This piece, republished from Counterpunch, explores the current uprising against police brutality in the context of the struggle against capitalism and asks: what are the most effective forms of struggle going forward? Join the conversation in the comments section.
by Vincent Emanuele / Counterpunch
“We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.”
— Henry Kissinger
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
— Sun Tzu
Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s hideous murder. Police stations have been commandeered and torched, corporate stores destroyed and set ablaze. In Seattle, people have constructed the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,’ otherwise known as CHAZ, which encompasses several city blocks, a police station, apartments, and storefronts. Protests and actions ranging from nonviolent marches to small-scale rebellions and uprisings have taken place in over 2,000 cities across the United States.
Before the uprisings, the U.S. was crumbling under the weight of its bloated empire, vicious economic system, and ossified political institutions. Not only has Trump’s response to the pandemic been criminal, to say the least, the political system at every level has failed to respond to the crisis.
The U.S. has been exposed as a failed state.
GOP Senators wheel and deal stocks, including ‘Human Capital Stock,’ as White House adviser Kevin Hassett put it. Meanwhile, Democrats respond to the current crisis with half-measures and symbolic (and absurd) acts of solidarity. So far, the pandemic, which has killed over 115,000 Americans, accounting for 25% of the world’s total deaths due to COVID-19 (the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s total population), continues to spread like wildfire, yet most of the country has gone back to business as usual. Prior to the pandemic, over 140 million Americans lived in poverty.
Now, with 40 million additional Americans out of work, with no end to the pandemic or job prospects in sight, those numbers have and will continue to increase dramatically. Millions of Americans are incapable of paying their bills; tens of millions endure mounting student loan, credit card, and personal debt; and hundreds of thousands face evictions in the coming weeks. At the same time, Wall Street loots trillions from the Treasury and Federal Reserve.
From the very beginning of the pandemic and economic crisis, the state has refused to enact even small-scale economic measures or social programs that would benefit poor and working class people. As a result, tens of millions remain jobless, with no hope in sight. On July 31st, the CARES Act provision that provides an extra $600 a week to Americans receiving unemployment benefits will expire.
People are tired, angry, and rightly so.
Unsurprisingly, many corporate media commentators suggest that systemic racism and policing are the driving factors of the current wave of protests and rebellions. Without doubt, those are the issues that sparked our current ‘Movement Moment,’ but they’re not the only factors playing a role in the uprisings. Class is front and center, though ignored in mainstream political discourse, which seeks to frame everything through a racialized lens. If the corporate media spent some time in the streets, they’d understand that the uprisings have as much to do with class as they do about race.
Corporate Media Lags Behind
During the initial days of the Minneapolis Uprisings, the independent media outfit Unicorn Riot (UR), which describes itself as a “decentralized, educational non-profit media organization of artists and journalists,” was my preferred outlet for on the ground reporting. Journalists at UR don’t necessarily provide commentary as much as they document events in real-time. Outlets such as UR report directly from the streets, with the people, long before or after the corporate media outlets arrive or leave. Young people appreciate and trust UR (UR started during the Standing Rock protests), so they’re given access to moments and events that cable news journalists cover from miles away, if at all. While protesters were smashing up CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, UR was documenting those actions on the ground, talking to people in the street (CNN commentators were hiding in their studio bunkers high above the streets, shocked that non-Trump supporters also hate their guts).
It’s hard to downplay what Unicorn Riot does: namely, report from streets and document what’s happening from Ground Zero without commercial breaks or talking heads to provide out of touch commentary. Corporate media outlets lack legitimacy. When they do show up to a protest or uprisings, they misinterpret or outright lie about what’s happening. UR, on the other hand, shows up, starts their livestream, and allows anyone and everyone to grab the mic and speak to those watching at home.
Their work is phenomenal and necessary.
At one point during their live broadcast, hundreds of thousands of people were watching the uprisings in real time, along with hundreds of thousands watching live on mediums such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. In Minneapolis, hundreds of protesters got on camera and spoke at length about the horrors of capitalism, why they’re angry (issues ranging from poverty to housing, gentrification, climate change, corruption, and wars), and why they were in the streets with such fervor (because they see no hope in existing political institutions). I haven’t seen any such interviews on corporate news outlets.
The uprisings do make one thing very clear: Americans under 35 years old are not getting their information or commentary from traditional news sources such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or even cable channels such as CNN or MSNBC. The Old Guard was caught flat-footed. Professional class liberals, major NGOs, prominent progressive and leftwing thinkers and writers admit they were shocked at the scale of the uprisings. This isn’t surprising. Professional class commentators live in a different world, socially, culturally, and economically, than the younger generation. And that gap only widens with time.
