Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The History And Meaning Of The "No Justice, No Peace" Chant

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information and comments about the protest chant "No justice, no peace".

This post also provides information about the history of the raised clenched fist protest gesture.

The content of this post is presented for historical, sociological, and cultural purpose.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all whose lives and whose efforts help to make a reality of the ideal of equal justice for all.

Thanks to those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publishers of these vidoes on YouTube.

"No justice. No peace." is a call & response protest chant that originated with African Americans. Here is information about that chant's history and meaning:

"No justice, no peace" July 15, 2013 @ 10:13 am , Filed by Ben Zimmer
..."In the [19]'80s and [19]'90s, as J.P. [Villanueva] suggests, "No justice, no peace" was unequivocally understood as conditional, not conjunctive.* I've found examples of the slogan going back to the aftermath of the Howard Beach incident in December 1986, in which Trinidadian immigrant Michael Griffith was killed by a mob of white youths. On Feb. 28, 1987, the New York Amsterdam News reported that "'No justice, no peace' has become the battle cry of the student led movement against racially motivated attacks on African peoples." The newspaper quoted protest organizer Viola Plummer as saying, "from the death of Michael Griffith on, we declare that if there is no justice there cannot be peace."

The following year, on May 11, 1988, the activist lawyer Ron Kuby testified before a hearing on racially motivated violence before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Criminal Justice. Kuby stated:
"In response to the increase of hate crimes by both the police and private citizens, a new civil rights movement has started to emerge in New York. The movement is broad and diverse, but has marched under the slogan "No Justice, No Peace," a slogan which summarizes the frustration and anger of New York's Black and Latino communities. "No Justice, No Peace" remains the solemn promise of an increasing number of people in an increasingly polarized city.

Kuby framed the slogan as a "promise" rather than a threat, but the conditional reading was still clear. After the killing of Yusef Hawkins in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1989, the slogan again came to the fore. A May 13, 1990 New York Times article described protests in Bensonhurst that occurred on the same day as protests in Flatbush over allegations that a black woman had been roughed up at a Korean-owned grocery store. At the Flatbush protest, "No justice, no peace" was paired with the similarly conditional "No respect, no business," i.e., "(If you give us) no respect, (we will give you) no business." And at Bensonhurst, the slogan was rephrased as "Justice, then peace.""

Update: On this website [Entry from May 26, 2005], Barry Popik has a page devoted to "no justice no peace" and provides a couple of examples from 1987 slightly earlier than the Amsterdam News quote given above:

22 January 1987. St. Petersburg (FL) Times, "4,500 march to protest racial attack in N.Y." by Dan Jacobsen, United Press International, pg. 11A:
NEW YORK – More than 4,500 black protesters chanting slogans to the beat of pounding drums marched in Manhattan Wednesday during a day-long demonstration of "outrage" against the Howard Beach racial attack.

With fists clenched in anger, they filled Broadway at 32nd Street, site of a city welfare hotel, then led a deafening demonstration down Fifth Avenue to Mayor Edward Koch's Greenwich Village home.
Chants of "No justice, no peace" and "Mayor Koch step aside, there ain't gonna be no genocide" echoed among the office buildings as police scrambled to line the route.

22 January 1987, Newsday (Long Island, NY), "4,000 March Against Racism But Impact Of Boycott Less Clear," pg. 3:
To the deafening beat of chants, a predominately black army of nearly 4,000 protesters marched down Fifth Avenue yesterday in a declared effort to defeat the notion that blacks will tolerate racial injustice.

The march highlighted "The Day of Mourning and Outrage" for Michael Griffith, who was killed by a car Dec. 20 while fleeing a gang of white teenagers in Howard Beach, Queens. (…)
Chanting "No justice, no peace," the five-block-long stream of marchers, some shaking clenched fists, set off from the Martinique Hotel, a welfare hotel on West 32nd Street. They marched to Mayor Edward I. Koch's Greenwich Village home, a 30-block walk that took an hour."
The article that was first quoted also indicated that the "No justice, No peace" chant was widely used during the Trayvon Martin protests in Sanford, Florida and throughout the United States.

