks fourth behind Yemen and Serbia. Switzerland has a population of around 8.4 million and its firearms legislation is not much different than that of the US. In Switzerland, there are at least 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols, according to one source. The percentage of gun ownership has remained steady through the years, whereas in the US gun ownership has doubled since Nixon took office and it really took off during the Obama presidency. Whereas the murder rate by gun in Switzerland is at 3.08 per 100,000, it is 10.54 in the US, or roughly three-and-a-half times higher. There can be similar comparisons with US and Japan for example, and the results are indeed eye-opening when looking at the data of homicides and suicides by guns. http://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/
America has a culture of gun violence that goes back to the Westward Expansion era of the late 19th century when the settlers with the army’s help cleared out the Indians from their land and forced them into reservations to make room for mining, commercial agriculture, railroads, etc. Nowhere on earth is gun violence celebrated more in the popular culture than in America. Motion pictures and TV shows are predominantly about gun violence as are comic books, video games, and novels.
As much as the US prides itself as a law-and-order society it has a long history of celebrating the outlaw culture of gun violence and romanticizing those who live by the gun whether cops or mobsters. Despite mass shootings in schools, shopping centers, and other public places carried out in some instances by mental ill individuals, the national psychology of gun violence is dominated by a political climate the supports the right to own guns as a gesture of patriotism and identity, setting aside all other considerations.
Chicago Gun Violence and the Police State
“What’s going on in Chicago?” asked Trump rhetorically following with the police-state suggestion of sending federal reinforcements to crush the violence that has dominated in low-income neighborhoods. A recent wave of violent crime in Chicago has captured the attention of the national political debate with Republican President Donald Trump proposing to deal with the problem by reinforcing the city policy force with a federal force. Interestingly, he proposed sending US feds to Mexico to deal with its drug-related crime there as though Mexico is a colony of the US. Without addressing the causes of the problem because that would expose the structural flaws, the predictable solution is to meet street violence with greater police enforcement and punitive measures than already exist, thus exacerbating the vicious cycle in Chicago land of Al Capone and some of the most notorious historic links between organized crime and local politicians, police, and judges. The irony regarding the police-state solution is that it has been in effect for more than two decades, but violent crime actually kept rising sharply during that period.
In February 2015, The Guardian published stories about the connection between the Chicago police department “black site” at Homan Square and the Guantanamo prison where terror suspects have been kept as political prisoners without ever been charged. An interrogation facility where prisoners were denied due process and subjected to torture, Homan Square operated secretly but its inmates were not jihadist suspects but local minorities. The mainstream media in Chicago and across the US largely ignored these revelations, giving them very little coverage because they exposed the de facto police state and its shortcomings, as well as flagrant human rights and civil rights violations. It is worth noting that the democratic mayors of Chicago collaborated with both Republican and Democrat US administrations in operating this facility, defending it in the name of “national security”. The Homan Square case illustrates the inexorably link between structural violence and behavioral and how the state violates it own laws – committing crimes and exempts itself from the law. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/homan-square
There is no doubt, that Chicago has a violent crime problem. Scholarly studies attribute the causes of crime to poverty, racism, and an institutional violence that reinforces individual violence. People have been alarmed by the estimated 4331 shooting victims in Chicago and the government and media constantly reinforce the assumption that criminal activity is an innate trait that must be dealt with mass incarceration and deadly force. An estimated 75% of those killed are black and 71% of those doing the killing are also black. Deaths by shooting are at 83.4%, with 90% of the victims male and young in a city that has a black population of just 33% according to the census of 2010. http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/chicago-75-murdered-are-black-71-murderers-are-black
Chicago homicides are the largest in the US, reaching their historically high levels in 2016. Studies on Chicago crime point to certain common characteristics we see with crime in the inner city throughout America, namely, drugs, gangs and endemic poverty from one generation to the next linked invariably to minorities permanently marginalized by the institutional structure. Historically, the city spends the lowest percentage of taxpayer money in minority neighborhoods for schools, parks and recreational facilities, road maintenance, sanitation, and community development.
