From Palestine to Ferguson: resistance leads to state violence


A protester is arrested while walking down the street on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday. On Aug. 9, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It has been a difficult month for the victims of state violence, as well as their families, friends, and those in solidarity. The month-long Israeli assault on Gaza involved a litany of war crimes, including the killing of trapped civilians, multiple bombings of hospitals, and the destruction of Gaza’s only power plant — all with critical U.S. support. And after the U.S. population reeled in shock from the NYPD murder of unarmed black man Eric Garner in broad daylight, Ferguson, Mo., was the site of another police murder — this time of unarmed, black 18-year-old Michael Brown, who, according to an eyewitness, was surrendering as he was shot six times. When people took to the streets of Ferguson in outrage, militarized police forces responded with armored vehicles, riot gear and riot weaponry, including rubber bullets and tear gas, which they used against not only the protesters but also reporters. Such instances of disproportionate force are unfortunately common, but there is at least one consistent pattern: When people resist subjugation, the state responds with violence.

Take Israel: It is a capitalist settler-state whose economy, in author Naomi Klein’s words, has “lost its economic incentive for peace and is heavily invested in fighting and profiting from an endless and unwinnable War on Terror.” So, the Israeli state depends on the subjugation and removal of Palestinians in order to continue economic expansion — this means the rejection of peace is built into its current existence.

In June, the two major factions of official Palestinian leadership, Hamas and Fatah, formed a unity government in the Palestinian Authority — this presented a major geostrategic problem for Israel. As public intellectual Noam Chomsky explains, a 20-year-long Israeli strategy has been “separating Gaza from the West Bank” in order to prevent the West Bank — which is geographically trapped between Israel and Jordan — from using Gaza as “an outlet to the outside world.” This strategy arose due to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which “declared that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity whose integrity must be preserved.” The Hamas-Fatah unity threatened to unite the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a single political entity — this could be a powerful force for peace, and so Israel responded with the opposite.

First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a terrorist for working with Hamas, which is the democratically elected governing organization of Gaza (but considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel). Second, Israel stated that it would maneuver to prevent further Palestinian elections. And third, it cynically used the murder of three teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank to unleash a new siege on Palestine — first came the arrests of hundreds of innocents in the West Bank and then the destruction of Gaza, which, in addition to the demolition of mosques, schools, hospitals, and vital infrastructure, has killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, disproportionately children and overwhelmingly civilians. As Amnesty International and other human rights groups have stated, this is collective punishment.

If Israeli capitalism relies on the total subjugation of Palestinians, then U.S. capitalism relies on something similar of black people and has done so since its beginnings under slave labor. The late historian Howard Zinn explains that the “United States government's support of slavery was based on an overpowering practicality,” which was that at their peak, Southern plantations were producing a million tons of cotton annually. And at this country’s founding, that capitalist practicality soundly rejected revolutionary spirit and led to the Constitution’s institutionalization of slavery. Thus, subjugated black labor was placed at the core of U.S. existence — the ending of one could end the other, and as Zinn explains, that meant fear of slave revolt was “a permanent fact of plantation life.” I will not get into the brutal horrors that were inflicted upon slaves in order to control them, particularly following revolts.

After the Civil War, racism continued not simply as a “legacy of slavery,” but because the capitalist economy still required obedient labor to function – as W. E. B. Du Bois put it, the “American Negro” had to be convinced that “his greatest enemy is not the employer who robs him, but his fellow white working-man.” Zinn explains that the American Federation of Labor and other dominant trade unions of the time only fought for limited workers’ rights and embraced the philosophy of “business unionism” – this involved mimicking hierarchical business practices, and thus “the Negro was excluded from most AFL unions.” Fundamentally, this practice perpetuated all the divisions of capitalist society — it was only the anti-capitalist unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, that sought to organize all workers, “undivided by sex, race, or skills.” In the midst of such radicalism, the worst sorts of violent coercion of black people were condoned or even actively carried out by the state. Lynchings, for example, typically involved publicly humiliating and murdering a black person, and regularly occurred without punishment in both the North and Jim Crow South – in fact, sociologist Arthur Raper estimates that 90 percent of lynchings were actively encouraged by police and that 50 percent had police participation.

When black students began sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the 1960s, the norm of subjugation was again threatened. White racists heckled and violently beat them, but it was only the nonviolent students that were “hauled off to jail,” in “mass arrests that [filled] the jails to overflowing.” Malcolm X (and others in the Black Power movement) offered a solution to young black people, one that terrified the state: “You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom.” This is a total refusal to be subjugated, and it is the reason that the overwhelmingly white Ferguson police have gone to war against the majority black protesters. After the Missouri State Police took over from their Ferguson counterparts, there were naïve hopes that they would de-escalate the situation — these were quickly dashed, as they also began using tear gas and militarized crowd-control tactics.

However, the U.S. state apparatus and the people are on opposite sides of this issue. Across the country, vigils with hundreds of people have been held in solidarity with the protesters, including in Austin. Even more amazing has been the international solidarity between subjugated peoples — Palestinians have advised the Ferguson protesters on how to deal with tear gas, tweeted messages and images of solidarity, signed a statement in their support and a Ferguson protester even brought out a Palestinian flag. This empowerment is necessary, because the state will not back down, for the inherent reasons explained. As such, Israel has ended peace talks and launched missile strikes at the family home of a Hamas military commander, killing his wife and child, in retaliation for alleged (and unconfirmed) rockets launched into Israel from Gaza. In either case, Netanyahu has called for a “continued campaign” of strikes in Gaza, which already has a civilian-majority death toll. The St. Louis police have shot and killed yet another black man, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, and a cellphone video shows that the official police account of the incident contains falsehoods. The state’s violence will continue and so must the struggles against oppression — those of us in Austin must show solidarity for both Palestine and Ferguson.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.