Posts Tagged ‘violence’


Last week’s unrest in Milwaukee wasn’t caused by the police killing of Sylville K. Smith, a 23-year-old black man. It’s been brewing for decades.

As Roger Bybee explains,

The recent outbreak of violent rioting in Milwaukee came as no surprise to anyone paying even the slightest attention to the deterioration of conditions for the city’s African Americans, especially the young.

Even CNN [ht: ja], which botched (and then, later, apologized for) its reporting of Sherelle Smith’s remarks about moving violence away from the local community, understood “The ongoing protests and violence that have occurred over the past several days in Milwaukee are about more than the police killing of Sylville Smith.”


In a recent report, the National Urban League (pdf) examined economic data for African Americans (and Hispanics) in 70 metro areas and found that Milwaukee has the largest gap in unemployment between blacks and whites in the country and the second biggest income gap.


The unemployment rate for blacks in Milwaukee is 4 times that for whites, while the median income for black households is only 40.8 percent of white household income. (Nationally, the corresponding numbers are 2 and 60 percent.)



Those racial inequalities in Milwaukee are both a condition and consequence of the economic and racial segregation of the city. Thus, while the majority-white downtown area is booming (with trendy new restaurants and craft breweries), outlying majority-black neighborhoods in and around Sherman Park (where the shooting took place) are falling farther and farther behind.


And, in the final contribution to the foul Milwaukee brew, the homicide rate (at 23 per 100,000, higher even than Chicago’s) is also unequally distributed across the city. Thus, for example, in the police district that includes the downtown, the homicide rate was just two, while in the bordering district to the northwest of downtown (which includes Sherman Park), the murder rate was 36, or 18 times as high.

As Daniel Kay Hertz explains,

High levels of gun crime profoundly affect neighborhood residents whether or not they are a direct victim. Witnessing a shooting, or having a friend or loved one become a victim, can be deeply traumatic, leading to depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating at school or work, and other issues. High crime rates can affect whether businesses are willing to locate near your home, reducing your access to important services like banking, and contributing to depopulation and abandonment. . .

Nor are neighborhoods facing these issues randomly distributed: They are much more likely to be home to disproportionate numbers of people with low incomes and people who are black or brown. That racial and economic segregation play an important role in perpetuating deep social inequalities has been well-established. Directly and indirectly, violent crime is itself a crucial part of the basket of disadvantages that make living in a segregated neighborhood so costly.

It should come as no surprise then that the Brew City, with its strict segregation and profound racial inequalities, should have erupted after the latest police shooting.

And, as Bybee warns, unless the racial political economy of Milwaukee is criticized and transformed, “the recent explosions may signal more episodes of rage to come in the months ahead.”


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I’ll admit, I’m a real sucker for any argument that takes a common sense, turns it on its head, and finds a radically different potential.

That, of course, is what Karl Marx did with classical political economy.

The idea is that what Marx was doing—and what Marxists after him need to do—is less the application of a particularly Marxian method (whatever it is called) and more the two-fold critique of mainstream economic thought and of capitalism, the economic and social system celebrated by classical political economists.

Let me push that idea a bit further: the starting point of Capital consists in the taken-for-granted assumptions of both classical political economy and of bourgeois society and then to develop a “ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.” It begins by accepting the rules of both mainstream economic thought and of capitalism and then calling them into question. . .

And it’s what all utopian (and dystopian) writers and thinkers do: they take the existing society and show how it can be radically different—leading to a better (or, sometimes, worse) “no-place.”

So, I was immediately drawn to Jason Goldfarb’s [ht: ja] assessment of the radical potential of Pokémon GO.

Yes, that much derided (in the mainstream press and in popular leftist publications alike) free augmented-reality app that has become an enormous, global success since its launch this past July.* It is criticized for the way “‘mindless’ players trespass and break laws, finding dead bodies and trouble” and “as corporatist, detached from social reality, and ultimately a fantasy disguised to obfuscate class and racial tensions.”

And Goldfarb’s argument? In his view, Pokémon GO has radical effects as it is—and even more radical potential as it might be reconfigured. Thus, for example, while some of Pokémon GO’s Pokéstops (locations where players receive items and can place “lures”) are capitalist stores, others are interesting landmarks, including the gazebo where police killed Tamir Rice in 2014.

Since Pokémon Go incentivizes gathering through lures, it creates a hub around this spot and one that inevitably begins to generate talking, thinking, and perhaps even organizing. Those who are uninterested in social justice and come to catch Pokémon find themselves confronted with the hard social reality.

And the development of the game’s content is just at the beginning. So, in psychoanalytic terms, it’s currently an “empty signifier” that, if the Left takes it seriously, “can help mobilize an alternative version with more political Pokéstops and incentivize communitarianism.”

Pokémon Go is no-doubt problematic, but it also burgeons with radical potential. The Left should never smugly dismiss such explosive sites – that’s the job of beautiful soul liberals. Rather the task of an authentic left is to engage in the muckraking work of illuminating and presencing these points of radical potential.

And, who knows, with the proper encouragement, Pokémon GO players and hackers might end up hatching their own noncapitalist utopia.


*I’ve never played Pokémon GO but I do know, through reading, that it involves finding, incubating, and hatching “eggs.” Apparently, there are different kinds of eggs out there.


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Banksy, no title

Banksy’s untitled piece was part of a pop-up art exhibit organized during the Democratic National Convention by Rock the Vote as part of its Truth to Power series—to offer “a counterpoint to the narratives that dominated the DNC.”



You wouldn’t know it from the speeches at either of the major-party political conventions. But the number of Americans—black, white, Hispanic, and others—killed by police continues to grow at an alarming rate.

You wouldn’t know it from U.S. media, either—since, like the political parties, they tend to create an equivalence between shootings of police and shootings by police and blame those who have died at the hands of police for their own plight.

So, we have to go to foreign media, such as the British Independent [ht: ja], to comprehend the level of police violence in the United States, especially by way of comparison.

One counting project found 613 people had been killed by US police so far in 2016, as of 28 July [618 as of 27 July]. American police routinely carry guns, and most high profile incidents are shootings.

Official figures in the United Kingdom could not paint a more different picture. Statistics released by the Home Office – Britain’s interior ministry – show how rare it is for the UK’s police to use guns.

In England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2016, British police discharged their firearms on just seven occasions, the statistics, released on Thursday show.

This figure is actually a record, of sorts. In the same period ending in March 2013, firearms were used only three times. In the 2015 period they were used six times. Seven uses of weapons is the highest since at least 2009.

Yes, that’s right, 7 occasions over the course of a year, compared to 618 in the United States just in the first 7 months of 2016.

The United States, of course, has a much larger population than the United Kingdom.

Britain has 64.1 million residents, the US 319 million. But on a per-capita basis, Britain’s rate of police gun use would translate into US police using their guns on 35 occasions in an entire year. This would be an unthinkably low number.

Here’s another useful comparison (from Edward P. Stringham): the 2015 homicide rate for U.S. law-enforcement officers (4.6 deaths per 100,000 officers) was nearly identical to that of all Americans (4.5 per 100,000). But, in the same year,

police killed 1,207 Americans, or 134 Americans per 100,000 officers, a rate 30 times the homicide rate overall. Police represent about 1 out of 360 members of the population, but commit 1 out of 12 of all killings in the United States.

It’s clear that, in the United States (compared to other countries and the overall homicide rate), guns don’t kill people, police officers do.