A woman was beaten at Berri-Uqam metro station on Monday – the first day that police were “making the metro safe” – right in front of two metro security guards, neither of whom lifted a finger to help her. Nor did anybody from her community – you know, the people referred to as “bystanders” or “witnesses” in the media – do anything to help, other than ask the security guards to intervene… (their rationale for not intervening was that it’s no longer in their job description seeing as the “real” police are now in charge of assuring public safety in the metro.)
This is a sad and sorry example of what i was discussing with Justin on this blog yesterday. Interpersonal violence is a real problem, one which disproportionately effects certain groups. But by relying on police and the State to “solve” this problem we lose twice. First, because the police are themselves the violent enforcers of this horrible system. Second, because we lose our ability, and our sense of responsibility, to deal with these problems ourselves.
Furthermore, the way in which the police and their media lapdogs frame this whole questions is dishonest and skewed. Interpersonal violence generally follows the pre-existing contours of oppression. So in a sexist society much violence is directed against women, or takes a sexual form. But the police take on violence is that it’s all a problem of “gangs”, by which they generally mean young people from oppressed communities.
So on Monday, the police started patrolling the metro system in order to deal with the “gang problem” that the media has been hyping. “Their goal being repression of working class youth, violence against women is not even on their radar.
As i said above, we lose twice, and for me the real scandal is not that the security guards did not intervene, not that the police took so long to show up, but that nobody else did anything. Another example of how we are disarmed not only politically but also morally (both in terms of “morale” and in terms of “morality”). A society that begs for the biggest and most violent gang, the boys in blue, to deal with shit for us. A culture that raises us to be unable to intervene, more scared of taking a stand than of the mass agoraphobia that we are cultivating. Increasingly, the only people we can relate to are the ones on the reality tv shows…
So yeah, this women was beaten up. And no, i don’t know her name or how badly, because by the time the police arrived neither her nor her aggressor – described in the media as her spouse – were there. And no, honestly, i have no confidence that things would have been “better” had the police gotten there sooner… in fact, things could have just as easily been worst.
According to some comrades, the State is an institution that claims a monopoly on violence. Maria Mies, i believe, has criticized this definition, pointing out that many States throughout history have allowed men to be violent to “their” women, parents (and other adults) violent to “their” children. One could add that many States have at times given a green light to mass violence against people from oppressed nations, be it Jews in Europe or people of colour in the u.s.a. or Palestinians in israel.
At the same time, though, the State does regulate all this autonomous violence. Setting the parameters for how and when and by whom it should be allowed. So while certain kinds of violence get a wink/nod, the use of violence by the oppressed is severely repressed. Community self-defense is outlawed. Because if working class people can control their own streets, if women can impose their own standards of safety and respect, the ruling class knows full well that this will spell the end of its power.
So it suits them all, the rapists and the cops and the patriarchs, that people cannot defend themselves, that dialing 911 has come to replace traditions of communal resistance.
This seems like an appropriate place to mention an excellent book, really all about this precise question. It’s called Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology and was co-published by South End Press and Incite! Women of Color Against Violence just last year. Bravely and provocatively, the authors describe and denounce the ongoing war against women and the timid, at times racist and authoritarian errors that middle class and white sections of the women’s movement have made in trying to respond to this crisis. It is a powerful book, all about stopping violence against women without co-operating with the State, and i learned a hell of a lot from it – and will be reviewing it more in depth some time soon, i promise!
But in the meantime, don’t wait for me: you can order a copy online from AK Press. i encourage you to do so…
And yes, i will be writing more on this later…