“No justice, no peace” is not a threat, it’s a fact
As Martin Luther King has said in his time, and is evident again today, white America prefers law and order over justice for black people. Sure, black people can protest, but on the condition that they do it peacefully and that they don’t break the law.
White America, especially liberals, believe that “law and order” is a neutral, legal order that doesn’t discriminate against anybody. For them, the extent of racial justice is to make sure that the law guarantees equal rights to all races. So after the civil rights act, any problem with racism must come from individual racists, bigots that must be re-educated. But since these racists represent aberrations, and the law is fundamentally just, black people can protest racism but have no right to disturb law and order.
What they don’t see is how law and order is itself not neutral at all, but anti-black. The law is not just what is written, but how it is enforced. When some people are caught with drugs, they go to rehab. Others go to prison. Again, this is not due to some racist cops or judges, but a culture of white supremacy that is part of America itself.
So the violence of the protests is a visible response to this injustice, to the violence that is done to the black community. And the slogan “No justice, no peace” is taken to mean that, as long as justice isn’t done, the violent protests will continue.
But the slogan also works on another level, at the level of every-day de-politicised violence.
We have to distinguish two types of violence: visible and invisible, political and de-politicised. The murder of George Floyd was made visible, political, by the efforts of BLM activists. If they hadn’t done so, this murder, like countless others, would have remained invisible, ignored by the media. This then sparked the political violence of the protests. So here we can see that the protester violence is a direct response to the police violence.
And then there is the invisible violence. This includes most police murders and brutality, as it is simply seen as part of law enforcement, and as such unpolitical. But most importantly it includes all the different types of violence that keeps black people poor, such as when cities allocate black communities’ funds to police instead of to schools, community centers, rehabs, jobs, etc. So the logical response to this violence is the every-day invisible violence of poverty: petty crime, drug dealing, gang warfare, pimping. But unlike the political violence of the protests, this violence has no emancipatory potential whatsoever.
So in both cases, we see that the disturbance of law and order is caused by the injustice inherent in this conception of law and order. But while the visible part of this disturbance might end — the protests might be beaten down or co-opted — the depoliticised violence of poverty will nonetheless continue until we arrive at a justice that is concrete-actual, and not just abstract-legal. Until then, white America will continue to repress this violence, isolate it in “bad neighbourhoods”, flee to the suburbs, rely on the police to keep them safe, nonetheless having a nagging sense of unsafety. So in this sense, on both sides, there will be no peace if there is no justice.