The "No justice, No peace" chants continues to be used in all subsequent largely African American protests, including those which are being held to protest the shooting death of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

*I think that most people who chant "No justice, No peace" believe that chant has a conjunctive meaning: "(If there is) no justice, (then there will be) no peace".

Note that J.P. Villanueva, the person who asked about this chant on that blog, wrote that "No Justice, No Peace" meant that if there is no justice, then there will be riots. I strongly reject that interpretation, and would use the word "protests" instead of the word "riots".

I think that the conjunctive meaning of "No Justice, no peace":(There is) no justice (and there is) no peace" is a misinterpretation of that chant.

Note that during his press conference in Ferguson, Missouri on August 15, 2014, a press conference about the unrest in that city that was sparked by the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager by a White policeman, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said that "until there is peace, there can be no justice". I think that this is an inept, unfortunate transposition of the "No justice, No peace" saying. Did Governor Jay Nixon understand what that saying means, and did he really mean what he said?

For the historical record, the saying "Hands up. Don't shoot" is a new protest chant that is said while holding both arms up in what is universally known as the "I surrender" pose. This chant was first used in August 9, 2014 and is alleged to be the last words and actions of Michael Brown Jr.

These examples are posted in chronological order with the oldest videos given first.

Example #1: No Justice, No Peace

MakeBanksPayCA Uploaded on Sep 28, 2011

IF WE DON'T GET NO JUSTICE, YOU DON'T GET NO PEACE. Activists fighting bank foreclosures are chanting at the property auction in Oakland, CA. This is a part of a week of action against banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, US Bank, CitiBank and others that are making the rich richer and the poor poorer by not paying their fair share.

Example #2: Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin - Union Square, New York City

AllThingsHarlem, Published on Mar 21, 2012

Here is a video snapshot of the Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin in Union Square, New York City on March 21, 2012.
The speaker is Brian Jones a Teacher, Writer and Activist we interviewed during the rally and march. He connects the killing of Trayvon Martin to Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow and the view of black and brown men as criminals. The results of this criminalization has not only led to the mass incarceration of black men but also the murder of them like what happened with Trayvon Martin.

Produced by Still Here Harlem
Transcript of Brian Jones comments:
"This is the product of the perpetration of the idea that some people are not worthy of justice um and that those people are overwhelmingly young and Black and male. And that the best place for them is prison, and if not prison, then what Michelle Alexander describes as a kind of invisible cage of post-felony conviction life. And that’s what George Zimmerman thought when he saw a young man walking down the street with Skittles. He saw what our society has taught him to see. He saw someone who was already a criminal, and as she argues so cogently in her book, to be young, Black, and male is to be a criminal, basically nowadays.

And so that’s, that’s what this is a product of. And the criminal justice system is always afraid of these cases. They’re always afraid to really get into it and have real justice served. Because to do so would reveal the depths to which this goes in their system. And every time claims of racial violence and patterns of racial injustice have been brought to court, they have said Yes, that is the pattern. However, we cannot admit it. Because to admit it would be to condemn our whole thing. And, I think that what’s happening is that that condemnation, that sense that the whole thing being rotten is becoming more and more clear in the minds of millions and millions of people.

That’s what the era of mass incarceration really means- You have a mass of people involved in this thing. And the more people you involve in it, the more people begin to figure it out. And so that’s the flip side of mass incarceration. Now, a whole mass of people have a reason to think it through, critically, and to come to understand it, and now what we are seeing is to fight it, and to get into the streets and challenge it. And I think that‘s why we saw such an outpouring [of people] here in the streets today, an unbelievable outpouring."
Transcribed from the video by Azizi Powell. Additions and corrections are welcome.

Example #3: No Justice No Peace


Marc Polite, Published on Aug 25, 2013

Marchers chant No Justice, No Peace at March on Washington 2013
Notice a protester's raised clenched fist toward the end of this video. Here's some information about the history of that symbol:
"The raised fist (also known as the clenched fist) is a symbol of solidarity and support.[1] It is also used as a salute to express unity, strength, defiance, or resistance. The salute dates back to ancient Assyria as a symbol of resistance in the face of violence.[2]...

