Peace Brigades International rejects structural violence. What could that mean?

Published by Brent Patterson on

The principles and mandate of Peace Brigades International “rejects violence of any kind from any source.” It also acknowledges “different forms and structures of violence, such as gender and other identity-based discriminations, and social-economic exploitation.”

Our principles further acknowledge both “physical and structural” violence.

How then might this inform our view of the police, prisons and borders? Some contemporary literature on these systems can help us to explore this question.

Professor Alex S. Vitale has described the police as “violence workers”.

In this interview, Vitale argues: “When we turn a problem over to the police to manage, there will be violence, because those are ultimately the tools that they are most equipped to utilize: handcuffs, threats, guns, arrests. That’s what really is at the root of policing. So if we don’t want violence, we should try to figure out how to not get the police involved.”

With respect to prison, some have drawn attention to the violence of prison walls, armed guards, putting people in cages, and a system based on punishment.

The Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) has stated: “We are increasingly clear that the imprisonment of human beings, like their enslavement, is inherently immoral, and is as destructive to the cagers as to the caged.”

Angela Davis has further argued: “Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails.”

Abolition feminism further envisions a society in which “safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence.”

As for borders, Harsha Walia argues that the violence linked to borders includes armed border guards, detention, immigration raids, and forced deportation.

Walia has noted: “Border controls are used to deter those for who migration is the only option to the plundering of their communities and economies due to the free license granted to capital and militaries.”

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has also noted the framework of “the coercive power of the state and state violence” and has acknowledged police violence as “endemic, long-standing and a function of structural white supremacy.”

Almost 40 years ago, the founding statement for PBI significantly acknowledged: “Peace is more than the absence of war.”

Those who gathered to form the organization in August/September 1981 shared together a reading from a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. and may have been inspired by his definition of peace as the presence of justice.

Our striving “to create space for peace and protect human rights” therefore draws us to deepen our analysis of the various forms of violence that can be understood to include colonization, dispossession, racism, patriarchy and femicide, transphobia, poverty, militarism, extractavism and corporate aggression.

Every three years PBI holds a General Assembly in which larger questions like “how do we understand structural violence” can be discussed. The next General Assembly is now scheduled for May 21-28, 2021 in Germany.

To read our Principles and Mandate first approved by a General Assembly in Toronto in 1992 and last amended in Hamburg in 2008, please click here.

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