Racialized State Terrorism in Ferguson Missouri USA: A Prime Target for Liberation Studies and Action

Make the Police Shoot Themselves: Require they wear body cameras

Roderick J. Watts

City University of New York

Mark asked me to write something about the recent Mother Jones Magazine article on police violence against people of African descent (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men).  The article is well worth reading especially if you have the research skills to propose a methodology that would help us better monitor efforts to stop the racist carnage.  Where I am going with Mark’s invitation has taken me far afield of the article, an it is longer than I planned!  Call it therapy for the negative emotions stirred up by these ongoing police killings. That said, I tend to be pragmatic. I will address the question of what we can do curtail this and other forms of social oppression.

Like some many of my friends and students, I was very angry, saddened and disillusioned by this latest high-profile tragedy in Ferguson Missouri where 18 year old Michael Brown was gunned down by police. This act, or more damningly the charade of a prosecution that took place and ended without an indictment is part of what see as racialized state terrorism. Although this term in typically reserved for state actions on a mass scale in places outside of the G20, the aims are essentially the same:

State terrorism is a systematic governmental policy in which massive violence is practiced against a given population group with the goal of eliminating any behavior that promotes political struggle or resistance by member of that group. Any state that engages in terrorism is not a protector of citizens; rather, it violates civil and human rights…”[i]

Ferguson is a place where the policing and judicial systems regularly terrorize Black and Brown communities that are already under attack from within and without. As is the case in many other places around the country, Black teenagers go to jail for nickel bags, while White adult police officers kill Black adults with the implied consent of judicial institutions that are supposed to make killers accountable. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out how this can terrorize, traumatize and demoralize communities of color everywhere in the system’s orbit.

Although policing in the USA can take the form of institutionalized racial terrorism, it was once a popular “sport” for amateurs during the era of lynching that peaked in the late 1800s. Ralph Ginzburg’s documentation of thousands of these murders began only just before the peak period in the starkly titled book 100 Years of Lynchings. He filled his book with photocopies of newspaper articles of the day that offer a glimpse of this populist terrorism. His is a simple, yet powerful act of social research. For the record, as Wikipedia notes “Lynchings were also very common in the Old West, where victims were primarily men of Mexican and Chinese minorities, although whites were also lynched.” This tells me that the dehumanization of Africans was so well accepted that it was difficult for people to see how once accepted, dehumanization spreads to new targets that were once seen as human. Dehumanization is at the heart of oppression. It may start with people who look like me, and others further in the margins such as transgendered Black women—but it will work its way up to others if we allow it to. Don’t we ever learn, that any one of us can be next?

The point of this historical reference is that US terrorism continues in the present moment through professionalized lynching in police departments and “stand your ground” legislation that shields amateurs from prosecution.  But even this is not at the root of the social ills in Missouri and around the nation. Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (2011) traces the centuries-long history of the dehumanization of Black men, aided by the pseudo-scholarly work of many in the academy. His thesis tracks with the book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II in 2009 (D. Blackmon) and also The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander in 2012. Today, the school to jail track that criminalizes youth of color figures prominently is the modern legacy of racial oppression. Carter Woodson’s book the Miseducation of the Negro from the 1930s shows how important caste is to White supremacy in major institutions like education. Violence comes in many forms. This history shows how the USA got to where it is today.

Scholars have always played ball on both sides of the divide of humanism and de-humanism, but let’s face it: the settings most of us spend our time in do not encourage us to be major players in the struggle for liberation. We are up against power players with the resources to manufacture and disseminate the narratives and consent needed to

further their interests. So what are liberation psychologists to do?

I claim no brilliant or original insights on this question, but I’d like to contribute to our on-going dialog and reflection on positioning ourselves in against oppression. First, psychology is not nearly enough—ours is a field of liberation studies and action (LiSA)–but you know that. Second, many of us pursuing LiSA have positioned ourselves in careers that give us a measure of autonomy. In my view, the challenge is to determine what our personal gifts are then commit to long-term alliances with social movements. Only a few of us have what it takes to excel at the vanguard of such movements or inspire the masses from behind a bullhorn.  Racialized terrorism whether state-sponsored or through vigilantism needs “best practices” for personal and collective resistance.  At the micro-level we can we engage with individuals and small groups. Members of marginalized populations and communities contend with an on-going pattern of traumatic experiences—wrongful deaths, discrimination, and the micro aggressions of daily live they encounter in public institutions . These traumas were vividly evident in the local response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson. We need LiSA professionals who can apply the healing arts and sciences through critical consciousness rather than from the perspective of the pathology-centered industry that dominates US mental health. See the book Advancing Social Justice Through Clinical Practice (Edited by Aldarondo), for examples on how it can be done.