Assyrian depictions of the goddess Ishtar show her raising a clenched fist.[2] A raised fist was used as a logo by the Industrial Workers of the World[3] in 1917. The graphic symbol was popularized in 1948 by Taller de Gráfica Popular, a print shop in Mexico that used art to advance revolutionary social causes.[4] The symbol has been picked up and incorporated around the world by various groups who perceive they are oppressed...

The black fist, also known as the Black Power fist is a logo generally associated with black nationalism and sometimes socialism. Its most widely known usage is by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s"...

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  1. i am a hispanic born and raised in the streets of new york i know and understand that the black man is the original man what i dont understand is how blacks portray themselves as the only ones singled out i consider myself black i haveall the black features only thing is i speak spanish my people were slaves to the haitians i get upset when people consider me other than black my skin is brown but i too share all of the discrimination that black people go threw i am proud to be of my culture but we need to teach the youth that not only are the blacks targeted but also hispanics as well we are all in the same boat and we been on that boat since they went and draged our ancestors here from africa .

    1. I appreciate your comment, Anonymous.

      I think that part of the problem is that most African Americans are seldom taught very much in school about our history and about the history of other people in the African Diaspora. And non-Hispanic Black people and other people who don't live in parts of the United States where there are sizable populations of Hispanic people don't know very much about what Hispanic people look like.

      For instance, I was raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s to 1965. A lot of tourists come to that city and the street where I lived was near a parking lot where a lot of charter buses left off tourists. One day this Black woman came up to me and a couple of other teens and started talking in Spanish. I was really surprised at that, but since I was taking my fourth year of Spanish in high school, I understood that she wanted directions to the city's convention center. Since I didn't know how to give her the directions in Spanish, I told her I would show her the way, and I walked with her to that location. During that walk I learned that she was a Puerto Rican from New York City. That was the first time I realized that Puerto Ricans could look just like African Americans.

      Shortly thereafter, I went away to college. For one class students had to write a book report about a culture that we were unfamiliar with. I went to the college library and happened upon a book about Cuba. I was shocked to learn that there were Black people in Cuba. Ditto some years later about Brazil.

      So many years later -as a result of doing research for this pancocojams blog- I'm learning about the cultures of Black people who live in other South American nations and throughout the world.

      I think that most United States public schools still do a lousy job teaching students about African and the African Diaspora.

      But thanks to the internet and to YouTube in particular people can learn more about these subjects and at least know that there are Black Hispanics in the USA and there are people of Black descent in the Caribbean, in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Australia and elsewhere.

      Thanks again, Anonymous. Continue to be proud of your culture and continue sharing it with others!!

    2. Slaves to the Spanish! Slaves to the French! Not slaves to the Haitians. Haiti abolished slavery, you retard!

    3. Anonymous September 23, 2016

      I'm not deleting this comment, although I don't understand why you wrote it and what you meant.

      Also, the word "retard" is offensive in and of itself.

      It's not a referent that I use for anyone.

  2. Surprise! there are blacks in Mexico too. Blacks that mixed with indigenous, or with spaniards, or mestizos, or just blacks, recent black immigrants. They are part of the history some of the heroes of the mexican pantheon are of black descend, like Vicente Guerrero, who by the way is the real first black president of the Americas ;)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I appreciate the information that you shared.

      Here's a link to information about Vincente Guerrero:
      Here's a brief excerpt from that page:
      "Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña.... August 10, 1782 – February 14, 1831) was one of the leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence. He fought against Spain for independence in the early 19th century, and later served as President of Mexico, coming to power in a coup. He was of Afro-Mestizo descent,[1] championed the cause of Mexico's common people, and abolished slavery during his brief term as president.[2] His execution in 1831 by the conservative government that ousted him in 1829 was a shock to the nation.[3]"...
      Also, here's a link to a 2011 pancocojams post entitled "Black Mexicans And Black Peruvians": .

  3. "No love, no justice, no peace" appears in the lyric of The Ethiopians 1971 reggae song "What A Pain".

    1. The Editor, thanks for sharing that information with me and other folks at pancocojams.

      Here's the hyperlink for The Ethiopians 1971 reggae song "What A Pain":

  4. In 1972, Pope Paul VI gave a speech on world peace day entitled "If you want peace, work for justice."

    1. Thanks for sharing that information, jdk. It's very timely given what is happening in the United States right now.

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