Many Faces of Violence in the US - Lessons for India

It  is important countries that have legitimate criticisms of the United  States, or are aware of the declining standards in the US - especially its cities, do not assume that they can conveniently  ignore poverty, disparity, corruption, crookedness, sexism, classism  and anti-intellectualism within their own societies. Evolved minds  learn from others' mistakes, failures or arrogant mis-directions, as  well their own...not just feel glum and glee at another's decline and  fall.

Militarization  of American society and psyche, that began more than a hundred years  ago, continues to control much of the American foreign policy...not  only in the Middle East but in other regions as well.

Some  see the recent US B-52 bomber flying over two small islands, more  like isles, center of contention between China, that calls the  islands Diaoyu, and Japan, that calls the islands Senkuku, as a  provocative behavior on the part of the Americans.

The  question is: What is the necessity for the US military to fly this  military aircraft, stationed in Guarm, at this time over this  specific space...especially when negotiations with Iran are yet to be  completed?

Some  would call this US fear of growing Chinese power and influence in the  region. Some would say this is America looking for a new military  deployment as an old modus operandi for new employment.

The  US military and security, that includes its intelligence,  surveillance, border patrol, immigration and customs, law enforcement  and the prison industrial complex, employs, domestically and  internationally, one out of five Americans. Because of this very  skewed ratio in employment, and its economic value, few Americans are  willing to challenge the way their own government, and many related  corporations, operate...creating a bizarre contradiction between  spending that is out of control; frugality that is applied to mostly  social programs...and a defense budget that remains bloated,  unquestioned and much of it highly secretive.

America  is not just a country of too many contradictions...but one of growing  unhealthy extremes. A country known for pragmatism and action once is  now a country that appears to be jumping from issue to issue without  completion, thought or foresight, appearing impulsive, militant and  provocative.

Unfortunately  useful or insightful counsel from allied countries in Europe, Asia  and Africa have been ignored and flouted by the US, while the  American allies are being spied on and subjected to humiliating forms  of surveillance.

Some  comic books show America as an "out of control Frankenstein  monster" that does what it wants, and at times, like a scared  confused paranoid patient in a sanitarium, attacks the very people  who liked it, understood it, supported it and worked with it. While  these popular critiques are overly simplistic or sensationalistic,  they do speak to growing extremes in certain foreign and domestic  policies. Some would say that was bound to happen with a long skewed  history of American enmeshment in the Middle East.

In  American popular folklore ware wolves and vampires are fantasy  creatures that are supposed to emerge from man-made societies built  on exploitation, tyranny, genetic mutation, eugenics, scientific  tinkering with nature without social values, and abuse of power by  those without empathy, compassion and a sense of justice.

Ware  wolves are anthropomorphic creatures, half man and half animal, who  carry the carnivorous desire, impulse and predatory need of a wild  wolf...with a man's cunning, insights and intelligence. They stalk  their prey carefully, and later hunt them down viciously. Some say  the circular cunning between Jewish American or Israeli Intelligence  and Iranian Intelligence (so masterfully shown in the early episodes  of the TV series Homeland),  where agents craftily stalk those on the other side, compete for  control and then quickly attack with sophisticated undetectable  technology, is a good example of the ware wolf psychology.

Vampires  are another popular fantasy horror creatures in the American  folklore. They suck blood from unsuspecting or innocent people for  their survival. Human vampires' existence, as the myth goes, depends  on the destruction and death of others through a process that is both  predatory and consumptive. Their behaviors of sucking blood from  humans and other living species for survival become, over time, an  addiction.

These  fantasy horror creatures are presented as physiologically,  neurologically and psychologically so unusual and grotesque that they  survive only by consuming the life force of others. There is no room  here for co-existence, negotiation, compromise or even mutually  agreed upon parasitic existence. It is either "you  sacrifice yourself by giving your blood and dying willingly",  or "these  human vampires take your blood forcefully until you weaken, shrink  and disappear".

These  popular American mythological creatures, now the subject of well  known Hollywood movies and TV series, speaks to the dark urges,  impulses, dysfunctionalities, deviances and unhealthy addictions  within the American psyche and the Western Anglo men.

The  question is not whether such deviances, dysfunctionalities and  unhealthy addictions exist in other countries or cultures. They  do...But why are they so widely accepted as normal in American  culture, and even passionately defended as an essential part of  American psychology of success by those in power?

