Boston teacher Nino Brown, of the ANSWER Coalition, speaks with TRNN’s Ben Norton about the links between US militarism, gun violence, and police brutality. He connects the epidemic of school shootings domestically to the endless wars internationally
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m Ben Norton.
I’m joined by Nino Brown, who is a teacher and an organizer in the Boston area. He’s an organizer with the ANSWER coalition, and also with the Boston Teachers Union, and Nino teaches fifth grade. This past March, Nino was a speaker at the Boston March for our Lives, and his speech was unique, because unlike any of the other speakers, Nino drew together two important points: The relation between not just gun violence, but also U.S. militarism. Here’s a clip of his speech.
NINO BROWN:: Arming teachers and adding police to our school will not create more security. It will only reinforce the already existing criminalization of our youth and the militarization of our schools. In this country we invest more in arms and tools of oppression and war rather than expression and human development. And as the old saying goes, they got money for war, but they can’t feed the poor. Right? People in Sacramento are out here demonstrating in the thousands, in the thousands, for our brother Sevenzo Clark who a father, who is a brother, who was shot 20 times. Because if we were to talk about gun violence, let’s go there. Let’s talk about the thousand people that are killed every year by the police, right.
BEN NORTON: The U.S. is totally on another planet when it comes to gun violence. The rates of gun violence here have few parallels in the rest of the world. So we’re going to talk about why that might be the case. And specifically, I want to talk about a factor that many Democratic politicians who support gun control, and many liberals who might otherwise be concerned about this issue, will ignore, and that’s the issue of U.S. militarism. Because when you look at what the U.S. is exceptional about, the U.S. is also uniquely violent when it comes to its military.
So today I’m going to discuss with Nino what he thinks about the relations between gun violence, police brutality, and militarism. Thanks for joining us, Nino.
NINO BROWN:: Glad to be here.
BEN NORTON: So let’s just get straight into this. You know, the U.S. is not unique when it comes to the violence domestically. The U.S. is also uniquely violent internationally. What do you think the relationship is between U.S. militarism and imperialism, and the connections with gun violence at home? And why do we never hear this discussion?
NINO BROWN:: Well, I mean, I think we don’t hear this discussion because it’ll create a condition or create a situation where folks have to go directly to the root cause of the problem. So, as we know, the United States is the, quote-unquote, most powerful nation in the world. And part of what goes along with that is being the largest exporter of just sheer violence. So the United States is the largest manufacturer of guns and weaponry. We see them selling guns, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, reactionary regimes that suppress their own people.
So in connecting that to gun violence, right, domestically, I see it as a dialectic. You know, the, the violence, the steps that it takes to train the military to be a colonial, an occupying military, to create the mindsets where you can, you know, deny people’s humanity in order to carry out U.S. militarism, U.S. imperialism, those folks are Americans, right. So the culture in the United States is set up so that folks can accept this, accept that their country is exceptional, and accept all these myths that justify militarism and imperialism, the dehumanization of people of color, and so forth.
So there’s no, there’s no streamlined or direct relationship, but it’s more of a, like a zigzag relationship that shows how the guns, the military, the training, the ROTC programs in high school, how all of these reactionary ideologies and practices create the, create the new school shooters, create the new white supremacists who carry out this violence on domestic soil.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and let’s talk about the arms industry, the military-industrial complex. The U.S. is the world’s leader in this by far, by far the world’s largest exporter of weapons, military technology. You mentioned Saudi Arabia, where the Obama administration did more than $112 billion, that’s a billion with a B, in arms sales with Saudi Arabia. This is an extremely repressive, extremist theocratic regime. Also, you know, weapons exports for many other repressive states. And then the Trump administration has continued with another $100 billion in arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
But also, just when you look at U.S. military spending, the U.S. military spending budget is larger than the next seven largest countries combined. And if you look at most of these countries, they’re already U.S. allies anyway. You know, China has more than four times our population and spends only a fraction of the military that the U.S. spends.
