The Right to Violence

A brutal method some humans with power use to dominate others is violently punishing them for understandable anger that they themselves provoked in the other. You treat people unfairly, even brutally, and ruthlessly keep the pressure on them. Then, when resentment finally turns to anger, use violence to “put down” that anger and restore “law and order”.

We can see this same mechanism at work in our personal lives, when somebody insists we have no right to our strong feelings — no matter what may have caused them.

On a political level, it works the same way. Subjugate them, abuse them, make them mad, when they get mad point out that they are dangerous and insane, then surround them with the now ubiquitous SWAT teams empowered to use any violent means necessary to “keep the peace”. SWAT, we learn from the internet, is Special Weapons and Tactics, and these highly militarized police teams originated in Los Angeles in the late sixties in response to the Watts Riots.

Works every time, if you have a monopoly on state violence, make and enforce the laws, you have nothing to fear but the injury and death of as many people you don’t care about as needed to maintain the status quo. If the enraged bastards don’t like it, fuck ’em, bring in the militarized anti-insurgency riot police.

You can’t read any serious history of the United States and not understand that most of today’s American blacks are the descendants of chattel slaves (property with “no rights a white man is bound to respect”[1]) and, after the end of slavery, the victims of more than a century of unpunished, state-tolerated terrorism by white supremacists. You’d have to be Bill Barr to insist that open racism, upheld by law and traditionally enforced by deadly violence, is not a large part of our history as a society. Law enforcement and our legal system have been integral to this arrangement, always steadfastly protecting private property, if not always human life.

In law school our Constitutional Law casebook had a footnote to a case called US v. Cruikshank. The footnote was one sentence, to the effect that federal enforcement of all race-motivated violence had been left to the criminal codes of the individual states as a result of Cruikshank. Since every case in our system has a number for citation, and Cruikshank’s is 92 U.S. 542, I was able to read the legalistic Supreme Court decision that decided:

that the Bill of Rights did not apply to private actors or to state governments despite the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. 


The case arose from a massive racist pogrom in Grant Parish, Louisiana where a huge army of angry local whites attacked and slaughtered at least 150 blacks who were in Colfax, some of whom (a small group of armed black Civil War veterans) were defending the duly elected government. The whites were not having this, killed the black defenders as they surrendered, went into a frenzy of murderous violence that left dozens of mutilated, burnt bodies — the corpses of men, women and children– all over Colfax on Easter Sunday, 1873.

Ninety-eight perpetrators were identified and eventually charged by the newly created US Attorney in Louisiana (the DOJ was created to enforce citizens’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment). By the time the case got to the Supreme Court only three or four defendants were still involved — charges against the rest had all evaporated. When the case got to the Supreme Court our unappealable justices ruled — uh, nothing to see here, the indictments were faultily drafted, riddled with fatal flaws — for example, the DOJ’s absurd contention that defendants evinced:

an intent to deprive the same persons of the ‘free exercise and enjoyment of the right and privilege to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property’ enjoyed by white citizens.

plus, the new laws were confusing, unenforceable, an intrusion onto the constitutionally protected criminal prosecution monopoly of the individual states, further, it is the right of each of the defeated Confederate States to decide how best to accommodate their own Negros to full citizen status and equal protection of the privileges and immunities newly conferred upon their, until recently, chattel, selves (not to say ‘persons’).

The Supreme Court case ruled strictly on the law, made almost no mention of the underlying racially-motivated massacre of blacks by a racist white “militia” of former Confederate defenders of “the Lost Cause.”

This case became the unappealable legal framework for the hundred years of anti-black terrorism that followed — let the states decide how to deal with their own citizens, black and WHITE alike. Notably, (as in Kavanaugh’s recent ruling banning extension of mail-in voting in Wisconsin that made only a glancing reference to the pandemic) the case stuck to a narrow question of law. There was no mention of the massacre itself, only of two or three murdered individuals, two blacks (one named Tillman, as I recall) and a white, and whether Cruikshank et al’s killing of them constituted an enforceably unconstitutional deprivation of a legitimately protected federal right [2].

I was gratified to see that someone has finally written a full book-length treatment of this atrocity (there was almost complete darkness on the subject when I was in law school, right before the turn of the century), it is referred to in this excellent (and horrific) short opinion piece The Massacre That Emboldened White Supremacists from the New York Times.

The citizens of our nation are famously inattentive to our history. For example, from the above opinion piece:

As Americans debate the merit of tearing down monuments to founding fathers, a monument to the men who massacred Black Americans in Colfax 147 years ago stands unopposed and largely unnoticed. Two blocks off Main Street, a 12-foot marble obelisk is the focal point of the Colfax cemetery. An inscription carved into its base declares it was “erected to the memory of the heroes” who “fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for white supremacy.” On the north side of the present-day courthouse, a historical marker reads, “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain” and added that the episode “marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.”

During an ongoing nationwide protest over the continued brutality toward and killing of unarmed blacks by police, unarmed blacks continue to be brutalized and killed by police. Last week, a Wisconsin man named Jacob Blake was shot by police seven times, in the back, for … as far as we know, being an alleged domestic violence perpetrator with a warrant out for his arrest — who may have been in possession of a hidden knife.

