The Rights of the State

The Rights of the State

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By Tyler Abboud

Protestors march in Oakland on May Day, 2015 in solidarity with those protesting the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

In a vicious cyclical example of what constitutes news in this country, the tragic Nepalese earthquake is now out and the events in Baltimore are now in. The typical reactions associated with any circumstance involving sour Black-American and police relations have now arisen from their temporary and ugly slumber. A plea for the rights of property, appeals to Martin Luther King Jr. quotes, and then the more denigrating racial dog whistles. All of this is so expected as to follow script at this point. But what are its origins? The Atlantic journalist and social commentary writer Ta-Nehisi Coates explained in this brilliant essay why the calls for non-violence are quite absurd given the circumstances of the situation in Baltimore. However, even he did not fully address what I feel is the missing theme within these calls and others like them. Implicit is the assumption, and a dangerous one I might add, that the State is superior and wholly above frivolous concerns like rights.

To see this I urge you to scroll no further than the nearest Facebook feed or cable news program. Those condemning the rioters generally lob up a recently Google-searched MLK quote on non-violence, conveniently forgetting for a moment that were it not for 620,000 dead in the Civil War then there would be no MLK; or they will ask rhetorically “what is wrong with these people?” (Emphasis added). They assume that the State’s violence is somehow more legitimate than that of the bottle and brick throwing of the protestors. They plea for non-violence, but only in one direction; in Baltimore that was after a man’s spinal cord was snapped in State custody. However, their condemnations and protestations are not limited to this, in fact it is a theme that dominates American political thinking at all ends. Its lessons in foreign policy, where some of the most barbarous of State violence occur, are even more apparent.

In light of that I have to wonder, where are you, beloved sharer of MLK quotes? After all he said that the US is the great purveyor of violence in the world. Surely you cannot feel that way when only the state can save you form those angry black faces. I suffice it to say that you probably just did not care what the state does, because the state in your mind is infallible when its violence is directed towards them. If it happens to do wrong you circumvent this with easily applied “bad apple theories” that require no recourse. Of those calls for non-violence, did they not apply to the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children massacred by US sanctioned starvation? Or what of the weddings, parties, social events, or just plain lives in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan? Innocent bodies incinerated from a hellish blaze, the State high up above. Let us not pretend that the State has no discriminatory excuse too, it just executed two of its citizens in Yemen. Oh yes, all that property lost too, destroyed by the State, here or there, most of it forever. Yet you remained silent.

Could it possibly be that you care not about the ubiquitous value of property and instead care only that the state remains above the law and general morality? Like a pig feeding from a trough you eat up the propaganda on “just war” and “collateral damage,” ideas that never apply to the people the state deems unworthy. As long as it is they and not you, you so callously figure. Your positions on government, whatever ideology you desperately cling to, are no different than the statists of old. That is the state, in all its wisdom, has more rights then the individual and is not bound by law: more rights to utilize force against innocents with impunity, more rights to desecrate property, and more rights to evade responsibility. All of this creates an immoral situation that makes it hard to listen to those angrily posting on Facebook or complaining on the street about how much they hate those people. Until their frustrations are pointed at the larger of two evils, and the one they actually have some control over, my sympathies will lie with those protesting instead.

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