On average, white and black Americans have different ideas as to what’s behind the recent unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of 508 adults found that nearly two-thirds of African Americans felt that the unrest reflected “long-standing frustrations about police mistreatment of African Americans,” compared to less than one-third of whites.
In contrast, among whites, 58% believed that African Americans were just looking for an “excuse to engage in looting and violence.” A quarter of black respondents thought the same.
Though they may see it differently, almost everyone expects the uprising to reach more cities over the summer.
Sociologist Max Weber argued that the nation-state can be defined by its monopoly on violence. For most of us, most of the time, violence exercised by the state is assumed to be legitimate (unless shown otherwise). For example, police walk around with guns and can shoot you legally. Soldiers kill as part of their jobs. This is simply “keeping the peace” or “following orders.”
But violence exercised by individuals and other entities is (unless shown otherwise) illegitimate. In fact, when individuals or other entities do violence, it is often called “criminality” or “terrorism.”
Words are powerful. Calling something “terrorism” is a way to make it seem illegitimate. And, often, what makes violence illegitimate is not something inherent in the violence itself, but your perspective on it.
Thanks to Perry H.for the submission. Originally posted in 2009.
In the face of contentious debate about the value of guns, public health professor David Hemenway decided to have the experts weigh in. He modeled his research on the study of climate change experts that produced the familiar statistic that 97% of them believe that humans are causing climate change. He identified 300 scholars who have published about firearms in the fields of public health, public policy, sociology, and criminology. About 100 each have replied to nine surveys asking their opinions about common controversial statements.
This story from Daily Kos has been quickly circling through the left portion of the Internet. The headline reads:
American police killed more people in March (111) than the entire U.K. police have killed since 1900.
Let’s assume that the numbers are accurate.*
The author, Shaun King, writes:
Don’t bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.
But let’s bother adjusting, anyway.
The U.S. has a much larger population, and it has more police officers:
…but even adjusting for that, the U.S. killings by cops dwarf the U.K. figure.**
Adjusting for the number of cops, U.S. cops killed 8 times as many people in a single year as U.K. cops did in 115 years. But before we conclude that U.S. law enforcement is “sick and preposterous” and dominated by homicidal racists, we might look at the other side – the number of cops who get killed. The entire U.K. police force since 1900 has had 249 deaths in the line of duty. The U.S. tally eclipses that in a couple of years.
In this century, 25 U.K. officers died in the line of duty. The figure for the U.S., 2445, is nearly one hundred times that. Adjusting for numbers of officers, U.S. deaths are still ten times higher.
My guess is that what accounts for much of the U.K./U.S. difference is guns. Most British cops don’t carry guns. Last August, I posted a video of a berserk man wildly swinging a machete in a London street (here – it’s gotten over 25,000 page views ). The police come, armed only with protective shields and truncheons. Eventually, they are able to subdue the man. In the U.S., it’s almost certain that the police would have shot the man, and it would have been completely justifiable. More cops with guns, more cops killing people.
But more civilians with guns, more cops getting killed. Since 2000, six U.K. cops have died from gunshots; in the U.S., 788. We have 11 times as many cops, but 130 times as many killed by guns. (The other two leading causes of police deaths are heart attacks and car accidents.)
(I did not include the yearly data for the UK since it would not have been visible on the graph. In most years, total cop deaths there ranged between 0 and 2.)
Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of gun manufacturers and their minions in legislatures and in the NRA and elsewhere, U.S. cops work in a gun-rich environment. They feel, probably correctly, that they need to carry guns. If that man in London had been wielding an AR-15 (easily available in many states in the U.S. – in the U.K., not so much, not at all in fact), the cops could not have responded as they did. They would have needed guns. There would probably have been some dead civilians, perhaps some dead cops, and almost certainly, a dead berserker.
The White House has made preventing sexual assaults on college campuses a priority, The Hunting Ground documents extensive institutional denial and malfeasance, the Department of Justice finds that one in five college women are assaulted, research shows that 1 in 25 college men is a serial rapist, and students at almost 100 campuses have filed federal complaints against their schools.
Yet, according to a study of 647 college presidents, only a third (32%) believe that sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses in general and only a tiny minority (6%) think it’s prevalent on their own campus.