While  it is true that crime in the US might have fallen in the last ten  years, it is still much higher than most societies - especially  so-called developed nations. Shootings, attacks with weapons,  murders, kidnappings, molestations, rape and actual enslavement of  children and women (a shocking trend) is still very high in the US,  and is the highest among developed nations. There are hundred  thousand disappearances of children, teens and young women in the US  every year. More than fifty percent end in death, rape, molestation,  or all three.

Mass  shootings that mostly occurs in public spaces or work places, and  result in the death of three or more people, are no longer a rare  event. They occur every six months or so...and even result in the  deaths of very young children and school teachers. Columbine School  shooting, Virginia Tech mass murder, Oakland college assaults, Aurora  Theater killings and Newtown school massacre...are just a few that  have garnered international headlines. Newtown shooting, that  occurred in December of 2012, resulted in the death of twenty-one  first graders, and eight teachers and school staff. Since then there  have been at least five mass shootings in the US.

Lot  of violence among family members that end in murder or murder-suicide  are not recorded as mass shootings in many police records, but as  domestic violence. Domestic violence is also high in the US, and  growing. While only serious injuries, murders and police reported  events, involving family members, are documented as domestic  violence...lot of family violence are rarely reported or well  documented (as is the case in many developing countries, including  India).

The  difference between domestic violence in the US and domestic violence  in other countries is that family violence in the US, that includes  spousal abuse, results in "higher numbers of murders and acute  injuries" because of the involvement of weapons, usually guns.  Due to high level of gun ownership, and easy access to guns, guns of  all sorts are often used in many domestic disagreements, quarrels and  disputes.

While  it appears like a no brainer to know that "removing weapons"  from people, families and their homes would reduce gun related  violence, including domestic violence, the gun lobby is so powerful  that it controls public opinion, legislation and community priorities  on these matters.

Current  laws favor gun manufacturers and sellers, and helps  them  maintain their multi-billion dollar industry.

One  must add, as a caveat, that there are socially legitimate uses of  guns, like for hunting, sport, self defense...that does not always  result in the murder of innocent people. But the attitude behind gun  purchase and ownership, whether a gun is actually discharged or not,  carries a distorted view that "gun related activities are mostly  fun, safe, helpful and necessary".

Those  who question and oppose the gun purchase and ownership feel, while  owning guns has been common in American history and culture, and the  Constitution itself has protected this so-called right, the current  excessive buying of guns, and sales of assault rifles and  military-style combat weapons, are fairly new. This new trend,  growing in the last twenty years, has baffled many social scientists.

Some  see this growing ownership of guns, especially assault weapons and  machine guns, as increased success in salesmanship and marketing by  the gun industry. Some tie this growth in gun sales and popularity of  assault weapons to the growing violence in some cities and small  towns. Some connect it to a growing "militia mentality"  that perceives the government as "the new enemy".

With  lack of transparency from some government departments, particularly  with the recent exposure of the secret surveillance of innocent  American citizens and civilians, the need for ordinary Americans to  arm themselves against those they "do not know, do not  understand, do not agree with and do not trust" has grown. Some  of this need might appear "absurd and extreme", as they  are...but some of it comes from a long American history of civil  unrest, civil war, civil disobedience, civic discontent, civic unrest  and civic uprising...fought with guns.

As  they say among the older circles, "The men of the South pointed  a gun at their own father, brother, pastor and son to defend slavery.  The good guys from up North needed to take up guns to protect  themselves and abolish slavery. Guns in America have done good and  bad for the people. It is only a a society where divisions,  disparities and discontent wanes and waxes. Who will hurt and harm  with a gun; who will benefit and gain from a gun and who will do good  for the larger society with a gun has varied in the past, and is yet  to be determined in the current social climate".

Some  would say the excessive design, manufacture and popularization of  killing-tools, like a sword or a gun, constructed to injure, disable  and murder living species, speaks to a distorted or a dysfunctional  nature.

And  those who research gun purchase, gun sales and gun violence overlook  the psychology behind gun ownership and gun use.

In  the old and new American agrarian country guns were and are used for  hunting, sport, self defense and rite of passage for boys. In the  rugged American west guns were a tool through which differences were  settled, justice was enforced, stress and outrage were expressed, and  vengeance and vendetta were sought. American city cultures have used  guns to enforce the law, deter crimes and commit crimes (including  its use in many gang and mafia activities).

