Social Media Forensics: The depoliticization of violence


Patrick Blanchfield in The Baffler:

Americans have an established protocol for making sense (and page views, and dollars) out of headline-grabbing violence. With news still coming in, we’ll take to the internet and perform all sorts of heavy-handed social media sleuthing trying to parse the supposed motivations and ideologies of cop-killers and spree shooters, with media and politicians helping us form narratives. The interpretative frames have become predictable, with the clearest example being race. If a killer is black, their act invariably presented in terms of criminality, and often used to discredit nonviolent black activist groups or to demand accountability from “the black community” at large; a similar heuristic applies to how we parse violence carried out by Muslims. Meanwhile, if a killer is white, we’ll rapidly cycle through point-scoring attributions of party membership to talk of “lone wolves” or mental illness, or make quasi-theological and ultimately useless appeals to “senselessness.” The overarching logic is transparent and deeply cynical: identity overdetermines action. Certain kinds of violent actors are emblematic of the traits of various essentialized stereotypes—black thuggishness, Muslim barbarity—while others (white men) are more often than not given the mantle of personal tragedy or individual pathology. Meanwhile, the stark realities of how our society actually distributes violence are effaced, and the structural, quotidian violence of white supremacy and misogyny—which include mass shootings and attacks like the one in Portland as part of their spectrum—remain underexamined and tacitly ratified as the norm. And thus our body politic metabolizes headline-grabbing acts of violence while avoiding any real confrontation with the systematic, continual violence on which our miserable way of life depends.

The interpretations surrounding the attack in Portland are simply another iteration of this process. Making the violence primarily about the killer’s supposed identity as a “leftist” has clear dividends for various players. The right wants to distance itself from the Portland attacks, since it has looked the other way at extrajudicial violence against minorities and Muslims in particular. The GOP is the party, after all, that has ownership of Trump’s cartoonishly grotesque DHS program, VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement), a program which, as the President described in his February speech before Congress, is tasked with amplifying the voices of “American victims” by propagandizing their suffering at the hands of “illegals.” And this is the same party that required extensive pressure to even acknowledge the shooting of a pair of Indian men in Kansas this past February.

More here.