This is stunning. Never before in history has the problem of sexual assault on campus been better documented. The media has never covered the issue so thoroughly, frequently, and sympathetically. We are in a moment of national reflection. Under these circumstances, a quarter of college presidents claim that sexual assault isn’t prevalent anywhere and 78% deny that it’s prevalent on their own campus.
These were confidential surveys, so impression management can’t explain these numbers. Those 94% of college presidents who don’t think that sexual crimes are prevalent at their schools either think the numbers are wrong, think their own institutions are exceptions, or think that one in five isn’t fairly described as “prevalent.” Or maybe some combination of the above.
No wonder faculty are frustrated and students around the country have felt forced to turn to the federal government for help. It’s clear. College presidents are either recklessly ignorant or willfully in denial — that, or they simply don’t believe women or don’t care about them.
Sociologists are interested in the workings of power. How is inequality produced and sustained? What discursive and institutional forces uphold it? How are obvious injustices made invisible or legitimized? Why is it so hard to change hearts, minds, and societies?
How does all this work?
Earlier this month, a sliver of insight was posted. It’s a clip of a speech by Anita Sarkeesian in which she reveals what it’s like for one person to be the target of sustained, online harassment.
In 2009, Sarkeesian launched Feminist Frequency, a series of web logs in which she made feminist arguments about representation of women in pop culture. In 2012, she launched a kickstarter to fund an ambitious plan to analyze the representation of women in video games. This drew the attention of gamers who opposed her project on principle and thus began an onslaught of abuse: daily insults and threats of rape and murder, photoshop harassment, bomb threats, and a video game in which her face can be beaten bloody, just to mention a few examples. Last fall she canceled a speech at Utah State University because someone threatened to commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she went on. It’s been brutal and it’s never stopped.
So, is this power at work? Has she been silenced? And has her larger project – awareness of sexism and misogyny in video games – been harmed?
I’m not sure.
As an individual, Sarkeesian has continued to speak out about the issue, but how she does so and with what frequency has been aggressively curtailed by the harassment. In the four-and-a-half minute clip, with the theme “What I Couldn’t Say,” she talks about how the harassment has changed how she engages with the public. I offer some tidbits below, but here’s the full clip:
I rarely feel comfortable speaking spontaneously in public spaces, I’m intentional and careful about the media interviews I do, I decline most invitations to be on podcasts or web shows, I carefully consider the wording of every tweet to make sure it is clear and can’t be misconstrued. Over the last several years, I’ve become hypervigilant. My life, my words, and my actions are placed under a magnifying glass. Every day I see my words scrutinized, twisted, and distorted by thousands of men hell bent on destroying and silencing me.
How she gets her message across has been affected as well:
[I cant’ say] anything funny… I almost never make jokes anymore on YouTube… I don’t do it because viewers often interpret humor and sarcasm as ignorance… You would not believe how often jokes are taken as proof that I don’t know what I’m talking about… even when those jokes rely on a deep knowledge of the source material.
And she feels that, above all, she’s not allowed to talk about the harm that her harassers are doing:
I don’t’ get to publicly express sadness, or rage, or exhaustion, or anxiety, or depression… I don’t get to express feelings of fear or how tiring it is to be constantly vigilant of my physical and digital surroundings… In our society, women are not allowed to express feelings without being characterized as hysterical, erratic bitchy, highly emotional, or overly sensitive. Our experiences of insecurity, doubt, anger, or sadness are all policed and often used against us.
A youtube search for the video reveals a slew of anti-Sarkeesian responses were published within days.
Sarkeesian’s revelations put an inspiring human face on the sacrifice individuals make to fight-the-good-fight, but also reveal that, in some ways, her harassers are winning.
That said, their grotesque display of misogyny has raised Sarkeesian’s profile and drawn attention to and legitimized her project and her message. That original kickstarter? The original call was for $6,000. Her supporters donated almost $159,000. The feminist backlash to the misogynist backlash was swift and monied.
Ever since, the abuse she’s suffered as an individual has made the issue of both sexism in video games and online harassment more visible. Her pain may have been good for the visibility of the movement. I wonder, though, what message it sends to other women and men who want to pursue similar social justice initiatives. It is a cautionary tale that may dampen others’ willingness to fight.
The battle is real. The gamers who oppose Sarkeesian and what she stands for have succeeded in quieting, if not silencing her and have probably discouraged others from entering the fray. But Sarkeesian’s cause and the problem of gamer misogyny is more visible than ever. The fight goes on.