Systemic Violence

What Is Systemic Violence?

Open discussion on Saturday, January 5, 2019  —Scribe Magnetic Minga.


A discussion among 12 AVPers (AVP Boston area) and friends on how do you define systemic violence? How do you see systemic violence operating in your life?


I grew up in Israel. What can I do to influence the Systemic violence in Israel? I can offer only one little raindrop. The violence is the stealing of land and putting the Palestinians in camps. I did AVP in West Bank in 2018 and spoke to Palestinians about this violence.

Initial Attempts of a Definition:

  • When we are part of a system where there is a faction that doesn’t believe that they are privileged. The privileged take over another faction saying they don’t have rights.
  • (Is systemic violence the same as injustice?)
  • This violence is an Intersectionality of issues. Economic, environmental, racial, gender injustice.
  • If something isn’t going the way I want, I’ll use force.
  • This violence is very prevailing and works in a pattern over time. It’s pervasive and part of the cycle. It’s Ingrained.
  • It may be cultural like the cliche, “boys will be boys.“
  • Systemic violence isn’t always active. If you see passive violence, then it’s almost always systemic.
  • Sometimes your intentions are good toward the underclass, but it’s your actions that count.
  • Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow says, if one only thinks about one wire of the cage it’s hard to know how the bird is trapped. Any particular wire may restrict the bird. Several wires keep the bird caged in. Mass incarceration is a series of injustices.

A problem of privilege: We don’t see systemic violence because we don’t experience the down side of it when we’re in the power seat. We don’t even know when its happening.

  • Examples of this violence Smedley Butler famously said, Everyone is screwed but a few profit from the war.
  • A father says to a daughter, why are you living in a crowded city like DC for twice as much money, when as a white person you could live anywhere. Why not use your privilege to live where you want? This type of violence insidiously gets passed down to our kids.

We talked about some stories of how Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his front door. Why are things allowed like this? How can we let the police, due to racial profiling, arrest dark skinned people?

It’s complicated. A poet Claudia saying that class has more power over race and class and race also have more power over gender dynamics.

Testimony: I tried to get woke after high school. I was aware of teachers working for the civil rights in high school, but it didn’t touch me. Vietnam was a first ‘wake.’ I have to be aware of the problems, to understand that I’m part of the system.

Nashua St. Jail in West End, they couldn’t believe it was a jail because you don’t see the inmates.  Their outdoor time is spent on the roof out of sight and earshot of the street. 

What is getting “woke”, and how do I get connected?  How do I see the bigger connection? How do I see what’s behind that wall?

Ask: Where is suffering being hidden? How do you look at the world in order to be aware?  How do you listen and empathize? You have to put in time, be curious.

In white culture, we talk about categorizing, and comparing and measuring. Did you win? There’s so much comparing whether race is worse than class. It’s dangerous to see only the oppression you experience, and not notice other oppression.

Growing up in a fundamentalist family, it was the only thing I knew which was the norm.

What can we do in prison knowing that we can’t do everything. For ex. What can we do to insure that others can vote? We can help people get housing, or help when they’re on the outside. Can we do anything else?

One view: We are participating in the systemic violence by being in prison as AVPer. We are part of the system. That’s frustrating. What can we do to break our participation in the violence?  Can we explore the racism and the heavy quantity of black/brown who are incarcerated?  We all do see the racism, and most of us benefit from it. AVP is white people.

We can intentionally say hurtful things. Or we can not say anything. I can’t go into prison without fighting the racism in our lives. It’s maybe hypocritical.

What Can AVP Do?

One thread of Systemic violence is having to pay bail-can we stop that? There are different bail drives, and can we contribute money to bail funds to get mothers out of jail.

Each of us can be ‘woke’ and pass it on to another who is ‘woke’. We pass it on.