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The difference between Exceptional and Systemic Violence in the campaign on “gun control”

March 5, 2018

In the aftermath of the Parkland High School shooting, people are mobilizing around the issue of gun control. There is tremendous energy and passion around coming to terms with the realities of guns in the US. The issue is particularly mobilizing youth and it will no doubt be a major factor in the 2018 elections.

Later this month, there is a planned rally in Grand Rapids called March for Our Lives, on  March 24 at Rosa Parks Circle. The events states that people are marching for common sense gun control, but doesn’t offer any information on what that means. Maybe it means a ban on assault rifles or weapons in schools, but at this point it is unclear the direction this “movement” is going in.

One of the problems with the initial reaction to the Parkland School shooting has been its focus on the types of guns used, as opposed to who uses guns and who is trafficking in guns.

There is a great article on It’s Going Down called, Disarm the Cops First: Reflections on Narratives of Exceptional and Systematic Violence after the Parkland Shootings, which provides some important and urgent analysis around the issues of guns in the US.

The authors of this article name what happened at Parkland School as exceptional violence, referencing the notion that these kinds of mass shootings do not happen very often. The article then points to what they refer to as Systemic Violence and focus on the fact that police departments across the country are involved in the killing of people on a regular basis. Police killings of people is normative, thus it is systemic.

The Washington Post has been tracking fatal police shootings since 2015, the same year that police shootings of black people once again began to be part of a reluctant national conversation. Their database shows that every year since 2015, there have been just shy of 1,000 fatal police shootings of civilians in the US – 995 in 2015, 963 in 2016, 987 in 2017 and already 169 in 2018. 

The authors of the article mentioned above, thus make the case that we should disarm the police first, which seems like a sound strategy to this writer.

In addition, people in the US often like to claim tremendous moral authority around the issue of violence, but what is also overlooked, is the fact that the US government is the largest trafficker of weapons around the globe.

According to recent article on Defense News, “The U.S. State Department has set a new one-year record for clearing weapon sales, with $75.9 billion cleared by the department and announced by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in fiscal 2017.” 

One can see from the graphic above, just how much the US makes in weapons sales globally, compared to other countries.

Thus, any common sense gun control should first include not only a disarming of the police, since they systemically kill civilians, it should also include an end to US weapons sales abroad.

The harsh reality is, and this is what communities of color have always known, both in the US and around the world, that the US has no credibility when it comes to the issue of speaking out against systemic violence. As Dr. King said in his powerful speech Beyond Vietnam, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos, without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government.”

Again, these issues are all too familiar in the black community and other communities of color. In fact, the Movement for Black Lives has made it clear in their platform that an end to the war on black people is central to creating racial justice. 

Therefore, as move move forward in discussing and taking action around gun violence in the US, we should first look to the black community and other communities of color for direction on how to deal with gun violence. Secondly, any platform or strategy for dealing with gun violence must include action on disarming the police and an end to the US trafficking of guns around the globe. We can ill afford more liberal, knee-jerk reactions when dealing with gun violence in this country. We must develop long-term strategies that deal with systemic violence and not just exceptional violence.

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