And then also what’s interesting is, you know, Democratic Party politicians and other liberal guns, gun control activists, they’ll point out, correctly, that the U.S. leads the world in selling and producing guns at home, but they never connected to our export of guns abroad. And what’s fascinating is the whole point of militarism is that you can solve your problems, your political, personal economic problems through the use of military force, of violence. And how does that not translate into people thinking that they solve their own problems in real life through violence? Why is, why do you think there is this disconnect? And can you talk about specifically the military-industrial complex’s role in this?
NINO BROWN:: Well, I mean, I think the United States is just fundamentally built on violence, right. Indigenous genocide, African slavery. And our politicians cannot speak to this reality because they are in the pocket of the NRA, right. We know that Congress is made up of all millionaires, and the gun lobby is very influential in kind of dictating the limitations, or the boundaries, the contours of our conversations around gun violence.
So what’s interesting about the liberal outrage Democratic Party outrage around gun violence is that there are proposals to solve gun violence don’t actually involve the victims. They don’t actually take into account the reality of those who have been victims of all kinds of gun violence like police brutality police killings these 416 people have been killed in 2018 as a result of police violence. Every year we have at least a thousand people being killed as a result of police violence. So these these measures these discussions that liberals and Democratic Party appendages and other folks bring to the table are just completely devoid of any type of historical or social context. Like so said the violence doesn’t come out of nowhere.
The violence is historical. The violence is within the boundaries of, you know, maintaining a system where it’s profitable to, to destroy, you know, to invest in weapons of war. So I don’t think that the, the politicians that we have today can really speak to that without going directly to the root cause of the problem. And I think that they, interestingly, probably adapt and know that, which is why they avoid those conversations, because it will actually strike at where they’re getting, who’s supporting them, you know, in Congress. But moreover how they’re their their bills and their laws and their propositions. They would have to buck who’s paying them, you know, so they’re in this dilemma. and I don’t necessarily feel sorry for them. However, I think that the conversation needs to expand beyond just domestic gun violence, to say the least.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, that’s, that’s a perfect point. The U.S. is not just unique with gun violence. I mean, it certainly is when it comes to gun violence. But the U.S. is also unique with military force and police brutality. And if you look at other countries, the levels of police brutality here are also off the charts, especially in racist police attacks on black and other minority Americans. But I also want to address-. You raised something earlier, and it’s very interesting point, about high schools and the militarization of schools. Republicans and other right-wing figures in this country have proposed as a potential solution to gun violence arming teachers. You yourself are a teacher. We’ve seen, of course, horrific attacks carried out by these crazed far-right fascist gunmen who just want to kill as many people as possible. Do you think that arming teachers is the solution to that? And could that make problems even worse?
NINO BROWN:: Absolutely not. You know, in the schools that I’ve worked in and the school that I work in currently, we’re underfunded. You know, in Boston every single year there’s budget cuts where students lose teachers, they lose librarians, they lose classes. So before we talk about arming teachers with weapons, we need to think about arming teachers with actual resources that they need to make school a place where children and young people can actually develop and self-actualize. Because what’s happening now is that there’s no real interjection into what’s creating these reactionary ideologies, right. How do we have so many young white men just continually being turned as white supremacists, as neonazis, cryptofascists, and so on and so forth. Right?
So arming teachers will not help by any means. As a matter of fact, I think, I consider it a smack in the face. You know, while our schools are being slated for getting shut down, all different kinds of levels they put onto our schools, and say these schools are failing. Well, you underfunded them, and we’re already in hostile environments. I know in Boston in particular, we don’t have very high rates of gun violence. But when you look deeper into the question, the gun violence is very concentrated. It’s concentrated in places like Roxbury, in Dorchester, in Mattapan. You know, high-poverty communities of color, where the guns somehow through black market mechanisms find their way into our communities, while we have the removal of these basic social services such as public education. So it creates a situation that can only be more deadly.
So before we talk about arming anybody with any type of weaponry, we need to start talking about arming our schools with what they actually need to actually stop violence, or stop gun violence.
BEN NORTON: Well, we’re going to pause our conversation there. I’m joined by Nino Brown, who is an organizer and teacher in the Boston area. We’re talking about the intersection between gun violence and militarism. We’ll continue this discussion in Part 2.