With  such popular, favorable and almost affectionate attitude to  guns...banning guns, limiting gun purchase or ownership, and  regulating guns among civilians is a hard battle for many anti-gun  activists in the US. And as some Americans hear more about government  surveillance, secrecy and manipulation...more determined they are to  own guns and defend their right to freedom, independence, privacy,  and to fight what they perceive is a possible tyranny.

President  Obama's struggle to bring in appropriate gun regulations, after the  Newtown massacre and few other mass shootings since then, by finding  the perfect middle ground, where all opposing views and conflicting  needs can be balanced and adequately negotiated, has failed.

With  this history, reality and social psychology we have to wonder if the  weapons, that were responsible for the annihilation of native  communities in American history and enslavement of Blacks and colored  people, would become the instruments of self defense in future  America as social priorities and profiles diverge?

Victory  for the vulnerable, the exploited, the unsuspecting and the  indigenous has been either absent, or very limited, in the history of  the United States. Not only were many natives tribes of North America  hounded, hunted and exterminated, but the few who survived, or  cooperated and collaborated with the Anglo European invaders and  colonizers, were thrown into badlands, known as reservations...where  they slowly declined in rights, self determination and basic dignity.

Many  native communities of North America, like the Aborigines of  Australia, ended up in acute poverty or on welfare: uneducated,  addicted to drugs and alcohol and/or living off of handouts and  charity. They collectively lost their confidence, pride and  appropriate control over their own land and resources. With their  communities destroyed, cultures decimated, families  dysfunctionalized, economies ruined and their psychology weakened  ....the natives struggled to take charge of their own lives.

Slavery  was another organized institutionalized violence in the US...the  consequence and shame of which are still apparent. Blacks were torn  from their families and villages, shackled and forcefully taken,  through fear, intimidation and torture, to a region of the world far  from their home and continent, that they would never be able to flee  even if they won their freedom.

And  winning freedom from slavery in the United States required a civil  war between Anglo men who believed in slave labor and those who  wished to abolish race based indentured servitude. Even the men who  wanted to abolish slavery believed in one way or the other in the  inferiority of the Black race, while fighting for a cause that was  considered "fundamentally American": that all men are  created equal under God and the American Constitution (that is  supposed to protect every citizen and legal resident).

After  the abolition of slavery institutionalized violence against Blacks  continued in the form of Jim Crow laws. Blacks were denied equal  education, equal access to work, equal pay, equal opportunities,  equal ownership of land, property and business...and equal rights.  Before the civil rights movement Blacks, even those who fought side  by side with their own White brothers, in the World Wars, Korean war  and the Vietnam war, could not ride the same bus, attend the same  school or college, nor go to the same restaurants and public places  as the Whites .

And  at the time of the civil rights movement, in the 50s and the 60s, even  Anglo women had limited rights compared to Anglo men. Though American women, by the 1970s, had won their right to vote, go  to public schools and colleges and seek employment...what was  available to women, beyond wifehood and motherhood, beyond care  giving and caretaking and beyond domestic chores and home  duties....was very limited.

Women  in the US, just two generations ago, like women elsewhere, got  married young, had children young and primarily served male needs,  ambitions and aspirations. They could be a suburban house wife, a  rich doctor's spouse, a successful engineer's secretary, a well  respected scientist's assistant, a professor's aid...but few could  easily, successfully and comfortably become a doctor, an engineer, a  scientist or a professor themselves.

Even  the kind of work women could do in the community provided little  security, self satisfaction, happiness, liberation or salvation. Many  women were stuck between being bored, unhappy, abused or enslaved  wives at home, and/or being over worked, neglected, infantilized and  exploited women at work.

As  Blacks and women in the US say, "Racism has not thoroughly  disappeared in the US, and sexism keeps rearing its ugly head  frequently." The concerted effort by Conservative political  leaders even today to curb or eliminate safe and affordable  reproductive options for women is a case in point.

Violence  against women and people of color, direct or indirect, individual or  institutional and obvious or subtle, has been both historical and  political...and is deeply embedded in the social and cultural reality  of America.