At the organization level, those of us in the geopolitical North are reminded of Seymour Sarason’s work on the creation of settings. In particular, sustainable, social-change settings. I can think of two examples where LiSA can play a role. In the schools we can partner with teachers who do social justice education. Working collaboratively with young people we can help prepare them for roles in community organizing and ultimately movement politics. For example, I am working with my colleagues in planning the Free Minds, Free People conference convened by the Education for Liberation Network (www.edliberation.org) and co-sponsored by its wide variety of allies. The Network brings together teachers, high school and college students, researchers, parents and community-based activists-educators from across the country to build a movement to develop and promote education as a tool for liberation. Second, many of us would like to see is a school to movement pipeline that connects school children, their parents and the surrounding neighborhoods so that the community capacity needed to push back on racialized terrorism and other forms of injustice can occur.

Healing+ Well-being, social movement capacity, institution building, and participatory research are all areas where so-called best practices from LiSA and play a role. Two last examples for the LiSA researchers reading this: My colleague Ben Kirshner and I are conducting a 4+ year, international study of youth community organizing in the US, Ireland and South Africa. We often hear leaders in the organizations tell us that they need brief position papers from scholars to bolster credibility with certain audiences. Better yet, they say, have these scholars who will stick their necks out as well and take a public positions on contentious issues.

Lastly, there is the challenging role of working with the police! Go to this story about a seemingly rigorous study that shows significant reductions in police violence for departments that began using body cameras to monitor their actions on the street (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/04/california-police-body-cameras-cuts-violence-complaints-rialto). Don’t sneer—having conscious people working in the belly of the beast as others engage in frontal assaults of same pack twice the punch.

Thanks for reading.  I am posting this here first, because I value thoughts on these matters. I am also I am considering another version of this for the Community Psychologist. I would love to have some feedback and to hear about the niches others have found a meaningful place for their LiSA skills.


[i] Jalata, A. (2005). State Terrorism and Globalization: The case of Ethiopia and Sudan. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 46(1-2):79-102


Liberation Psychology: 25 years on. Martín-Baró on State terrorism in El Salvador (video)

Ignacio Martín-Baró on State terrorism in El Salvador.
A rare video of Martín-Baró speaking in English.  He covers State terrorism in El Salvador in the 1980s and before. He focusses on the role of the disappearances, murders and massacres in the pacification of the population, taking a social psychological perspective that is firmly located in both a humanistic and a socio-political outlook.  He makes the important point that this political terrorism has an impact, not just on the victims, but also on the wider population.  Many thanks to Adrianne Aron (who introduces the talk) for making the video available.  The recording is rather quiet, but very clear: try headphones if it is too quiet on your machine.
Due to technical limitations it appears in three parts.  Also see our videos page.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 (corrected link)


Letter from Mexico: disappearance of the student teachers and our responsibilities.

Protest in Mexico about the disappearance of the 43 student teachers in Guerrero State.

Protest in Mexico about the disappearance of the 43 student teachers in Guerrero State. From LAB. Click for the news article on the LAB site.

I received this from Mario Flores Lara, a Community Psychologist from Cuba who has also worked in Ecuador and who is currently in Mexico.  See his blog HERE.  I have translated it for the website with his permission.  It is a fairly loose translation: the angry poetic prose does not always translate direct.  Others with better Spanish might be able to suggest improvements.

Mario refers to an article in La Jornada that makes the connection between terrorist acts against civilian populations and the suppression of dissent.  This was seen in the Central American conflicts, in the US war on the Vietnamese people, and in the occupation of Iraq.  We see it in Palestine today.

Mario discusses what community psychologists can do in the face of such outrages.  Your contributions, thoughts, reactions and suggestions would be very welcome.

“10 November, 2014

“Friends, Comrades, Sisters and Brothers,

The events in Iguala-Ayotzinapa, here in Mexico paralyse us with pain and rage.

Impacts that go beyond the borders of Mexico.

Latin America and the world looks at this governmental barbarism with unease and alarm.

Murder by the system together with the usual impunity imply a process of discipline, control and submission through violence, fear and terror. The paralysis and immobilisation can also be seen in terms of this tactical and strategic objective.

Today (10 November, 2014) in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, there is an interesting article from the journalist Carlos Fazio, which I think is well worth reading.

The aim is to paralyse the population through terror. The disappearances are one method, the principal pobjective was to break up any form of resistance and maintain the population in a state of harsh uncertainty…. The ultimate aim of the terrorist State is the discipline of the body politic.”

