To address violence in the US, here’s what we need to do
In the United States today, polarization between ideological views has sparked violence ahead of the 2020 elections. The violence has been fueled by centuries of injustice that has neither been addressed nor reconciled. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged with the intention of extinguishing structural and systematic violence against the Black community in the United States.
For many, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 1970s were critical steps toward addressing the historical trauma of Black Americans. However, for the Black community, their experience of the movements in the 1960s and 1970s is starkly different.
While some political and civil rights were granted, the overall oppression and injustice deepened and took on new forms like mass incarceration and police brutality targeting Black Americans.
In response to mass incarceration, the over surveillance by law enforcement and the gentrification of the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement and many allies across the country have responded with calls for racial and social justice, reforming the criminal justice system and the demilitarization of police. These calls in the United States have spread around the world to address colonial trauma in many countries.
The international peacebuilding community, long focused on addressing the root causes of violence in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has now begun to turn its attention more fully to the United States. The international peacebuilding community believes peacebuilding is an effective way to address the historical trauma of Black Americans and people of color in the United States. This is because peacebuilding is a comprehensive array of approaches that addresses violence at its root and transforms conflict toward a more sustainable and peaceful society.
A recent report by Peace Direct, The Bail Project, two organizations each of us is affiliated with, and +Peace, Activate Labs and the Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation, found that while new efforts are being made to link peacebuilding with racial justice work in the United States, international peacebuilding organizations continue to ask the Black, Indigenous and people of color to enter its still predominantly white spaces and share their experience, without ensuring a space of trust and mutual vulnerability. The peacebuilding sector is only beginning to grapple with the need to “decolonize” its own approaches and confront the “white-savior” complex that has shaped its history. This is an important self-reflection that needs to be part of the work going forward if stronger relationships of trust and collaboration are to be built to undo systems of injustice and racism.
Efforts to address the root causes of injustice and conflict in the United States will be effective when driven by local communities who are most affected. The racial justice movements leading the new awakening for reform across the United States are the peacebuilders of today. This should be recognized, affirmed and supported by the international peacebuilding sector.
The original sin of slavery has been leading to this moment where those who have been victims of violence are demanding justice as a prerequisite to reconciliation and begin the healing necessary for sustainable peace. The advancements made throughout the years are not the same as the structural, systemic change necessary to address the root causes of violence in the United States. Peacebuilding through the leadership of local communities who have experienced this violence, with the peacebuilding sector’s support, will address the structural violence that has been unjustly accepted as the norm in the United States.
The international peacebuilding community can and should still play a role. Its leverage and connections with the international community and the U.S. government can highlight the work being done across the country. The sector can advocate for policy change to address the historical trauma by amplifying the experiences of Black Americans, people of color and Indigenous people. The peacebuilding community can also connect peacebuilders abroad with those in the United States to build local-to-local movements, learn from each other’s successes and failures and share in solidarity together.
The motivation to address the historical trauma and violence experienced by Black Americans, Indigenous groups and other people of color is apparent. This community is calling on the people of the United States and its government to look at its legacy — one built on the violence against against these groups through ideology that has been influenced by systemic racism, laws and policy structures. Building peace in the United States will require addressing these legacies and uprooting white supremacy across all aspects of society.
Michael Deegan-McCree is the policy analyst for The Bail Project & a 2020 New Leaders Council Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @Mdmccreeca.
Vahe Mirikian is the Peacebuilding Policy officer for Peace Direct. He leads their policy and advocacy in Washington, D.C., and supports the work of the organization at the United Nations. Follow him on Twitter @vahemirikian
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