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How subtle language enables the status quo

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Different headlines paint the situation at Georgia Tech differently.

Different headlines paint the situation at Georgia Tech differently.

Different headlines paint the situation at Georgia Tech differently.

John Macmillen

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Every American kid knows that Martin Luther King had a dream, but none of them are taught what that dream actually was. The only message is that he achieved his dream through peaceful protest. In this perversion of King, material interests are whitewashed. It treats politics as Red vs. Blue, Coke vs. Pepsi and not antagonism of the oppressed against their oppressors and vice versa. By this, the actions of the oppressed and the oppressor are equated. And, of course, that the only acceptable means of change are peaceful protest.

This American teaching destroys context. To compare the crimes of the oppressed to the oppressor is absurd. It assumes that the status quo is peace, that police brutality and exploitation is peace. What violence is represented as in this ideology is disruption. Even the conservative political action committee (PAC), the Heritage Foundation, wrote two different articles trying to use King to justify their politics.

The appropriation of King, as disgusting as it is, isn’t the act but the justification – the justification for siding with power. And this act is subtle.

On Saturday September 16, 2017, a suicidal Georgia Tech student, Scout Schultz, was shot by the police. The police might have been able to save the mentally ill student, but shot him instead. The next Monday, students held a vigil, and marched onto the local police station. That night, a police car was set on fire.

However, the way in which the Georgia Tech vigil was covered isolated the violence of setting a car on fire.

On September 19, CNN’s Darran Simon wrote a story entitled, “Violence flares after quiet vigil for Ga. Tech student shot by police.”

On September 18, Fox News ran a story entitled, “Violence breaks out at Georgia Tech after vigil for student killed in police shooting.”

On September 18, Buzzfeed’s Brianna Sacks wrote a story entitled, “Protests At Georgia Tech Turn Violent After Vigil For Student Killed By Campus Police.”

Notice the use of the word “after.” To the authors of these stories, the violence began with the burning of the car and the angry protesters. The violence, to them, didn’t begin with the police shooting someone. Stating violence isn’t violence, but the destruction of state property is violence.

Here there are two kinds of violence: systemic and disruptive, the violence spawned from the power structure of society and that which disrupts it.

In this case, the killing of a student by police was systemic. The officer in question was not trained in handling suicidal people, but this is the norm. When the officer killed Schultz, it was the way the exchange was meant to happen. It is a result of this country’s systems of power. To help the student would be exceptional.

However, the burning of a police car by protesters was disruptive. The act wasn’t the result of this country’s systems of power but a reaction to it. This is implied by the writers in their headlines. Terms such as “breaks out,” “turns,” “flares,” and “erupts” imply that the anger came from nowhere. However, the opposite is true. The anger is directly linked to the police killing a student. It is written this way because the violence is disruptive. It “erupted” because it was the exception.

The news media used the word “after” to draw a line between systemic and disruptive violence. Although, systemic violence (the police killing someone) isn’t called violence. The word violence is reserved for the disruptive violence. This language implies innocence of the police and, by extension, the entire power structure of society. It’s the language of the status quo, of exploitation and oppression.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the author of the article, “Violence breaks out at Georgia Tech after vigil for student killed in police shooting.” That author’s name has been removed. We regret the error.

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