Chapter News

Law and (Dis)order in the American Republic

Jennifer Jopp
June 1, 2020

The violence currently convulsing cities across our country is a visible manifestation of the daily violence wrought by the United States, both at home and abroad. The death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer, in the dystopian landscape of the current moment, has touched off a series of protests around the country, both peaceful demonstrations and rage-fueled actions.

The call of the president on the forces of “law and order” to quell the violence is like throwing a flame on a kerosene-soaked cloth. The police, the National Guard, and the Army are some of the very organs of state that have created the conditions of desperation and anger on display nightly.

We live in a country that is steeped in violence. Visible manifestations of this violence, erupting periodically throughout our history, rightly bring forth our outrage. But we need to use that outrage to come to terms with our increasingly militarized police forces, our militarized carceral state, our militarized borders, and the vast military-industrial complex that threatens us with ever-increasing carnage. Only when we come to terms with our violent history and are willing to forego the “privileges” bought with this violence, will we have any hope of solving the conflicts in our society.

We must see that this violence, the costs of which are disproportionately borne by men and women of color, by the working class, and by the poor of this country, functions as a form of racialized discipline that maintains the privileges of those whom society regards as white. Armed “white” protestors are deemed “freedom fighters” for demanding the undoing of the very regulations that protect vulnerable populations, while those populations are forced to risk their lives to protest for true freedom: the freedom to live safely, the freedom to walk the streets of our society, the freedom to have access to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

We must demand a new kind of law, one that treats all people equally before the law. We must demand a new kind of order, one in which a man accused of passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill does not end up dead, while suspected insider trading worth millions of dollars by senators goes unexamined. The grand experiment of the United States was to be a society of people bound together by the belief in the equality of all, in the inalienable rights of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We were not to be a society that required the repressive organs of old regimes to quell disorder. Yet, we have become like the regimes of old and the emerging fascist states around the world: calling on the forces of state repression to quell the rightful anger of the populace at its exclusion from the goods of our society, all the while imagining that we play no role in its creation.