Impunity, simply put, is unchecked power; it is malfeasance that goes unpunished; it is the capacity to act without constraints, confident that there will be no consequences. It is acting wrongly without accountability. Impunity needs to be called out when we see it!
Impunity shows up as a problem on multiple levels, in numerous sectors of society. Impunity is the stuff of tyranny. Without a countervailing force to stop a tyrant, tyrants will operate without fear of getting caught, and so some commit horrible acts because they can.
When we see it, let’s make sure we highlight the problem and call it out.
The Pacific Green Party, because we value the principle of non-violence, supports the call to end impunity; we support making a rallying cry to fight against injustice with the simple call: ‘end impunity’.
Impunity shows up all across the board of social and political and economic life; from corporate domination to police brutality to an overbearing national security state to overbearing bosses to the foundations of systemic racism; the unchecked power of one over or against another.
The call to end impunity is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement’s protest of police brutality, acts carried out in impunity because police officers are given the benefit of the doubt and receive “qualified immunity’ as a barrier to judicial review.
Impunity is a defining feature of racial injustice; it is built into the fabric of society as an imprint from the early days of the American colonies when the slave society allowed owners to act with impunity in enforcing the laws of slavery. It shows up in how Native American’s have been been treated as well.
Historical acts of impunity are too long to list, but we can mention the Trail of Tears; hundreds of lynchings during Jim Crow; destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma; broken Treaties between USA and Indians; mass incarceration of people of color; economic disadvantage, and police shootings. A dominant culture can act with impunity to restrict the rights of others when judicial constraints are not applied.
Impunity shows up in social and professional life.The “me too” movement is a reaction against male impunity to commit assault.
Journalists covering human rights and endeavoring to expose collusion between government agents and criminal enterprise have been killed with impunity; assassination of journalists has been the focus of a United Nations Commission on human rights.
Corporations are free to act with impunity until the law limits their capacity, or until they are caught and malfeasance is proved in a court of law. For example, Big Tobacco was brought to justice; however, Big Oil and Big Coal energy companies remain free to conduct business without any consequences for causing global warming.
Big Oil corporate leadership knew but denied that carbon dioxide pollution would be a cause of global warming; they withheld information so they could maximize production and achieve the greatest profit. But there has been no accounting for the harm unbridled burning of fossil fuels has caused; global warming with human population growth is having a catastrophic effect on the ecology of the planet; industrial impunity has led to the loss of property due to more severe storms and a hotter fire season.
Global warming is the result of industrial nations polluting the atmosphere with impunity.
Corporations and private equity organizations misrepresent the safety of their products because they can, because there is not a substantial countervailing force to compel them to be honest and to take responsibility for the effects of pollution on the planet and the ill effects of their products on human health.
Sadly, Government agencies that should hold corporations to account do not; campaign finance enables corporations to appoint government leaders through financing electoral campaigns and affecting other financial favors, like the rotating door between government and corporations.
Most egregious, over 30,000 chemical compounds have been developed for industrial-commercial and military purposes for which there has been no oversight or controls. Chemical pollution is responsible for loss of natural life and causes cancer in humans. Another example of industrial impunity.
The First Nations were the first casualties of impunity; the European deployment of ‘guns, germs and steel’ had no countervailing force that could counter the European incursion, and today, Native Americans remind us of a time before.
But there is more!
No act of impunity can match the unbridled fury of the NAZI’s; or the class war of Pol Pot; or that the Argentine junta waged against leftists; that Pinochet waged against leftists with the help of the CIA. God Bless American GIs who fought in WWII; a noble war if there can ever be one.
Finally, the modern National Security State was formed in the crucible of World War II, made official by President Truman in 1947. Later, in his ironic farewell speech, Eisenhower warned the nation about the problem of unchecked power by a new organizational phenomenon: the Military Industrial Complex, the private sector complement to the National Security State.
Because the warning from Eisenhower went unheeded by the American public, JFK paid with his life; our country lost civil rights leaders and progressive politicians in subsequent 1960’s assassinations; MLK, RFK, and Malcom X and Fred Hampton and others. Leaders who would have listened to the people demanding an end to war, calling for world peace, and demanding social and economic and even ecological justice, were killed in a collective wave of impunity.
History was robbed of real progressive possibility because agents in power killed with impunity. There has been no accounting for the 1960’s assassinations.
In conclusion, the fact that wealth has concentrated into the hands of a relative few compared to the vast poverty of the majority, is another example of class impunity: the plutocracy does not have to account for the economic injustice of millions of Americans struggling to survive.
Impunity can be brought to heel by government agencies empowered to prosecute malfeasance; the Green Movement is about changing government so it serves the people, protects nature from industrial assault, and challenges the plutocracy and its domination of the power structure.
Meanwhile, we ask: what moves you to protest? What is the problem that gets no hearing? What problem of impunity do you want to see get justice?
Pacific Greens of Oregon invite the Progressive Movement to issue a collective call to end impunity and demand accountability where it is required so justice may be done. Ending impunity applies to all struggles for justice. It can be a rallying cry.
Join us in issuing a joint statement that challenges all forms of oppression.
Issued by the PGP Caucus on Government Transparency and Accountability.