top of page

When the "Rule of Law" Hits the Streets -- And "The Streets" Hit Back

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

SOME cannot step back from their own relentless focus on how "others" currently protesting against the routine murders of unarmed dark-skinned people are threatening "the rule of law" while "discrediting 'their' cause" --- as if the cause of racial justice in America were only a secondary matter of concern here and now.

OF COURSE, the most fundamental issue here is how the “rule of law” comports with JUSTICE.

The two are never the same. “Rule of law” is basically another term for “The State” which is excruciating to define, in part, because its definition and functioning are always matters of contention, if not outright struggle. “Justice”, being more intangible, is even more difficult to define, much less apply to any particular circumstance.

“Justice” IS more intangible, but at the same time, much more visceral, reaching DEEP into the roots of our humanity. Fascinatingly, there are studies of non-human animal behavior that purport to show emotionally primed responses to incidents we would tend to view in terms of “fairness”, “equity” or “reciprocity”. In that sense (and perhaps others) the concern for justice stems from something even more profound than humanity. But humanity, at least in cultural terms, has evolved with the capacity to refine and develop MECHANISMS of justice in ways far removed from primal urgings regarding retribution, deterrence, sharing, nurturance, and myriad other forms of mutuality and compassion.

Humanity, also of course, has developed exquisitely compelling and bewildering ways to pervert both our understanding of “justice” and any of its practices via the “rule of law”. There are many examples from history where what was called “the rule of law” has become emblematic of the most horrifying versions of what we humans call “EVIL”. Where is the US in all of this NOW?

Our concern for justice cannot be separated from our humanity without profoundly altering (some would say “disfiguring"), almost if not all, conceptions that we have regarding what it means (to most of us) to be human. Is our concern for justice deeper than tribalism, chauvinism, patriotism, or “nationalism”?  Whichever is deeper, we wonder which is more powerful. And we tremble. 

Clearly, there are populations in the world and, most agonizingly of all, in the US, where the rule of law is clearly unjust. To the extent people feel this, the rule of law becomes a shambles of mocking taunts and insults. This is something deeply understood by almost all of us no matter how well, coarsely, helpfully, self destructively, or maliciously we try to articulate it. This is something profoundly understood among the throngs of protesters in our cities. At the same time, it is being ruminated about between corporately funded fascist think tanks and the mottled patchwork of boogaloo trimpulist gun clubs and conspiracy factories, two deadly vectors currently endangering the cultural and legal underpinnings of the rule of law and democracy everywhere. It is also being urgently considered by people who have seeped themselves in history and who have a feel for the precariousness and fragility of it all.

White supremacy racism is one of the cultural mechanisms developed (consciously and reflexively) to meet the ideological and “legal” needs of slavers and colonialists in the early modern stages of global civilization as it became dominated by Europeans and their descendants who first invented and then weaponized and self-glorified the concept of “whiteness”. This weaponized concept is thrashing and roiling now because very soon, those considered “white” by almost any definition will become a minority in the US. (Remember, it was not long ago that some definitions of “whiteness” were “legal” definitions).

No doubt people who identify as “white” are more likely to focus on the excesses and outrages arising from the protests while others are just as likely to focus on the UNENDING series of videoed lynchings that are, of course, merely the latest manifestations of systematic terror, torture, and murderous atrocities visited by empowered “whites” against others either before or after such crimes became cloaked under sinister versions of “law”.

Does that mean that “white” people who can’t stop themselves from fixating on the lawlessness of some protesters “racist”? The question is as stupid as it is false as it is unhelpful. Racism permeates all our thinking and our emotions if we have been raised in the US. Americans who protest that they are immune from white supremacy racism are deluding themselves although SOME of us may do so with the purest of intentions and even with many(?) beneficial results. “White Supremacy Racism” is a clumsy term, but it is one of the best for understanding how what it points to is different from mere prejudice, stereotypical thinking, ethnocentrism, or even racial hatred. No doubt there are people of color who struggle against or succumb to hatred against “whites”. But that form of “racism” (if the term must be used here) is not the same as the self-hatred which people of color are conditioned to direct against their own “non-white” characteristics by all sorts of social, economic, political, and intimate insults “white” people are largely oblivious to. If we were raised in the US, white supremacy underlies and is woven into much of our thinking, our feeling, our ways of seeing, and therefore our words. In that way, the word “racist” as applied to any individual is meaningless unless it labels those who overtly support the idea that whites are superior and others inferior. Or perhaps the word “racist” only applies to those of us who do not struggle against conceptions that lack of “whiteness” justifies degradation, humiliation, deprivation, assault, and murder.

The rule of law IS fragile. We do need police and courts. More importantly, we need to be sure we are ALL doing EVERYTHING we can to ensure that what the police and courts do is not part of some vast and cruel mockery that will debase what it means to be an American citizen, "white", or even human.

The rule of law MUST be applied to the police first and foremost. Until that happens, this cycle of reinforcing injustice will continue to sap hope, fray understanding, generate extremism, and undermine whatever values the US pretends to honor. Please support those doing the difficult and often thankless tasks of trying to craft workable solutions! They are being bitterly opposed at all levels. One of those groups is PROJECT ZERO!

Police lynchings are protected by public apathy, police unions, but especially by ingrained practices and attitudes that infuse and envelop district attorneys and grand juries.

But there are policies that can be implemented at the local level by responsible mayors and worthwhile police chiefs when decent people in the community are paying close attention.


Joe Panzica is the creator of Democracy STRUGGLE'S.  He is also the author of the unpublished Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass and is working on a second novel: I Want to be Evil.

101 views0 comments


bottom of page