Above all, the absence of job opportunities and low wages, to say nothing of substandard housing with prison-like bars on doors and windows is reminiscent of an impoverished Third World country; that is, until one drives just a few miles to the east and north where multi-million dollar condos line Michigan Avenue by the lake. The police are there to protect the rich from the poor whose neighborhoods are gang-infested owing to poverty and the breakdown of the family on the south side and the west side that have not changed ever since the Johnson administration constructed the so-called ‘projects’ to concentrate blacks into these reservations of chronic poverty.
Symptomatic of poverty and no hope for the future, the rise in gang and drug activity has been accompanied by a rise in illegal guns. Although Chicago’s homicide rate is not that much higher than in New York, when guns aren’t involved, gun violence in Chicago stands out in comparison to the rest of the nation. In theory at least, Chicago has strict gun laws. However, in 2010 federal courts struck down the city’s ban on handgun ownership, and in 2014 courts struck down a ban on gun sales. Of course, one could easily drive to nearby East Chicago, Gary and South Bend (all on the FBI highest crime areas in Indiana) to purchase a gun. http://abcnews.go.com/US/chicagos-control-violence-produces-762-homicides-2016/story?id=44402951; https://www.roadsnacks.net/most-dangerous-cities-in-indiana/
The Chicago violent crime case very clearly illustrates that public policy creates the endless cycle of poverty and violence. Contrary to Trump’s simplistic police-state approach to this complex problem, sending federal agents to Chicago’s south side and west side at a huge cost to the taxpayer instead of beginning to address structural problems will only increase violent crime long term even if it contains it short-term. The open society claiming to be a ‘democracy’ and preaching freedom to the rest of the world would suffer another blow by the police state methods. The only option for Chicago is to start addressing root causes of the problem and work out long term plan so that the next generations will not suffer as the ones before them. Because the neoliberals and militarists drive US policies, I fear that things in Chicago will remain the same if not become much worse.
Does “Identity Politics” help advance or hinder the gun control?
The politics surrounding gun regulation is an integral part of identity politics, both rightwing “macho politics” mostly in rural and semi-rural areas, and bourgeois liberal politics appealing predominantly to suburban housewives and the educated urban professionals. Although police officers have a history of killing black and Hispanic youth, Democrats embracing identity politics advocate for the minority community in isolation of the larger social order and within a socially unjust system, instead of seeing the issues from a class perspective. After all, it is the poor minorities not the wealthy blacks and Hispanics who have more in common with their white counterparts of the same class than they do with members of their ethnic communities.
Precisely because politicians, the media, the gun lobby and advocates on both sides have relegated this issue to identity politics of conservatives and liberals, it has failed to mobilize support of the overwhelming majority who see the issue more from an ideological and cultural perspective and less from a class one. No matter the very high rate of gun violence in America vs. every other developed nation, the gun advocates will defend gun ownership as a matter of identity and patriotism. However, there are even progressives who believe that gun regulation goes against the spirit of Jeffersonian democracy in so far as federal regulation supersedes the power at the state and local level. In short, there is a false assumption is that states’ power and local power equals grassroots power that the central government must never usurp. Because of identity politics, gun control advocates accept the assumptions of their opponents and never address the issue of behavioral gun violence as symptomatic of structural violence and societal inequality. This weakens the gun control group that has been relegated to just another Democrat interest group trampling of the rights of people exercising the Second Amendment and the rights of states.