A Kenosha police spokesman told the news media that Blake was reaching into his car for a knife, or perhaps even had a knife on his person, when police shot him seven times, in the back. Maybe that accounts for why the man, who amazingly survived seven bullets in the back, had been shackled to his hospital bed until yesterday– you can’t be too careful with a man who might have been reaching for a knife after having an arrest warrant for misdemeanor domestic violence and third degree sexual assault filed against him last month. Never mind that he is currently paralyzed with a spinal injury caused by a police bullet– we can’t be too careful with potentially violent perps like Jacob Blake!

As often in these cases, the sordid-sounding history of the man killed or severely injured by the police is immediately brought into the story. Police usually don’t shoot innocent people, the familiar story goes, this guy was a THUG. He had a KNIFE and CRIMINAL INTENT. He had an arrest warrant against him for A SEX CRIME. Trayvon Martin, the teenager killed by a white vigilante who shot him to death “standing his ground” under Florida law, was reputed to have had marijuana in his system when he died. Michael Brown, the kid shot to death in Ferguson, Mo., was shown, on store surveillance video, stealing a box of cigars or something mere hours before he was killed by a police officer. George Floyd was a convicted FELON! Even though he was meekly cooperating with the police when they killed him, he was BIG and REALLY SCARY!! Breonna Taylor, the Emergency Medical Technician shot to death in her own apartment in the middle of the night by plain-clothes officers who broke down her door pursuant to an erroneous no-knock warrant? Suspected (although mistakenly, as it turned out) site of an illegal drug storehouse!!!

I don’t know how a black person in America bears this kind of regular, obscene outrage, day after day, year after year, century upon century. I am not black, and my head keeps threatening to explode every time I hear the latest fucking variation on the same goddamned story about some guy who might be reaching for a knife who needed to be shot over and over by those duty-bound to serve and protect.

Humor break (c/o a friend earlier today):

A racist, a hypocrite and a liar walk into a bar.

The bartender says: “what are you having, Mr. President?”

Of course, every American knows that joke is bullshit and totally implausible bullshit, at that. The president famously doesn’t take a sip of alcohol, having seen his older brother die of alcoholism (and being too nice, which is what really killed him, according to his little brother). The president is high on life, obviously, and gets his joyfulness the natural way — by being a good person and leading a great life.

Still, there’s that small kernel of truth in the joke since the man is a racist, a hypocrite and a liar many times over. He can’t help it, that’s just the way he is, has always been, nothing he can do about it.

Except to proclaim himself the Law and Order President. The most lawless man ever to sit in the Oval Office, a man openly contemptuous of all rules, traditions and norms, and many laws as well (all of those things are for LOSERS), positions himself as the Law and Order candidate. He’s running against his own failure to end the American Carnage he warned of in his first State of the Union, in every dark, divisive, incendiary speech he’s made since. Presumably, since he’s the infallible strongman who broke it, he’s the only one who can fix it.


[1] From no less an authority than Chief Justice Roger Taney of the Supreme Court, in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that was one of the factors leading to the Civil War.

[2] The Cruikshank court dismissed the indictments against every remaining white man who rode into town as part of that enraged army and participated in the indiscriminate slaughter, after delineating the charges in its opening section:

This was an indictment for conspiracy under the sixth section of the act of May 30, 1870, known as the Enforcement Act (16 Stat. 140), and consisted of thirty-two counts.

The first count was for banding together, with intent ‘unlawfully and feloniously to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate’ two citizens of the United States, ‘of African descent and persons of color,’ ‘with the unlawful and felonious intent thereby’ them ‘to hinder and prevent in their respective free exercise and enjoyment of their lawful right and privilege to peaceably assemble together with each other and with other citizens of the said United States for a peaceable and lawful purpose.’

The second avers an intent to hinder and prevent the exercise by the same persons of the ‘right to keep and bear arms for a lawful purpose.’

The third avers an intent to deprive the same persons ‘of their respective several lives and liberty of person, without due process of law.’

The fourth avers an intent to deprive the same persons of the ‘free exercise and enjoyment of the right and privilege to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property’ enjoyed by white citizens.

The fifth avers an intent to hinder and prevent the same persons ‘in the exercise and enjoyment of the rights, privileges, immunities, and protection granted and secured to them respectively as citizens of the said United States, and as citizens of the said State of Louisiana, by reason of and for and on account of the race and color’ of the said persons.

The sixth avers an intent to hinder and prevent the same persons in ‘the free exercise and enjoyment of the several and respective right and privilege to vote at any election to be thereafter by law had and held by the people in and of the said State of Louisiana.

‘The seventh avers an intent ‘to put in great fear of bodily harm, injure, and oppress’ the same persons, ‘because and for the reason’ that, having the right to vote, they had voted.

The eighth avers an intent ‘to prevent and hinder’ the same persons ‘in their several and respective free exercise and enjoyment of every, each, all, and singular and several rights and privileges granted and secured’ to them ‘by the constitution and laws of the United States.’

The next eight counts are a repetition of the first eight, except that, instead of the words ‘band together,’ the words ‘combine, conspire, and confederate together’ are used. Three of the defendants were found guilty under the first sixteen counts, and not guilty under the remaining counts...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s