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Race and rage in America

The Republican party has become the party of the gun

A man prays at a makeshift memorial near the location where Tyre Nichols was killed in Memphis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty

Violence is as American, as the saying goes, as apple pie.

One reason: The United States is what is called a settler nation. In other words, the country was colonised. And largely at the point of a gun.

My entire childhood was filled with little boys, sometimes us little girls too, playing cowboys and Indians, that odious game where we killed “redskins”. Shooting them dead with our little toy guns. Guns are the American mainstream.

In the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings – an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured. That is about two a day on average. So far, in 2023, there have been more mass shootings than days of the year.

In our politics, the gun control debate breaks down on party lines: Democrats are largely for more regulation. Republicans less.

The Republican party has become the party of the gun.

The second amendment to the constitution, which gives the right to an individual citizen to carry a gun, is considered to be inherent. To put it bluntly: God himself gives the right to carry a gun. The constitution merely codifies it. In other words, only God can disarm an American citizen. By birthright.

The right to own a gun, and use it as you like, goes hand-in-hand with slavery and racial segregation. These realities were kept alive and well through the barrel of a gun. If you were a person of African descent, you got this info pretty early.

Mix in with this the urban ghettoisation of Black people; our rising poverty, and the blatant institutional racism of the country itself and what you have to have is violence.

Donald Trump is a conduit for this kind of anger through which the status quo, tipped over by the civil rights movement, women’s rights, the rights of LBGTQ and just plain progress itself, can express its refusal to bend to The Future.

The Republican party in the ‘60s took over that space in the south where this rage festered. This rage was the basis of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy”, his way to win the racially segregated south in his bid for president in 1968.

It worked. It still does.

The south and rural anger are the keys to the rise in rage in the United States. This rage is the mothership on which a Ron DeSantis rides and where Trump plants his flag.

This anger, buried deep in the national unconscious, is a refusal to accept change, progress. That is, progress away from the status quo; the people who have always been in charge. Its latest manifestation is something called: “sovereign citizen”.

The sovereign citizen movement, or “SovCit”, is a motley crew of tax protesters, conspiracy theorists and so on, who believe in their own reading of what is called “common law”. They believe that they are subject to only what they want to be subject to and consent to. This movement is recent – its origin is the early ‘70s – but since the election of Trump, it has become more fashionable.

Mix in all of these facts, including some states where you can carry your assault rifle in to buy a bunch of groceries; add in the so-called “elite police units” and the United States does not become a cauldron. Rather, it reveals the cauldron that it is.

And it is Black men who have become the particular receptacles of this existential and real rage. The police killing of African American amateur photographer Tyre Nichols by a specialist unit of policemen, who were also African American, certainly does not surprise African Americans.

One of the jobs of urban police forces is to police Black communities, just as they have historically done in the UK. Whether you, as a cop, are a person of African descent or not, your job is to be part of this system of aggressive policing, this hunting down of a human being. The violence. The reinforcement of the status quo. Hunting down Black men has always been a part of the American scene.

The difference now? We have the videotape.

Memphis, Tennessee’s Scorpion unit, now disbanded, was what was called a “special unit” for high-crime areas – codewords usually for the Black and Hispanic communities.

The purpose of the Scorpion unit was to patrol, ostensibly, for the benefit of the residents. They drove their Dodge Chargers like something out of a Vin Diesel movie. They would jump out of them at a dead run, yelling at people to get out of their vehicles. You had to lie down on the ground. Resistance in any form was not an option.

Tyre Nichols was swarmed upon. He begged to be let go and, in his deepest distress, called out for his mother to help him. Like George Floyd did. He, too, died later in hospital.

Violence, racism, the rise in the legal use of guns, ramping up police response, and the overall anger in the US come together to leave, too often, an African American man dead.

This is because the police, no matter what colour, are an extension of the original settler violence. The inherent belief is that America is meant to be a place where you can do what you like, when you like “If you are white in America”, as the chorus in West Side Story sings. The government, law and order itself be damned.

The fact that there is really nothing in writing to show this foundational credo that white is right, and in particular that white men and the institutions and mechanisms of control that they create is what rules, does not mean this reality does not exist.

And as change takes hold, this demographic (not necessarily all of the male part of it, but enough) becomes more scared, more angry.

The US has reached its raison d’etre – the not so-hidden meaning of why it came to be: the extension of white male Christian superiority over peoples and land and life and death. But this hegemony can no longer resist change even in its own household, even among its own sons.

These sons know what the nation is becoming: a majority-minority nation. In their struggle to maintain their place of superiority, these men (and women, too) have caused the US to begin to melt down to its core.

Perhaps the place that it was always headed. And where it has to face itself, its truth. Maybe for a resurrection.

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