This text, and all the sad events of recent times, make me resonate with responsibility, both individual and community-social, that we all have. Each of us, wherever we are, can, however we may, with small yet great actions, denounce, express, while stubbornly continuing to build roads to dignity, respect and life.

The murder of the 43 trainee teachers, disappeared in Ayotzinapa, is an affront to all of Mexico, for all of Latin America and all the world: an affront that is both personal and collective.

A Chilean friend asked me, by email, “how can we offer solidarity from here?”, and it occurred to me personally to think that all initiatives of witness and denunciation are valid and necessary, and so creativity and courage continue to be a fundamental part of our resources and abilities: from being informed, putting up a poster at the entrance of the university, talking about the theme together, torchlight processions, writing to Mexican embassies, messages to Mexican student organisations …. and many others.

And taking the long view, I keep on thinking that social atomisation, individualism, loneliness, fear, immobilisation, can be seen as strategic objectives, established symptoms of a decadent and dehumanising economic and political model. Partial deaths of a culture of death that reaches its climax with these brutal murders: today Ayotzinapa, before Acteal [Chiapas, Mexico: massacre of 45 indigenous Tzotzil Zapatista supporters in 1997], Trelew [Argentina: collective execution of leftist and Peronist activists by the military government, 1972], Pando [ambush leading to death of at least 19 Bolivian peasants, likely part of a right wing coup attempt against the MAS government of Evo Morales after its 2008 victory], Ranquil [Chile, 1934: massacre of around 500 forestry workers and Mapuche residents, protesting against labour and colonisation practices], La Moneda [bombing of the Chilean Presidential Palace, and murder of Salvador Allende, 11 Sept, 1973].

And I continue thinking about our responsibilities and tasks, now and in the future: dwelling in conviviality, going with and from the heartbeat of communities, continue advancing social dialogues that draw upon difference and multiplicity, so that respect for human dignity becomes a real reality, as the right of all and for all, and not just for the privileged few; that as Latin Americans the ethical-moral duty of de-colonising ourselves from a modernity seen as a excluding, negating and dominating mono-cultural paradigm.

In the face of a culture of death, a culture for life.

And not just resisting, but coming up with alternatives and constructing them.”

Mario Flores Lara

Community Psychologist


Spanish original:

Los acontecimientos de Iguala-Ayotzinapa, acá en México, nos llenan de dolor, rabia y estupor. 
Impactos que han trascendido las fronteras de tierras mexicas. 
Latinoamérica y el mundo mira con desconcierto y alarma esta barbarie con rango de política de Estado.
El crimen sistemático y la impunidad consuetudinaria se propone el  disciplinamiento, control y sometimiento mediante la violencia, el miedo y el terror. La paralización e inmovilidad se dibuja también como su horizonte táctico-estratégico.
Hoy en el periódico La Jornada (http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas) aparece un interesante artículo del periodista Carlos Fazio, que creo vale la pena leer: “El propósito era paralizar a la población mediante el terror. Los desaparecidos eran un medio; el objetivo principal era desarticular cualquier forma de resistencia y mantener a la población en una incertidumbre duradera.” “La finalidad del Estado terrorista es el disciplinamiento del cuerpo social.” 
Este texto, y todos los tristes acontecimientos del último tiempo, me hacen resonar en la responsabilidad individual-singular y social-comunitaria que todxs tenemos: Cada unx dónde esté, cómo pueda, cómo quiera, con pequeñas-grandes acciones, para denunciar, para expresar, para seguir proponiendo y porfiadamente construyendo caminos de dignidad, respeto y vida.
Los asesinados y los 43 normalistas desaparecidos de Ayotzinapa son una afrenta para México, para toda América Latina y para el mundo. Una afrenta personal y colectiva.
Una amiga chilena me preguntaba ayer por correo “¿cómo nos podemos solidarizar desde acá?”, y en lo personal se me ocurre pensar que todas las iniciativas de denuncia son válidas y necesarias, y que entonces la creatividad y el coraje siguen siendo parte fundamental de nuestros recursos y capacidades: desde estar informadxs, pegar una cartulina a la entrada de la universidad, conversar el tema en colectivo, un plantón relámpago, usar las redes ciber, escribir a las embajadas mexicanas, mensajes a las organizaciones estudiantiles mexicanas… y así un etcétera sin cotos…
Y con la “mirada larga” sigo sentipensando que la atomización, el individualismo, la soledad, el miedo, la inmovilidad, están trazados como objetivos estratégicos y se erigen como síntomas de un modelo político-económico decadente y deshumanizante. Muertes parciales de una cultura de la muerte que alcanza su paroxismo en estos brutales asesinatos masivos: hoy Ayotzinapa, antes Acteal, Trelew, Pando, Ranquil, La Moneda…
Y se me antoja continuar pensando en nuestras responsabilidades y tareas presentes-futuras: Habitar las grupalidades; Latir en-con-desde las comunidades; Seguir avanzando en los diálogos sociales sustentados en la diferencia y multiplicidad; Que sea realidad real el respeto a la dignidad humana como Derecho de todxs y para todxs y no sólo para algunxs privilegiadxs; Que como latinoamericanxs tenemos el deber ético-moral de descolonizarnos de una Modernidad como paradigma monocultural excluyente, negador y dominador…
Ante una cultura de la muerte, una CULTURA DE LA VIDA.
Ya no sólo resistir, sino proponer y construir.
Mario Flores Lara
Psicólogo Comunitario