Correlation of American Militarism and Domestic Gun Violence Culture
If structural violence leads to individual behavioral violence, then the solution can only be structural change rather than isolating cause from symptom or confusing the latter for the former and subordinating the larger issue to bourgeois identity politics intended to placate those concerned about gun violence. A very vivid case of transformation policy defaulted to unconventional warfare acts against the US is that of the tragic and reprehensible attack on the US on September 11, 2001. Nine days after 9/11, President Bush in an address to the Joint Session of Congress tried to explain why there was an attack on US soil by jihadists. “They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-wallechinsky/why-do-they-hate-us_2_b_957277.html
Is there any empirical evidence that radicalized Muslims engage in unconventional war against the US mostly in the middle do so because of what Bush stated? Or is it because the US has a long history of overt and covert military operations in the Middle East to the detriment of the people in the region? Not just its massive military, economic and political support of Israel against Palestinians and various wars and covert operations against Arabs since the 1940s, but the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and military occupation of Pakistan simply proved the widespread perception that Muslims like the rest of the world detests US militarism for destabilizing their countries and denying them national sovereignty. How is a Muslim to interpret Trump’s statement about “while we were there (Iraq), we should have taken their oil”, a flagrant violation of international law that exposes the real intentions of US militarism.
In contrast to assumptions about the driving motivation of Muslims that many American politicians, the media, and well-paid think tank and academics entertain, according to public opinion polls Muslims see the US as a government denying their national sovereignty, diluting their religious identity and value system, and collaborating with the corrupt authoritarian rulers to exploit the natural resources as the key problems in the relationship. In a public opinion poll of Muslims around the world, 66% view Americans as violent, 64% as greedy, and 68% as selfish, traits inconsistent with Islam and hardly virtues to emulate. There is nothing in the poll to indicate any envy for American freedoms, because Muslims like European Christians are aware of how the US treats minorities and the poor. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
The flagrant hypocrisy of the US political elites and the media invoking the doctrine of “Exceptionalism” is hardly lost on Muslims any more than it is on Australian or Canadian Christians. As the world’s largest military and police power, the US political and bureaucratic system reflects a violence-oriented ideological, political and cultural orientation. If we consider that Switzerland has a very high percentage of gun ownership, yet, it is one of the world’s lowest rates of gun violence, then how do we explain that gun ownership alone does not necessarily lead to gun violence?
Unlike the US immersed in a militaristic-police state culture, Switzerland has no military, and its police force is bound to protect civil liberties of all people within the boundaries of the law without resorting to violent force. Some could argue that the absence of structural violence in Switzerland translates into a low rate of behavioral violence because it is so small and does not have military operations around the world as does the US. But how does one explain that Canada is much closer to the Swiss model than the US and that Canadians like Australians and Britons view the US as a very violent society?
During the Obama administration, it was easier to contain popular outrage in minority communities. That will not be as easy with an administration ideologically right wing, committed to police-state and militaristic solutions and very unpopular in minority communities. Public opinion polls indicate the economy, good paying jobs and living standards is the number one concern of Americans. Yet, on 6 February 2017, Trump chastised the media for not focusing enough on terrorism by providing a list that included some well-covered terrorist acts and some fictitious ones as part of the “alternative truth” people have come to expect from the new president. To distract from the reality of false promises he made regarding improving living standards and weakening both the political establishment in Washington and the economic establishment on Wall Street, Trump knows he can only weaken the middle class and workers that voted for him because he will be providing more tax breaks and corporate subsidies for the rich. Therefore, terrorism and foreign enemies abroad and crime at home are very convenient vehicles of social conformity as they were throughout the Cold War for all administrations trying to keep people loyal to the flag and distracted from the issues pertaining to everything from improved living standards to health and education.
The government cannot strengthen the capitalist class and have an eroding middle class and working class unless it becomes more militaristic abroad and adopt more police state methods at home. This will translate into more structural violence that would raise street violence and popular dissent at all levels, such that the US has not seen since the Nixon administration. America’s reaction to its relative decline in the world has been and it continue to be with more militarism abroad and police-state methods at home which is a prescription for taking closer steps toward authoritarianism. This regardless if it is under a brash tough-talking Trump administration or one that employs bourgeois liberal rhetoric with a smile while it deploys drones abroad and militarizes the police at home as was the case under Obama.
Jon V. Kofas, Ph.D. – Retired university professor of history – author of ten academic books and two dozens scholarly articles. Specializing in International Political economy, Kofas has taught courses and written on US diplomatic history, and the roles of the World Bank and IMF in the world.