Peace in a culture of violence?

For years Quakers have had Peace and Social Concerns Committees. I’ve been praying and thinking about what that work should entail these days. This country’s culture of violence has taken dramatically new forms that we haven’t adapted our work to address.

This country’s white history and culture of dominance and violence began with the arrival of the first white men, who brought with them the legacy of European wars. And the Doctrine of Discovery that was, and is used as justification for the violence they inflicted on the native peoples. Including purposely killing buffalo to near extinction. And kidnapping native children, to take them to schools for erasure of their culture by forced assimilation. Schools where there was widespread emotional, physical and sexual abuse. And too often, death. The violence of tribal nations being uprooted and forced to move to smaller and smaller areas of land.

And there was the violence of hunting people in Africa for chattel slavery. The journey to this country in horrible conditions on the ships. Then being sold as if they were not human. And treated inhumanely, usually for the rest of their lives. Lives of terror, abuse and often death at the hands of owners and other white people. Though chattel slavery might be gone, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) people continue to be abused and even killed. Even when they are unarmed.

In the last century there were multinational armed conflicts, appropriately called World Wars. The results of those wars didn’t result in peace. It appeared new conflicts were likely. So a standing armed force was organized and equipped. The Selective Service System was created to conscript men for an army, even in peacetime. It is difficult to imagine this country without an army these days.

In the early 1950’s a group of Quakers left the United States because of the increasing militarism. They built the Monteverde community in Costa Rica, a country that has not had an army since 1948.  

In this country, Quakers could be classified as conscientious objectors, and perform two years of alternative service. Other Quakers felt that was simply a tactic to reduce opposition to the draft, and thus refused to cooperate with Selective Service System. Many resisters were imprisoned. Quaker and draft resister, Don Laughlin, collected stories related to this, Young Quaker Men Face War and Conscription.

There was a lot of opposition to the draft and to conflicts. Much of the agitation was blunted when the armed forces implemented an all volunteer army. The Korean War was called a police action instead of a war. The last time the United States passed a declaration of war was World War II. Since then, US military actions have been carried out without a formal declaration, which bypassed the need to get approval from the public.

Today the US carries out armed conflict in many countries, called the “War on Terror”, making that easier for people to accept. Who doesn’t want to stop terrorism? However, such armed tactics cause significant civilian deaths and infrastructure destruction. And results in more people joining the very terrorist groups being targeted.

The final sanitation of armed conflict is to use unmanned, weaponized drones. Now the US can kill by remote control. Ironically this country is now revealed to be engaging in terrorism.

Each step in that progression moved armed conflict further out of public awareness. Each step made it more difficult for peace advocates to oppose the country’s military actions.

Then the armed forces came home in the sense of military equipment and tactics increasingly used to try to quell domestic dissent. It shouldn’t have been surprising to see this natural progression of violence, but I was shocked by military vehicles and police who looked like combat soldiers appearing on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. This was first seen in response to the killing of unarmed Michael Brown by a white police officer in 2014.

From my blog Ferguson and Militarized Police.

Today is the anniversary of the killing of unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
This was also the first time most of us learned about the militarization of our civilian police departments. We were shocked by the scenes from the streets of Ferguson, and to realize armored vehicles could be rolling down our own streets. We began to see the extent to which the police were seeing us as the enemy. We learned about the Pentagon’s 1033 program, part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, that allowed the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

From the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), this article was originally published in September of 2014, following the death of Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Ferguson is just one of many communities to receive equipment through this program. Towns all over the country now possess Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and other equipment designed for a war zone. Police in towns such as Columbia, South Carolina; McLennan County, Texas; Nampa, Idaho; West Lafayette, Indiana; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Yuma, Arizona; Calhoun, Alabama; and at Ohio State University are kitted out to respond to violent extremists with lethal, military force.

The U.S. response to the September 11 attacks is partly behind this dangerous escalation. Suddenly, communities felt they needed to be on high alert at all times, ready to respond to any threat. In this culture of fear, the Pentagon spent billions of dollars on weapons and equipment for war. That equipment went to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. As troops came home, surplus equipment went straight to police departments, thanks to the 1033 program.

For a police department like Ferguson’s, the path to becoming a paramilitary force is a short one. After getting this free military gear, law enforcement agents use it. The 1033 program’s regulations require that the police use what they receive within one year.”

“Rolling back the 1033 program is important, but it’s not enough. Through the Department of Homeland Security’s “terrorism grants” program, local police departments have received more than $34 billion to acquire surveillance drones, Army tanks, and other equipment ill-suited for local policing. Like the 1033 program, these grants contribute to militarized policing that damages trust between police officers and community members. We are encouraging members of Congress to roll back this program as well.”

How Tanks got to Main Street

All this has rapidly deteriorated to the present. Now we are used to hearing about, and all too often seeing police police kill unarmed people of color. Used to seeing protesters tear gassed and beaten by militarized, sometimes unidentified, police. Seeing the increasing criminalization of freedom of speech and assembly.

In light of all this, what does work for peace and justice look like in a culture of violence?
(to be continued)

This entry was posted in Black Lives, civil disobedience, Indigenous, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Native Americans, peace, revolution, solidarity, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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