In  India, while racism may not exist, and some may consider casteism a  form of racism (though caste is not connected to skin color or  appearance), classism and sexism remains extreme, and more acute than  the US today. Many American liberal activists fear that if America  continues the way it does it would become another Third World nation  like India...with beggars, including pot bellied starving children,  swarming around with their hands held out pleading for a few paisas  and some food, with mediocrity and corruption widely prevalent and  protected at the top. This might be an exaggerated image of modern  India...but it is a growing American fear.

There  are those, outside and inside the US who feel, rightly so, that the  fight for middle class is directed, at times, by a narrow and skewed  definition of American middle class, and an unfair wealth generation.  Homes with three or more cars; highways that require constant  management and repairs; an aging population that requires security  and health care; expensive health services for the rich and the well  insured; social programs and government bailouts that benefit the  wealthy, the crooked or the savvy; a large national and local budget  for security...are all examples of a society with an unsustainable  middle and mobile class.

Added  to the institutionalized racism and muted sexism is the emerging  concern with police brutality against ordinary people across the US.  Excessive use of force, or excessive use of guns, that cause  injuries, disabilities and deaths to thousands of innocent civilians  have sky rocketed in the US.

Blacks,  immigrants, poor people and others, discriminated or disempowered  historically, have always suffered police authoritarianism and  brutality more so than Whites, the middle class and the rich in the  US. Higher reporting, better documentation, more direct recording of  police conduct or misconduct (through videos and hidden cameras), and  the greater public demand for transparency, have helped to reveal and  publicize police violations and violence.

Once  the exclusive burden of Blacks and poor communities and  neighborhoods, today police violence, brutality and violation of  human rights are affecting middle class and White communities too.  The new TV series, "Orange is the New Black" (2013),  referring to the orange jumpsuit that many prison inmates are  expected to wear, speaks to the authoritarianism, tyranny and  militarization of the American law enforcement, as well as growing  number of crimes being committed by Anglo working and middle class  families.

A  recent report in the US showed that many middle class wives, mothers  and teens are resorting to prostitution to maintain their  lifestyle...which includes three or four cars, nice shoes, expensive  handbags and extravagant vacations. The same report talked about  working class families, unemployed men, middle class couples and  financially strapped White Americans taking up the manufacture of  meth and other illegal drugs, as well as trafficking in narcotics,  for economic survival or security.

Many  Americans are indulging in illegal activities to survive, pay off  their debt or get rich quickly. Only a few among the middle and upper  class criminals are getting caught and convicted. In fact financial  crimes are almost a Medal of Honor, and rite of passage, among the  wealthy and among those in big corporate America. In the US it has  always been a thin line, often broken, between financial savviness,  innovativeness and crookedness.

The  American judiciary has allowed, through its own racism, sexism,  prejudice and partiality, a lot of perversities in the status quo to  continue and grow. It has, on many occasions, protected or acquitted  criminals and murderers. George Zimmerman's acquittal, after stalking  and killing a young unarmed teenager in cold blood in public in  Florida, is a case in point.

After  the murder the police who investigated the crime scene did not arrest  Mr. Zimmerman. It took a large national protest from Blacks parents  of teens, concerned suburban families, community leaders and other  civilians to push the police to arrest George Zimmerman, and put him  through the right legal and judicial review to decide his innocence.

In  the end George Zimmerman's acquittal, after an intense trial, had  little to do with his innocence, and much more to do with the "Stand  Your Ground law" that allowed many shooters to argue legally,  though not ethically or truthfully, their "self defense rights"  to get away with murder, and a racist jury that disliked and  distrusted the young Black victim, Trayvon Martin, from the start.

In  places like Florida justice for many Blacks, Browns, immigrants and  poor people is very limited. It is also most of the time selective  and skewed. Even second degree burns on innocent customers and  civilians, caused by small businesses due to their recklessness and  carelessness, will not be adequately addressed, redressed or  compensated for...because the system at the top works for the well  connected - the "good old boys" (really the bad  old boys), criminals  and crony professionals (with little ethics, standards and honesty) -  like in many Third World nations.

Unfortunately  many immigrants, in their eagerness to come to the US, survive here  and succeed economically, play right into this status quo: its  exploitations, deceptions, violations and violence, and, knowingly or  unknowingly, hurt innocent civilians or customers.

