By ALISHA SINGH, junior
GOVERNMENTS AROUND the world use violence against their own citizens during times of unrest and civil disobedience. By creating bloodshed, they silence opposition against government policies and the ruling class. Crowd control tactics include the use of rubber bullets, batons, tear gas, and pellet guns, all of which are far more dangerous than the term used to describe them: nonlethal weapons. The use of these tactics has been seen around the world over the last year in an attempt to control protests erupting in Iran, Iraq, Hong Kong, France, and Kashmir. The similarity among these protests is that they all deal with negligent governments that have created higher costs of living, unemployment, and oppressive systems. Many of these demonstrations turned violent only when innocent protesters were assaulted by fully armored and armed government forces. Clearly, the use of violence against protesting citizens is unethical and acts as a barrier against reform and progress.
Protesters are typically minorities and members of the middle and working classes, groups of people whose issues are generally ignored so that the government can receive millions of dollars from large corporations and other influential groups. In order to be heard, they must voice their dissent; however, when they are met with aggression, their issues are silenced and reform cannot take place. In the case of pressing issues such as climate change denial and right-wing nationalism, resistance is of the utmost importance. Governmental systems are in place to support the wealthy and the powerful, and in doing so, they are constantly suppressing the masses. The people’s interests are not a priority, and, clearly, their safety is not either. When citizens who are exercising their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are met with hostility, it is clear that the government chooses to protect the top one percent as opposed to the stability of the majority.
The government is supposed to protect the people; thus, the hypocrisy is evident when the state attacks protestors and activists. This clearly represents a government that is only invested in the endurance of its own power and wealth. In 2010, the Indian police opened fire on protesters in Kashmir, killing 112 people; international outrage elicited the Indian government to supply the police with “non-lethal” pellet guns instead. When shot, these guns caused 500 tiny bullets to explode in all directions, covering protesters’ heads and upper bodies, injuring them and rendering many blind. According to TIME, in the six months after the killing of rebel leader Burhan Wani in July 2016, more than 6,000 people were injured by pellet guns. Weapons are weapons; they do not “protect” the protesters—they attack them. They damage the people who are merely seeking rights from their countries, forcing them to stay silent and turn submissive. Every time the state uses violence, even if there are no fatalities, it oppresses the very people it is supposed to defend and support.
Eisenhower’s Farewell Address warned against the military-industrial complex, in which the defense industry works with the government to ensure increased military spending and the creation of a permanent client. The new police-industrial complex works in a similar way; however, it supplies the police, who deal with civilians on a daily basis, with military-grade weapons and technology that are simply unnecessary. This is a cycle in which for-profit corporations make money off the violence caused by the government and encourage the continuation of such behavior. This is just another example of the lack of interest in the safety of citizens and the larger systems in place to protect the practices of those in power.
Despite steep opposition, rebellion, peaceful or otherwise, is often the best way to get things done; yet, for it to be effective, it is important that a safe environment is provided for people to protest and voice dissent. People should be able to demand rights and changes in their countries without the fear of being met with violence and aggression. Several peaceful demonstrations in India against the Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizens turned violent when the Indian police provoked student protesters and bystanders alike with a disproportionate use of force, and then attempted to blame the violence on the students. If people are made to feel unsafe and antagonized when voicing their views, issues will remain unresolved, and oppressive systems will not be dismantled. On the other hand, many defend the use of aggressive crowd control tactics by saying that they curb violence and protect the protesters from harming each other. This is wildly untrue, especially when the so-called “non-lethal weapons” used on protesters can still injure and, in extreme situations, kill them. In addition, aggression by police forces causes far more confusion due to their excessive hostility. In fact, after violence in the yellow-jacket protests in France, many French police officers were investigated for their combative behavior. Their use of LBD-40, which is banned in countries like the United Kingdom, fires rubber bullets that have taken the eyes of at least 10 people, as reported by the French Interior Ministry. As a result of this and over 2,200 injuries to protestors, the government has launched investigations into 174 incidents, according to The Telegraph. When government forces are deployed to protests, they wear full body armor and helmets and carry shields and weapons; at most, protesters wear masks to protect themselves from tear gas.
The dystopian future that has been imagined in movies and books for decades is now taking place—the popular and oft-repeated image in which groups of protesters are fighting to protect themselves from government forces has become actuality. These silenced individuals are left with only two options: to be complacent or to risk their lives for freedom. If we continue to allow governments to use violence against their own citizens, they will encroach upon the rights of their people until freedom is obsolete.