From violence at the hands of police to the Flint water crisis, public visibility of the issues plaguing America’s most vulnerable communities has finally risen after decades of marginalization.
Each of these high-profile cases is not isolated, but part of a larger pervasive problem, author Marc Lamont Hill suggests in his thought-provoking new book Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.
Hill sat down with The Huffington Post on Monday to discuss the book, and looked back on the encounter that sparked the concept behind the book two years ago. After Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was killed in Ferguson, Hill quickly headed to Missouri to speak to residents and document the mood in the city.
“I talked to people on the ground about it and one person said, this girl Keisha, she said to me, ‘They just left him there like he ain’t belong to nobody.’ And that idea of not belonging to nobody resonated with me,” Hill recalled.
But the pervasive issue of state violence isn’t an issue exclusive to black Americans, Hill said. In fact, such violence cuts across boundaries and targets the “vulnerable” more broadly.
That’s why the book is called ‘America’s war on the vulnerable...,’” he said. “In this nation, you could be vulnerable for a lot of reasons. You could be identified as queer. You could be identified as a woman. You could be identified as poor, you could be identified as immigrant. You could be identified as trans. You could be identified as other abled ... and all of those things could make you vulnerable to state violence.
Such state violence disproportionately affects the “vulnerable” for a number of reasons, Hill said. With the issue of policing, for example, oftentimes laws are crafted to “simply criminalize us” rather than keep us safe, he told HuffPost’s Jacques Morel.
“People don’t commit crimes, they commit acts. Then certain acts get criminalized. Reading was a crime at one point. Getting married was a crime at one point. Now it’s just an act,” he said. “So, crime itself is just a construct and we decide that certain things are worth criminalizing and other things are not. But what we’ve seen in certain areas, is that we over police certain things and overcriminalize, which lead to the outcome of mass incarceration. “
Hill also explained that his definition of state violence goes beyond just police brutality. The lack of clean drinking water in the city of Flint, Michigan, where 57 percent of residents are black and more than 41 percent live below the poverty line, is an example of violence in another sense.
And such violence is a systemic problem, one that exists above the individual level, he continued. While individuals in the system may have the best of intentions, “that’s almost not the point,” Hill said.
“The question for me, isn’t what are people’s intentions, it’s what are the consequences of their actions and how are they put inside of a system?” he said. “There might be individual cops who do the best they can within the system, but the system is asking them to do things, to enforce laws, to engage in policing practices, that are troublesome, I think, to the overall project.”
Check out the video above to hear a clip from Marc Lamont Hill’s conversation with The Huffington Post and click here for the full interview.