Blog

On Women’s Day, fight violence, both institutional and intimate

angela davis

An image of Angela Davis on a door in France. (Flickr/Jeanne Menjoulet & Cie)

Yesterday was a bad day for pretty much anyone who cares about racial equality, voting rights, police violence and that vague thing we call “justice.” But leave it to the brilliant Angela Davis to turn the blow into a rallying cry to counteract violence — both institutional and intimate.

First, here’s what happened. After an intense lobbying campaign by the police union — officially called the Fraternal Order of Police; you’ll see why the name is important later — the senate blocked President Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to be the chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Adegbile, who headed the NAACP’s legal defense fund for years, was tarred by the police’s union, and subsequently by Democrat and Republican senators alike, for having helped represent journalist and Black Panther member Mumia Abu-Jamal in an appeal of his death sentence for allegedly killed a Philadelphia police officer.

No matter that Adebgile and the team won the appeal. Or that Abu-Jamal’s case is riddled with inconsistencies. Or that Adebgile has been a leading champion of voting rights and civil rights for decades.

Appearing on Democracy Now! this morning, Baruch professor Johanna Fernandez, editor of the forthcoming Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu Jamal, explained that the effort to block Adegbile’s nomination is part of a broader campaign to protect the impunity of police departments — and police brutality — at all costs.

In other words, the Fraternal Order of Police sent a pretty clear signal: Don’t f*ck with the cops, or they’ll f*ck with you.

So, what we’re really talking about is violence: who has the right to use it with impunity, and — more broadly — who has the right to exert violent control over others. And once we start talking broadly about violence, especially two days before International Women’s Day, it’s important to examine how intimate violence and institutional violence are intertwined to create a thoroughly unjust society.

Appearing later in this morning’s Democracy Now! segment, Angela Davis explains how gendered violence helps us better understand state-sanctioned violence like police brutality and mass incarceration. “Feminism allows us to reframe imprisonment within a larger context,” Davis said. “The violence that happens in relationships is connected with that of street violence, that of institutional violence, that state violence.”

As she explains, it’s part of a continuum: violence in the home, violence in the streets, violence of incarceration, violence of one nation (often the United States) against another. Put another way: Violence is both grassroots and top-down, literally inflicted at the ground-level and falling out of the skies.

And it’s astonishingly common — especially when we begin talking about the violence of men against cis- and trans-women. As Rebecca Solnit writes in an essay, “The Longest War,” which will appear in her forthcoming book Men Explain Things to Me, “There is … a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked.”

The manifestations are different: Domestic violence looks different than a maximum-security prison. But the end goal of violence is always control. As Solnit writes, “This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with the premise: I have the right to control you.”

This Saturday, people across the world will mobilize to speak out against violence against women. Protests, speak-outs and even dance parties are planned in major cities across the globe. In advance of Saturday, it’s important for us to listen to Angela Davis’ words and reflect on the way that we speak out against gender violence. Can our demands respond to both intimate violence and institutional violence? Can we strive to, as Davis calls for, place feminism within an abolitionist frame, and abolition within a feminist frame?