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By Jason Michael
MANY ON THIS SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC, no doubt, will say this is none of their business; that what is right now happening on the streets of cities right across the United States is not their concern, that they have enough to worry about in their own country – especially in the middle of lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic. Sure, part of me understands this. Some of those I have spoken with about the latest wave of Black Lives Matter protests have aired the exact same thoughts I have had myself, that this is dominating social media and the news over here only because America hogs the limelight, that we are sick and tired of the US embarrassing itself on the global stage, and that, well, didn’t they vote for Donald Trump? What did they expect?
But this just is not good enough, and deep down we know it. Irish Traveller rights activist, Dr Sindy Joyce, responded on Twitter to an article in The Journal about the worsening state of homelessness in Ireland, saying: ‘Except we Mincéirí were living in tents and shacks but, it’s so easy to ignore us in Irish society as we don’t seem to matter at all.’ She makes a valid point. In Ireland the Traveller community is treated, at best, with indifference and, at worst, with downright contempt and hostility. Yet, her comment struck me. It shed some much-needed light on why we want to ignore what is happening to young black men at the hands of the police in the States; we may feel that this takes attention from us, from the oppression we experience.
Except we Mincéirí were living in tents and shacks but it's so easy to ignore us in Irish society as we don't seem… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Dr Sindy Joyce (@SindyLJoyce) June 06, 2020
Sindy Joyce sees Travellers and their oppression being ignored and she is right to be furious, but she is venting her anger at an article in which another oppressed and maligned group – the homeless – is given attention. In the justice arena, we all do this or have done this. We are meant to do this, marginalised groups are meant to squabble among themselves, jealously guarding what precious little they have, and resent that anything is thrown from the master’s table to another group. This dog-eat-dog grudge match on the peripheries and in the basement of the capitalist structure is part of the design. It keeps the oppressed divided and fighting among themselves, and – more importantly – it keeps people’s attention off the elite and stops them asking questions about why they are all suffering at the hands society and the state.
What we are looking at here is the notion of solidarity. When the oppressed and the marginalised are not acting as a sociable and solidary regiment it is easier for the privileged and powerful sections of society to pick them off individually; benefitting and even profiting from the further weakening of their victims’ already precarious hold on their rights and their place in the world.
Simple solidarity, then, must cause us to pay attention to what is happening on the streets of Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and elsewhere. Yes, there is the obvious moral obligation that we take a stand against racism – this is the most important issue, and one which demands consistency from us no matter the victim, but there are other elements to this shocking drama to which we must pay attention and be prepared to take a stand against. George Floyd was treated the way he was by police because he was black. There is no denying this. Police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd because he was black, and he was aided in this by three other officers who did not intervene to save him because he was black.
And they assassinated him. twitter.com/imamofpeace/st…—
ephrata✨ (@ephrata) May 29, 2020
These facts alone demand that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement which has grown from the protest against the routine racial profiling of young black men by police departments and the murderous behaviour of law enforcement officers towards their targets. But the growing protest has exposed something of the nature of the western capitalist state – and not only the US – that would be dangerous for us to ignore; the ferocity and sheer violence of the state’s response to being challenged by those in society it has consigned to the class of helots.
It was not an idiosyncrasy of Chauvin’s to subdue George Floyd by kneeling on the back of his neck as he lay handcuffed and prone on the asphalt. This style of military and hyper-aggressive policing is a tactic American police forces have trained with the Israeli Defence Forces (the IDF) to learn. It is a shock and awe manoeuvre deployed against Palestinian youths in the Occupied Territories to batter and terrorise any and all forms of resistance from the civilian population into submission. That it is used in a so-called free society tells us a great deal about the fraudulence of that society’s freedom, and that it is used with such gusto by white police officers against young black men on the merest suspicion of the pettiest of crimes – that is, if the officers are not actually hunting a black youth to kill – tells us all we need to know about the utter contempt in which black people are held by those in authority and the complete disregard the state has for their lives.
Viral video after viral video is now daily circulating social media in which the whole world can see the police response to these protests. We saw one man in his seventies shoved backwards to the ground, cracking open his head and lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood. His crime, raising his hands to the advancing riot officers. There was a young woman pushed and pulled until her top was ripped open, exposing her naked torso, before being slammed, face first, into concrete. An elderly gentleman with a walking stick dragged and pushed until he fell over. A young girl with a hole in her forehead and a ruptured eye ball from a rubber bullet. There was even an image of a wheelchair bound homeless man slumped forward and bleeding heavily from a baton round wound on his face. What we are looking at every day now is criminal in its brutality, but it is clearly concerted. This awful and nationwide display of police violence against an unarmed and defenceless civilian population is the future, this is action on a plan made at government level to hit dissent so hard and with such viciousness it traumatises a free society and cripples its democracy.
There comes a point in the development of tyranny where the people are obliged to take measures to protect their li… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) May 30, 2020
Right-wing populist governments with designs on capturing the state and fascism, such as Donald Trump’s and Boris Johnson’s are, are bringing home the shock doctrine consecutive US and British governments have employed on their foreign interventionist adventures since the US-backed coup and military takeover of Chile in 1973. This is the neoliberal dream; to see powerful and cohesive democracies softened up by truncheons, rent asunder by socio-economic division, and fractured into thousands of squabbling factions of the oppressed – the only environment in which the profiteers of the unfettered free market can thrive.
Solidarity, then, is our only defence. It is all that stands between the carefree streets of London, Dublin, and New York and the Green Zone of mercenary occupied Iraq. This solidarity crumbles and fails, comes apart, the moment a single link in the chain is broken. This is what activists in the US mean when they say ‘no lives matter until black lives matter.’ It is why Irish Travellers and the homeless on the streets of Dublin and Cork have common cause. We are fighting over scarce resources not because resources or concern are actually scarce, but because they are withheld by people in society and sections of the society that stand to benefit from the further impoverishment of the poor and the further oppression of the oppressed.
Fascism is back in vogue. Years of recession and the liberal application of economic austerity over the developed world have pushed millions of people to the very edge. Savage cuts to health and social spending, the methodical privatisation of health services, and the deliberate targeting of minorities and the vulnerable have eroded our safety nets. The weaponisation of the press against immigrants and refugees has stoked up racial and ethnic tensions in advance of the outpouring of rage that will inevitably happen when the scales of social justice finally tip completely. After the lockdown, the Hunger Games begin – if they haven’t already. Global economic depression is unavoidable and the billionaire class has started preparing the ground for getting ‘things back to normal,’ back to the poor paying for the excesses of the rich. Something worse is coming and what we are getting a glimpse of in America is only the prelude. We are all in this fight whether we like it or not, and our survival begins and ends with us sticking together.
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