Violence and Intimidation

Members of the targeted group are harassed and attacked by members of the dominant group or agents serving the dominant group. 

This violence takes many forms, though there are a few common patterns: 

  1. Police and other government agents attack members of the oppressed group. This may be done to prevent them from gaining a meaningful political voice and/or to send a signal to the dominant group that “law and order” is being maintained by keeping the targeted group in check. These attacks are often dismissed as mere “excessive force” when police make arrests or investigate complaints. 
  1. Vigilantes (self-appointed members of the dominant group illegally undertaking law enforcement) attack members of the targeted group for breaking the (written or unwritten) rules of the community.
  1. Members of the dominant group attack members of the targeted group to fulfill an underlying psychological desire to feel dominant and powerful. There is often a lack of serious consequences for hurting a member of an oppressed group, thus allowing those infected with a dominance mindset to attack others with little fear of punishment.
  1. Government or paramilitary forces attack, jail, harass, or punish innocent members of the targeted group as a collective punishment for the actions of individual members of that group (usually individuals fighting back against oppression). 
  1. Government or paramilitary forces torture individuals from the targeted group who they deem dangerous. Torture is often sanitized by officials by dehumanizing the victims, by asserting that these individuals are particularly dangerous or impure (see Caricatures and Stereotypes.)
  1. Individuals in the targeted group who are victims of violent crime (robberies, assaults) are unable to go to the police for protection, t

There are common patterns of language rationalizing and justifying violence against targeted people: 

  1. The targeted group “stepped out of line” or otherwise broke the rules (official or unofficial) of the power hierarchy and are being punished for their transgression. 
  2. The targeted group requires constant coercion and punishment to “keep them in their place.” 
  3. The targeted group has been dehumanized and pushed out of the “universe of obligation” of the majority, and thus random violence is allowed and attackers are not required to justify their actions. The language of dehumanization literally denies the humanity of the oppressed humans. They are called “savages,” “animals,” or likened to vermin such as rats, lice, and cockroaches. 

How People in Power Benefit from the Violence and Intimidation of Oppressed Groups: 

  • Violence and intimidation maintain systems of power that preserve economic benefits for those in charge. Hurting or killing those who challenge these power systems is a way that people in power protect their money and status. 
  • Oppressed groups are often exploited for their labor, and the threat of violence can deter people from speaking out and organizing to push back against the system. 

How to Fight Back Against Violence and Intimidation:

  • Oppressed groups often fight back using violent strategies, which can lead to revolution, or it can trigger a disproportionate response from people in power who likely control a military system that can easily overwhelm those fighting back. It is common for governments to justify oppression as a response to isolated acts of violence or small rebellions by the targeted group. 

Nonviolent rebellion, in the form of direct action campaigns, boycotts, peaceful protests, and multiple other strategies can force the government and others in power to acknowledge that oppression exists, which puts ethical pressure on those benefiting from these systems to begin the process of reconciliation and reform. (See the appendix of Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy for a long list of nonviolent actions.)