[TW: discussion of rape culture, lynching] When it comes to violence, it is important to remember that the police, the military, and the criminal justice system play an important role in punishing certain forms of violence while ignoring others. Through the policies themselves and differential enforcement of policies, state institutions shape what counts as violence. In this way, state policies link individual acts of violence to the more routine, systemic violence that reflects social inequalities of race, class, and gender.
To illustrate this historically, lynchings of African American men can be seen as the random acts of unruly mobs; yet, the failure to arrest, prosecute, and convict those who did the lynching is a powerful testament to public endorsement of these seemingly individual acts of violence. Likewise, rape appears to be a private act, but it occurs as part of a generalized climate that condones violence against women. Yet race, class, and gender have shaped the very definition of rape and the treatment afforded rape survivors and their rapists. In ‘Rape, Racism, and the Law,’ Jennifer Wriggins examines how the legal system’s treatment of rape has disproportionately targeted Black men for punishment and made Black women especially vulnerable by denying their sexual subordination. Although violence may be experienced individually, it occurs in specific organizational and institutional contexts shaped by race, class, and gender.