top of page

On State Violence, White Male Privilege and ‘Occupy’

Angela Davis addresses Occupy Oakland on Nov. 2, the day of the General Strike, and sets an agenda beyond the issues of the white left. – Photo: John Osborn, Bay Citizen

From SF BayView Newspaper:‘occupy’/

by Nancy A. Heitzeg

“I ain’t about to go get arrested with some muhfuhkuhs who just figured out yesterday that this shit ain’t right.” – quoted by Greg Tate in The Village Voice

Much has been written of late as to the “white maleness” of the “Occupy” Movement. The demographics of the participants, which varies from city to city, but which is consistently seen as predominately young white and male, is not fully reflective of the “99 percent.”

The language of “occupy” itself – this is the rhetoric of colonialism, conquest, imperialism, militarism and, well, “white” males: The class-based framing and the lack of intersectional analysis – it is difficult to undo “the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” by overlooking the centrality of white supremacy and patriarchy. The amorphous lack of specific demands, save that of attention – trust me, if my multi-race, multi-gendered, multi-sexuality crew and I are camping out in protest, in a public space at that, we know exactly what we are gonna ask for.

While the Occupy Movement may evolve and expand in new directions, form new coalitions, as of now, it is a movement dominated by “white” male privilege. And nowhere is this more telling than in the response to state violence against protesters and in the absence of a critique of the political economy of the prison industrial complex.

In the aftermath of police actions in NYC, Oakland and elsewhere, some justifiable outrage and even more hyperbole abounded. Scott Olsen, the injured Iraq War veteran who galvanized Occupy Oakland critiques of police action, was described in various blog posts as “the Crispus Attucks of the movement.” Never mind that he is white. Or alive.

A recent NYPD action that moved protesters off a public sidewalk and resulted in 20 arrests was described by an observer as “the most egregious violation of constitutional rights I have ever seen.”


Rodney King? Oscar Grant? Amadou Diallo? Sean Bell? Abner Louima? Troy Davis?

How many millions more?

And where you been?

Perspectives on police

“Those of us who do not have white skin are the most policed people on the planet. Oakland Police Department shoots unarmed Black men and takes white men who engage police in shootouts into custody alive.” – Rich Ejire

A substantial literature documents the vast gulf in public perceptions of police between whites and communities of color. While whites often view the police as there to “protect and serve,” communities of color have long been clear that the police were there to, in fact, police them. As Laurence Bobo observed in the midst of the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair:

“For most Blacks, this police-Black citizen interaction is an acutely sensitive terrain. For many African Americans, it is a space marked by live wounds, personal and familial memories of injury and insult, and the heavy weight of group experience of injustice. For most whites, however, there is nothing so close, so profoundly emotion-laced or so fundamentally defined by an ascriptive feature such as one’s perceived racial background. It is, in short, a place where the Venn d