The emotional distress arising from various situations such as witnessing or personally experiencing violence can cause trauma. Trauma can reside in our bodies causing long term stress. If trauma and grief are not dealt with, it can be passed on through various generation. While police violence or instances of brutality can result in personal pain and suffering, the inability to have any control or agency in those instances can be humiliating. It can be implicitly used as a tool of suppression. Michele Alexander describes how the targeting leads to disproportionate numbers of men and women of color in the criminal justice system traumatizes family and community because of their absence. Trauma is connected to loss of a relative, friend or community member's presence and participation in family life. As well, financial hardship and loss of resources and possibility when family members and friends are incarcerated or killed by police. Because of the direct and indirect violence enacted against communities of color, the violence is often re-enacted among other community members
Economic, education, and career systems in America contribute to the structural suppression of economic progress in poor communities. A lack of available resources to families experiencing poverty perpetuates their inability to obtain resources resulting in continued disadvantages for further generations. Housing policy favors those already wealthy enough to buy a home and leads to displacement and economic segregation. Tax policy frequently favors the wealthy. Unequal education contributes to the entrenchment of poverty. Stereotyping by police discriminates against impoverished communities where a higher police presence is noted. Higher policing not only increases the likelihood of altercations between officers and community members and takes community members out of the workforce, it also perpetuates the idea that impoverished people are a risk and are in need of more constant monitoring than others.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Those incarcerated are disproportionately black or Latino minorities. Laws leading to arrest and incarceration apply specifically to these communities.
School to Prison Pipeline
What is the School-to-Prison pipeline and why does it target Black and Latino students?
Black students are arrested at school in disproportionately high numbers. Exposure to structural injustices and disproportionate policing in black neighborhoods fosters distrust within black youth, and a general fear of police, beginning at a young age. Students suffering from all the effects of white supremacy and often poverty are then criminalized by their school, often for minor and predictable infractions that would be dealt with administratively at a rich white school. (According to Rosa Ramirez (2013), “Students of color and those with disabilities receive harsher punishment in schools, punishments that are often a precursor to their entry into the juvenile justice system”.) As a result, these students - disproportionately African American and Latino boys - are criminalized (suspended, expelled, incarcerated) instead of educated, setting them up for a lifetime of challenges to participation in society.
In order to help each other stay accountable to listening deeply, thoughtfully and with intention, we decided to create a Framework for Listening.
We hope this framework can help us to understand police violence as part of a larger story of structural violence and oppression.
We also hope this framework can help us to understand violence as so much deeper than only physical violence.
Violence is structural, it is unequal, it is systemic.
Militarization of the Police
Before the protests in Ferguson began, communities of color have been subjected to arbitrary and violent policing. When we think of the military and the local law enforcement, it used to conjure a different image. This theme deals with the behavior, tactics and equipment of domestic law enforcement being indistinguishable for soldiers fighting on distant battlefields. MLK called militarism one of the triplets of evil. Militarism is defined as the overuse of public resources, energy and focus toward war. For instance, public funding that would support employment, housing, infrastructure and education are instead utilized in war making capacity. Researchers connect decreasing social safety and public support to increasing military and domestic law enforcement funding. The thought being that a draft is too unpopular, thus people from marginalized communities have fewer choices creating a viable option for people to escape poverty. Through grants, local law enforcement around the country have received much of the surplus military weapons and equipment.
Some argue that police training does not equip local officers with the specialized training to use these weapons. Others suggest that these high grade weapons are used without concern for the extent of damage they can cause. The technology is often an excuse for the violent and aggressive behavior they reinforce. One Truth Teller and her son share their story of militaristic behavior that saw her as an enemy combatant.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights points out “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Yet, in the U.S. decent housing, let alone basic housing is not guaranteed. There are over a half a million people without a home on any given night and according to Reuters, a quarter of them are children. The problem of inequality is deepened by systemic racism in the areas of criminal justice, employment. This is a historic problem that goes back to the Jim Crow system of segregation, where African Americans were prevented from integration in schools, public facilities and neighborhoods. According to Richard Rothstein's report entitled the Making of Ferguson, many Blacks escaping the violence of the Jim Crow south in the ‘Great Migration’ between 1916-1970 encountered housing inequality. Housing covenants, economic policy excluding Blacks from mortgages and redlining was reinforced by brutal policing to halt the flow of African Americans in mostly white neighborhoods. Fifty years ago MLK commented“of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing…”
Problematic Mainstream Media
Media are more concerned with how compelling stories are than how factual. This is a function of corporate control of the media, making it a profit-focused business rather than the crucial element of public education it should be. As a result reports of racial violence are spun with a goal of attract interest and readers, rather than to get to clarify root problems or work for justice. The media largely ignores the ‘normality’ of police violence in communities of color, and perpetuates violent and harmful stereotypes of Black people by focusing on negative portrayals of individual victims. Victims of police violence are portrayed as criminals, drug users, or instigators of their own abuse. This demonizing coverage of victims helps police avoid accountability. The dominance of corporate media conglomerates means that a few executives exercise ultimate control over newspapers, magazines, television, publishing, and films and thereby shape public opinion about issues
in a deeply undemocratic manner.
The repetitious nature of media portrayals of violence against African Americans can cause people to tune out, while sensationalized coverage can be re-traumatizing to victims. Truth Teller Armani Brown said, “Every time people die it feels like it happens all over again...”
There is a crucial need for communities to retake control of their own messages, to develop media that functions to inform and to build solidarity. An informed citizenry, responsible for its own narratives, is in a far better position to resist state abuses and to build democratic institutions.
Unjust Legal System
“Legal system” is a broad term used to describe the individuals, institutions and laws that govern our lives and enforce the laws. The U.S. legal system as we experience it today does not treat every person as equals. The inequality exists across many identities and experiences because of historic injustice and the failure to adequately address them. Major issues that result from our unjust legal system are the disproportionate amount of Black people in prisons, experiencing police brutality and discrimination in ways that prevent people with diverse identities like Muslim,Trans, or Latina, from experiencing a decent life. There are many more aspects of an unjust legal system but one example is that legal punishment disproportionately affects less affluent communities and those of color. Without the resources to pay bail or hire a more qualified attorney, these communities suffer within the justice system.
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