Violent Means Used in Response to Social Movements
The government has too frequently employed violent tactics to silence social movements based on specific conditions of intervention. Inadvertently, some of this violence, such as the mass violence motivated by centuries of racial harassment by state agents and private citizens against people of color, led to the development of social movements like the Black Panther Party. In an ironic twist, the BPP’s tenure was characterized by the violent reception of the party’s activities by federal agents. As a result, black communities across America in the 60s faced combined violent responses in the forms of police brutality, lynching, sub-standard housing, unemployment, inferior social services, and educational facilities.
Protests for justice and the fundamental right to life during the Southern-based freedom struggle were met with excessive white retaliation in the form of bombings, murder, arson, and beatings. The state, unfortunately, offered no reprieve as this violence was matched in effect and forced by police brutality and war zones during the urban riots of the mid-1960s. This encouraged the BPP to harness and reconceptualize the constitution based on insight drawn from previous social movements that had already made the connection between resistance and open racist violence. They likened their struggle to that of self-determination Third-World philosophies to create a more comprehensive self-defense project against structural abuse and violence.
This trend of the government resulting in violent responses was also exhibited in the 1960’s urban unrest and protest politics period. Looting and widespread violence emerged in many American cities within the 1967-68 timeframe, representing a nexus of many protests, including the antiwar, anti-racism, and anti-poverty causes. However, the response of the state was the deployment of vast police and National Guard factions. These particular protests in Newark had been sparked by the “Smith Incident,” which featured a case of police brutality against a black taxi driver, John Smith, who had double-parked next to a police cruiser. The resulting protests and subsequent riots and state response left 26 people dead and hundreds seriously injured. Further, numerous persons, most of whom were African-Americans, were being hurt by gunshots of an indeterminate origin.
However, the extent of violent responses was not reserved for violent looting and riots in kind. During the 1960s civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and other notable activists, including John Lewis, led an interfaith peaceful protest march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate against the restrictive voting practices against African Americans. However, this peaceful protest would culminate in what would be known as Bloody Sunday. In Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama, state troopers brutally attacked peaceful demonstrators led by John Lewis. However, footage of the abhorrent violence collectively shocked the country and spurred people to stand up against racial injustice.
The Civil movement of the 1960s was heavily marred by police brutality and harassment. The Federal Bureau of Investigations, under its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, monitored and harassed civil rights leaders in various capacities. These included monitoring communications and sending FBI agents to infiltrate the civil rights groups. In fact, after the famous Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech, one of Hoover’s top aides, William Sullivan, noted a memo stating that in the aftermath of this speech, MLK had become the most dangerous negro in the US from the perspectives of communism, national security, and the African American. Surveillance of the civil rights movement and MLK was ramped up following the latter’s outspokenness against the Vietnam war, which he was repeatedly warned against, in fear of violence and persecution against him. He was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike when he was assassinated, inadvertently galvanizing the nation and giving the civil rights movement a martyr to rally behind.