If  one moves further south in Florida there are different kinds of  organized and institutional violence to contend with. This is the new  so-called "border problem" that runs across the Southern  territories. There have been headline news on the growing tension  between the US and Mexico in the border areas that has escalated into  a crowd of Mexicans throwing stones at US border patrol officers. The  officers have retaliated with machine guns on what they perceive as  "unruly mobs".

In  the last few years there have been growing complaints that Mexican  citizens, living close to the border between the US and Mexico, have  been shot and killed by US border patrol officers for reasons other  than illegal migration, nefarious activities or suspicious conducts.  US border control authorities have called such actions "mistakes,  oversights or collateral damage when conducting raids against cartels  or unauthorized border crossings". Mexican government and its  border residents have called this "callous policing, reckless  conduct by those who carry weapons and patrol the border...and  outright racism against Mexicans".

Some  have worried that growing violence by border patrol officers is a  reactive and a provocative behavior...from a new breed of highly  militarized ultra-Right security agents.

The  number of Mexican citizens shot and killed by US border patrol  guards, authorized to carry military combat weapons, is growing, say  activists and investigators concerned with border issues  (  Propublica, an American online magazine committed to investigative  reporting, has several articles on the growing militarization of the  US-Mexican border, and excessive use of surveillance and intelligence  technology in controlling and managing the border, as well as areas  100 miles north of the border. Such military and surveillance  technology includes radars, drones and long distance tasers (that can  inflict high level electric charges on people's bodies - either  immobilizing or killing them).

Many  Anglo Americans in the South, especially near the border areas,  though conservative and religious with strong anti-Federal government  beliefs, fear what they see as a "Latino, Hispanic or Mexican  takeover of their communities". This new migration, they claim,  is radically changing the cultural and social profile of their  communities, and their sense of "peace, security and stability".

Hispanic  Americans and Hispanic legal immigrants see the attitudes of many  Anglo Americans near the border areas as "ethnocentric, racist,  supremacist, and nationalistic". Many Mexican Americans have  legitimate reasons to be afraid of the American police, including  border patrol, who instead of ensuring their security, and fair  enforcement of the law for the benefit of the public, are harassing  and assaulting many legal immigrants - some who just happen to look  Latino.

This  militarization of the border and the law enforcement system has many  civil rights groups worried about growing tyranny and fascism in the  United States. Unfortunately, those who are worried about tyranny,  oppression and suppression by the State are unable to successfully  challenge the State without appearing paranoid, racist, sexist,  aggressively supremacist, violently nationalistic and religiously  nutty.

As  they say, "Intelligent issues, appropriate reasoning and  necessary social or judicial responses not only gets weakened by  those with power and authority in the US, but it also gets  compromised by the growing conservatism, religious extremism, racism,  sexism and nationalism on the ground and at the grassroots".  Those with legitimate concerns, and appropriate need for justice,  compensation and redress, are beaten down by certain corrupt people  in power and prejudiced people at the grassroots.

It  is most extreme violence, brutal violence, gun related violence and  criminal violence that gets a lot of attention and headlines in the  US. But there are more subtle forms of violence: institutionalized  violence, legal forms of control and brutality, organized and  publically sanctioned aggression, psychological abuse, financial  violence...that are rarely talked about by the press ; addressed  adequately by the judiciary and debated openly by those in power and  in politics.

About  the author

Dr.  Meera Srinivasan has a Ph.D. from the University of Southern  California, and has taught at several private and public universities  in the US at the Bachelors and Masters levels. She earned her B.Sc.  in Statistics from Bombay University, and her Masters in Medical and  Psychiatric Social Work from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social  Sciences. She also has a post-graduate training in counseling from  Australia. She has many academic papers and published articles to her  credit. She has also presented in numerous conferences and seminars.  She has lived in four countries (India, Thailand, Australia and the  US), and has traveled to over thirty nations. Her commitment to  social research, social development, mental health and social justice  have played a big role in her personal life, professional work and  public activism. She has won several awards for her professional  contributions and community work. She has been praised very highly  for integrating cultural and social diversity, in a complex and  nuanced way, to her mental health and social work theories, analysis  and practice.

Also  read
1. Social Interpretation of Navratri for self awareness and self development by Dr Meera S
2. Differences on Women’s rights and choices between the U.S., India and the      Middle East by Dr Meera S
3. The Decline of the US, and what India can learn from this
4. Collection of articles on Indian Women

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