The spread of political unrest in countries across the world has prompted fears about the growth of political violence in democratic societies.
There is a theory that political violence is the sort of thing a democracy is supposed to prevent and if it occurs it will be remedied by the exercise of voting, the protection of individual rights by the courts or by civil disobedience.
The examples of Jamaica and the US dispel this proposition.
Since the 1980’s there has been a long-standing feud between right-wing and left-wing elements often escalating into violence. The violence has now morphed into economic crimes fueled by the drug trade in south Florida.
Successive governments have used states of emergency to combat surges in crime because, according to National Security Minister Dr. Horace Chang, unless Jamaica becomes a police state, states of emergency are necessary. A police state is one in which excess power is exercised through the power of the police force.
Democracy is still intact but the costs have been high. Jamaica was listed in a recent report as having the highest rate of homicides (including killings by the police) in the Americas and the Caribbean http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20210131/jamaica-tops-homicides-latin-america-and-caribbean.
The summer of 2020 saw protests and sporadic violence in a number of American cities following the killings by police of African Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Some people including many who are now protesting in the streets argue that American policing is incompatible with democratic ideals.
The new president Joe Biden was installed in a celebration surrounded by a sea of barbed wire and 26,000 heavily armed soldiers. Military soldiers parade the streets as police officers, SWAT teams execute nightly no-knock warrants (particularly in communities of color) while people from these communities are disproportionately absorbed by the world’s largest prison system.
To stop the exacerbation of Trumpism we have seen internet censorship and regulations on the media and some on the left even recommend new dramatic terror laws and even policies to deprogram the minds of Trump supporters.
It remains to be seen if the 2020 demonstrations will resolve the long-standing issues of racial injustice or escalate into a civil war. Two factors indicate that the trend favors the former:-
First, today’s protesters are more interracial than those of the past comprising African Americans, Latins and Whites as the police target all races with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Secondly, the geography of the violence is different today as wealthy downtown malls and global chains are under attack and not just low income neighborhoods
Armed militias, censorship and acts of police brutality carry associated costs such as loss of life, damage to property and accelerate additional violence. To mitigate these costs politicians are tempted to invoke emergency powers but these are necessarily short-term solutions. What is needed are more investments targeted towards communities that promote democracy and build community resilience.
February 27, 2021