Recent events in Ferguson, MO motivated by the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown have sparked intense discussion over the question of the use and efficacy of violence in protest movements as a legitimate political tool. Angela Davis’s remarks given in this 1972 interview near the end of her 18-month prison sentence and just before her acquittal, speak to the paradoxical nature of posing such a question (and what this framing ignores) better than any commentary I’ve come across.
Davis’s response to the interviewer’s question of whether or not she thinks that confrontation and violence are necessary to achieve the goals of the Civil Rights Movement is uncannily resonant with this summer’s events in Ferguson and the ensuing discussion:
Oh, is that the question you were asking? Yeah see, that’s another thing. When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life and walk out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you… when I was living in Los Angeles, for instance, long before the situation in L.A ever occurred, I was constantly stopped. No, the police didn’t know who I was. But I was a black women and I had a natural and they, I suppose thought I might be “militant.” And when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me, you know, whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The full interview is below.