Statement of support and solidarity with the people of Gaza

updated signatories: 13/08/14
contact us if you’d still like to add your name.

This is a statement from community and community-orientated psychologists, mostly in the UK, but with an increasing number of international endorsers.

Statement of support and solidarity with the people of Gaza.

As Community and Community-Orientated Psychologists in the UK we again extend our support for and solidarity to the people of Gaza. We are calling upon the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps, beginning with immediate boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against the state of Israel, to oblige Israel’s political administration to: abide by international law; dismantle its apartheid regime spanning both the occupied territories and Israel; immediately and unconditionally end its assault on and siege of Gaza; end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including its illegal settlements; abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders; and commit to pursuing a long-lasting, just peace.

We condemn all attacks on civilians, including the rocket retaliation from Gaza, noting that combatants have an obligation to protect civilians under international law. However we draw attention to the disproportionality of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which includes the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children by the armed forces of a supposedly democratic State whose citizens they still are (since only limited autonomy has been granted to the Palestine Authority). We are concerned by reports from doctors that DIME munitions are again in use which cause extremely destructive damage to the bodies of those near the blast. The Israeli military deliberately targets hospitals, civilian shelters and prevents medical aid reaching the injured and medical supplies and equipment from entering the Gaza Strip and destroys Gaza’s infrastructure of roads, water supplies, sanitation, food production, food distribution, food security, electricity, social services, education services, health services, law and order, housing, environmental services, and broader social support structures. We particularly note that during armed conflict, international humanitarian law requires that health care facilities, ambulances, medical personnel and the wounded and sick are all afforded specific protection.

As psychologists we also draw attention to the impact of this and other attacks on Palestinians on the psychological and social health and well-being of all sections of the population, particularly children, the elderly and those with additional vulnerabilities. UNRWA has indicated very high and rising levels of severe psychological trauma, especially among children. The extreme constraints placed on the Palestinian health services, UNRWA and the various NGOs and civil society organisations can only make this situation far worse, despite the admirable and inspiring capacity of the Palestinian people to maintain and celebrate their cultural traditions.

We do note that many Israeli citizens (at home and worldwide) are opposed to the policies and resultant violence of their government. Moreover, the situation is also detrimental to the psychological well-being of Israeli citizens, who are living in a context where threat of ‘the other’ is used to instil fear and legitimise such abhorrent action.

The massacre of civilians in Gaza is the latest, terrorist phase of a war that successive governments of Israel (supported by the USA and Britain) have been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years, since Britain’s botched abandonment of its mandate triggered the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. The goal of this war has never changed: to use overwhelming military power to eradicate the Palestinians as a political force capable of resisting Israel’s ongoing appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. CPUK believes that for the sake of justice and global peace, the Israeli State must not be allowed to achieve this. Our belief in the right of the Palestinians to democratic self-determination, and to resist military aggression and colonial occupation means we stand with the people of Palestine, whether in Gaza, the West Bank, occupied Jerusalem or the pre-1967 boundaries of the State of Israel in their struggle against that racist, colonial State and its government.

Additional notes
For UNWRA statement on post-conflict psychological trauma see http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/serious-upsurge-post-conflict-trauma-gaza-says-un

The blockade means a severe shortage of medicines and other vital supplies. Before the current attack the Gaza health services were already suffering from an acute shortage of fuel and supplies, with 54 percent of medical disposables and 28 percent of essential drugs at zero stock. Now some hospitals are reporting that they do not have sutures, materials to treat bone injuries, or enough reactive agents to perform routine blood tests. On 15 July 41 organizations warned of an extremely severe Palestinian health sector crisis, with, in Gaza’s hospitals the cessation of most primary services and women’s health services.

80% of Gaza’s population are refugees or their descendants.

