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State Violence in Literature

State Violence.

In today’s culture, state violence has been seen a lot more than in the past. Not because it occurs more but thanks to technological advances. Due to smart phones and the internet people hundreds of miles away can be informed of the harassment others are facing in their part of the world or in their region of the country. State violence, for those who need a clear definition is when those who act on behalf of the government (in any capacity) abuse that power and use it against the citizens.

And I know that many will believe that officers are just doing their jobs but that is not usually the case. In fact, it is not the job of the police or the fire department or the military to protect citizens. All they are meant to do is keep order and sometimes that order means maintaining the status quo regardless of what it means for the general population. If you do not believe me, take a look at this infographic and tell me what you think. I think the only issue with this one, in particular, is that it doesn’t discuss state violence and/or police brutality in regards to marginalized populations. But that is something I will discuss a bit later.


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Haven’t heard of it? Then, perhaps you have been sleeping under a rock or have allowed yourself to be blind to the cultural climate of the United States. And while I am sure that my last statement offended someone, it was necessary. #LastWords is exactly that, when someone is a victim of state violence a hashtag is made using their final words so that those around the world can come together in unity and give voice to the tragedy and their fear and outrage. It started out as a tribute to Black men killed by police and has grown to become a movement. The same is true with #SayHerName, while many articles and books were being written about Black men, women of color were often ignored in these narratives. #SayHerName combats that and stand for the women who have died or disappeared, those who have fallen through the cracks. When you’re free, I highly suggest you look into both of these viral movements.

Literature on State Violence.

From Marc Lamont Hill to Angie Thomas there has been a rise in the amount of state violence portrayed in literature. Let me clarify once again, it is not that it’s being written about more than in the past few decades but now these books are gaining notoriety. You no longer have to be a scholar and search them out in the back of a dark library with a rude librarian.

Now, taking state violence and technology into consideration, I would like to say that we, as a culture, have more access to literature regarding police brutality and state violence. This could be due to a cornucopia of reasons: we know where to look in the bookstore, more scholarship is being done, search engines allowing anyone with an interest to stay informed, a more open-minded generation. Either way, such literature is so important to society especially with the social and political climate of the United States. As I often do, I want to give you a few suggestions of books that portray state violence.

Book Suggestions:

  1. Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard

  2. Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge

  3. State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic (African Arguments) by Louisa Lombard

  4. Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill

  5. Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation by Beth E. Richie

While these books all have varying topics, one concept is consistent, that those who serve the state often abuse their power and use it to ridicule, harass, belittle and demonize others. Yes, there are murders but oftentimes there are other violent acts that go undocumented such as a woman being raped by police who say they’ll arrest her if she doesn’t comply. Or even when a prison warden throws a man into a cell with the most violent man on the block to teach him a lesson. How many of these stories go unheard? Why is it important to write them down?

This is the literature of today’s culture, a literature of unity as a people try to free themselves from the societal boxes they have been forced into. This is a new culture of work being done to ensure that someone takes notice and that change happens. Change for all marginalized groups. 

And what is great is that you no longer have to be a scholar to write these histories down anymore. You can portray them in fiction, like Angie Thomas or in poetry like Countee Cullen. The pictures you paint or the sketches you draw can all make a difference. That is why I think it is so important to think of these things and do something. No one is asking you to become the next Martin Luther King Jr. or the next Huey P. Newton, but tidal waves start as ripples. And ripples spread far and wide. I think that anyone (and there for everyone) can be the one who throws the pebble into the water and gets things going.

Will these stories matter 20, 30 years from now?

Yes. The written word acts as a bookmark, noting the most important (even if overlooked) parts of history. There are marginalized groups beginning to write about their experience and share it with the world, people are gaining knowledge and learning that they are not alone. The words we write today remind us that we all can unite when the time comes to stand up for what is right, for what we believe in. This is they type of literature that raises allies and gives a microphone to voices from the shadows.

And if you have any comments, or book suggestions that I have not listed here, feel free to comment below or contact me here.

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