State violence

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State violence describes the use of governmental authority to cause deliberate harm and suffering to groups and individuals with the goal of implicitly or explicitly maintaining power; genocide, torture, war crimes, police brutality, and other forms of systemic oppression. - The Learning Network, adapted by Michelle Xie [1] Simply put, state violence is violence approved or funded by the government, most often targeting marginalized groups. [2]

Max Weber defines the State as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. [3] A non-authoritarian state will use its monopoly of physical force in a legitimate way, whereas an abuse of this monopoly corresponds to state violence. Only the state itself can extend this right to use physical force to other institutions such as police and security forces. [4] Definitions of violence vary based upon the legal status of violence determined by each state. Authorities and governments generally defend their use of physical force as legitimate. [5]

State violence is not exclusively punctual, with particular events, but it is also a consequence of unequal social systems. Violence can therefore take multiple forms, such as physical violence and then structural violence that affects certain communities based on, for example, race, gender and class. [6] Some also refer to “fatal state violence” for when the use of physical force by institutions is deadly. [7]  

Examples of state violence

Police brutality in Jamaica
  • For decades, there has been human rights violations by the law enforcement officers in Jamaica. Between 1990 and 2000, there were more than 1400 victims of police shootings in the country. many of these victims were poor, young or people of colour. [8] The government failed to conduct investigations that were effective and that resulted in sanctions for police officers. [9]
  • According to Amnesty International, the state’s intervention has improved concerning these law enforcement killings since the year 2000, but the number of killings remain high. Many of the victims’ relatives asked for their identities not be disclosed, when reached by Amnesty International, for fear of police violence or retaliation. [10]  
Inuit High Arctic relocations in Canada
  • During the Cold War in 1953 and in 1955, the Canadian government wanted to establish its sovereignty in the High Arctic. [11] 92 Inuit people were relocated from Inukjuak and Mittimatalik to Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island and to Grise Fiord and Craig Harbour on Ellesmere Island. [12] These locations are 1,500 to 2,000 km away from their original residences. The families relocated were separated in these three different locations. [13]
  • The RCMP promised improved conditions for the families that would be relocated, and the possibility to return back home two years later if they did not like it. This was not the case. Relocated people had to abandon their traditional methods of shelter construction. The complete darkness during winter was also a big change in the environmental conditions they were used to. They had to change their diet, because of the different species in the region. And, they were only allowed to hunt one caribou per family, with close surveillance of hunting quotas. With scarce resources, the communities were forced to scavenge food scraps in the military base dump. That food was then confiscated by the RCMP. [14]
  • Two years after the relocation, Inuit families were told that if they wanted to go back to Inukjuak and Mittimatalik, they would have to pay for the transport, which was more than they could afford. [15]

Over-policing and murders of marginalized groups

  • Indigenous land defenders are criminalized for exercising their right to defend their unceded territory, or their right to free, prior and informed consent, significantly more than white settlers. [16]
  • Despite the fact Black people represent only about 8.8% of the city of Toronto's population, they represented almost a third of all charges. A black person in Toronto is 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than a white person. [17]

Overfunding and arming of police

  • Police budgets often take up the greatest portion of municipal budgets. In so-called Canada, cities' police budget range from 1/10th (i.e. Toronto) to 1/3rd (i.e. Surrey, B.C) of municipal budgets. [18]
  • "Policing has become increasingly militarized across North America, where raids, SWAT teams and high artillery weapons are sources of trauma and violence against Black communities in particular." -Defund the police [19]

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  3. Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1946). Politics as a Vocation. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 77-128.
  4. Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1946). Politics as a Vocation. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 77-128.
  10. Amnesty International. 2016. Wainting in vain. Jamaica : Unlawful police killings and relatives’ long struggle for justice.