The Gaza population of 1.7 Million is confined in a small area, no bigger than the Isle of Wight. There is no escape from the missiles and naval bombardment, nor the frequent army incursions. There is clear evidence (for example BBC Radio 4 reports, 17 July) that Israel’s claim to warn civilians of missile attacks is meaningless. Unlike Israel, the Palestinians do not have air raid shelters.

Primary Source: Medical Aid for Palestinians http://www.map-uk.org/news/41-organizations-warn-of-palestinian-health-sector-crisis.aspx


1. Professor Mark Burton 2. Dr Steve Melluish 3. Dr Cathy Amor 4. Professor Jacqueline Akhurst 5. Dr Chris Pawson 6. Aisling Kelly 7. Dr Joe Judge 8. Dr Laura Jobson 9. Christine Ward 10. Tom Wengraf 11. Dr Laara Jupp 12. Professor Carolyn Kagan 13. Teresa Nevard 14. Dr Alia Ul-Hassan 15. Jade Weston 16. Dr Sally Zlotowitz 17. Jacqui Lovell 18. Professor Kerry Chamberlain (New Zealand) 19. Dr Carl Walker 20. Dr John Cromby 21. Dr Nimisha Patel 22. Dr Penny Priest 23. Helen Beckwith 24. Lucy Hawkes 25. Dr Lianne Hovell 26. Scott Bartle 27. Sam Farley 28. Dr Donna Oxley 29. Dr Peter Branney 30. Dr Nigel Hunt 31. Dr Aneta D. Tunariu 32. Dr Argyris Argyriadis (Greece) 33. Majid Hussain 34. Dr Kasper Andreas Kristensen (Denmark) 35. Dr Tria Moore 36. Dr Paula Corcoran 37. Liz Cunningham 38. Emma-Louise Aveling 39. Kathryn Cooper 40. Stephen Thorpe 41. Masuma Rahim 42. Gareth Morgan 43. Dr Mirsad Serdarevic (USA) 44. Dr Maxine Woolhouse 45. Dr. Lisa Thorne 46. Tamsin Curno 47. Eleanor Shoultz 48. Dr Andrew Hart 49. Amna Abdulatif 50. Dr Jane Callaghan 51. Julie Bird 52. Professor Ashraf Kagee (South Africa) 53. Corinne Fortier (France) 54. Nancy Flores (New Zealand) 55. Dr. Dora Whittuck 56. Lynere Wilson (New Zealand) 57. Dr Bruce MZ Cohen (New Zealand) 58. Dr Clare Dixon 59. Dr. Nicholas Wood 60. Dr Sarah Blackshaw 61. Dr Sharen Hayre 62. Dr Oliver Pugh 63. Jenny Stuart 64. Dr Eleni Hatzidimitriadou 65. Dr Ruth Butterworth 66. Dr Anna Daiches 67. Dr Elizabeth Freeman 68. Dr Deborah Chinn 69. Dr Abdullah Mia 70. Dr. Katy Day 71. Madaleine Rowlinson 72. Dr Glenn Williams 73. Daniela Fernandez Catherall 74. Tim Siggs 75. Dr Julie Vane 76. Dr Carl Harris 77. Dr Sue Roffey (Australia) 78. Dr Jo Hadfield 79. Emma Ridley 80. Stacy Earl 81. Dr Aayesha Mulla 82. Dr Sarah Keenan 83. Carlos Luis (Mexico) 84. Dr Kelly Fulton 85. Dr Kate Foxwell 86. Dr Nausheen Masood 87. Professor Serdar Degirmencioglu (Turkey) 88. Dr Kaanan Butor-Bhavsar 89. Dr Bob Diamond 90. Naomi James 91. Dr Suzanne Elliott 92. Dr Dori Fatma Yusef 93. Dr Gemma Mitchell 94. Dr Angela Byrne 95. Dr Mohamed Altawil (Palestine Trauma Center) 96. Dr Anna Zoli (Italy) 97. Lucie Nalletamby 98. Annie Mitchell 99. Lesley Katib 100. Dr. Rochelle Ann Burgess 101. Dra. Raquel S. L. Guzzo (Brasil) 102.  Dr Melanie Smith 103. Gillian Hughes 104. Professor Roderick Watts (USA) 105. Dr Maria Castro 106. Dr Jane Alderton 107. Dr Farhana Patel 108. Dr. Greta Sykes 109. Nina Browne 110. Colm Gallagher 111. Noreen Naz 112. Mandy Underwood 113. Mandeep Singh Kallu 114. Dr Nadia Karim 115. Dr Laura Cutts 116. Professor Erica Burman 117. Professor Adrianne Aron (USA) 118. Eleftherios (Terry) Georgiou 119. Dr Evangelia Karydi 120. Dr Taiwo Afuape.