Poor and working class teenagers and Americans in their 20s, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, receive most of their news and information, for better or worse, via social media and various other digital platforms/modes (podcasts, videos, memes) — those are the entities shaping young peoples’ consciousness and ideologies. Young Americans are much more sophisticated than many older people assume. The recent wave of protests and uprisings show that to be the case. Likewise, poor and working class Americans are much angrier than the professional class could possibly understand. There’s an entire underbelly of seething anger and resentment just beneath the surface of our society: the 50% of Americans who don’t vote
Their voices are now heard loud and clear. Bernie’s campaign asked, “Where are the young people?” They’re in the streets, Bernie. And they’re more radical than you. And their voices will only grow angrier with time, as they realize the current government is incapable of responding to their needs and that Wall Street would rather see them die than enjoy healthcare or UBI. The younger generation, as always, is way ahead of the eight ball with their demand to ‘defund the police.’
Defund the Police
Right now, activists and organizers throughout the U.S. are debating what it means to ‘defund the police.’ This demand is very strategic, and for many reasons. Not only does it allow for a conversation about the redistribution of material resources, it also responds to the demands of those on the ground. For better or worse, this is the demand that organically arose within the context of our current struggle. In other words, leftists can choose to ignore or ridicule this demand (I’ve seen both), or they can respond to popular demands and find strategic ways to connect those demands to broader class issues and larger institutional change. If leftwing organizers and intellectuals are interested in meeting people where they’re at, but not leaving them there, it would be wise to take the latter approach.
Since others have written at length about the details about what it would mean to ‘defund the police,’ there’s no need to rehash those points, though the details are interesting and important. Leftists who shrug off this demand for not going far enough, or not encompassing enough class politics, are missing the boat in terms of how powerful this demand could potentially prove to be.
Capitalism has three primary weapons: 1) capital itself, which can engage in capital strikes, divestment, capital flight, and broader forms of economic warfare, 2) the police, who break strikes, arrest protesters, and protect private property, and 3) the military, who also protect property and break strikes, but whose primary function is to express power on an international scale, securing and opening new markets, protecting business interests abroad, and so on.
Defunding the police not only saves black, Latinx, and poor white lives, it also takes away one of capitalism’s primary weapons.
Without overfunded and highly militarized police forces, it becomes much more difficult for the state to protect fossil fuel infrastructure, banks, government buildings, corporate headquarters, and a host of other potential targets. Nonviolent protesters would no longer face the wrath of racist and militarized police departments. Communities would no longer live in fear of being pulled over, harassed, arrested, tortured, or killed by the cops.
Defunding the police also provides an opportunity to dismantle one of America’s favorite sacred cows. The fact that the majority of Americans side with the protesters is a profound ideological, political, and cultural shift. The police, much like the military, regularly rank in the top five in terms of the jobs and institutions most respected in U.S. society. Dismantling the police is a significant step toward eventually dismantling the U.S. Empire. Redistributing funds from police departments to social programs could serve as an example and model for how to proceed with defunding the military, the logical next step. Since the police have limited funds (the NYPD’s operating budget for 2020 is $5.6 billion), the only way to actually meet the needs of poor and working class people will be through a radical defunding of the military, coupled with the nationalization of critical industries, and a broader redistribution of wealth from corporations and the rich to social programs and the poor.
Defund the Military
The U.S. Empire operates 800-1,000 military bases stretched across the globe. The U.S. ‘Defense Budget’ for 2020 is $721 billion, but if we tally the cost of maintaining its nuclear stockpile, intelligence/spy agencies, Veterans Affairs budget, homeland security budget, international-affairs budget, and its share of the national debt, the total cost of maintaining the U.S. Empire in 2019, according to William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger, was $1.25 trillion. Without question, a tremendous amount of resources could be redistributed by defunding and dismantling the military. According to the National Priorities Project, the $712 billion the U.S. spent in 2018 to maintain its empire could have provided 49 million Americans monthly relief payments of $1,200 for one year, or 20 billion COVID-19 tests for one year, or 209 billion N-95 respirator masks for one year, or 9 million elementary school teacher salaries for one year, or 20 million Head Start slots for four years, or 300 million children receiving low-income healthcare for one year.
Overall, the total cost of Uncle Sam’s post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ comes to $6.4 trillion, money that could’ve been used to pay off the $4 trillion in outstanding consumer debt Americans suffer. Aside from the potential social and economic benefits, it’s equally important to note the massive amount of death, pain, and suffering that would be prevented by dismantling the U.S. Empire, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted over 50 years ago. Since King’s assassination, millions have died as a result of U.S. militarism, with tens of millions forced from their homes and turned into refugees.
Yes, there’s much to gain from dismantling the empire, not the least of which being America’s soul.
Seeing as more and more Americans are beginning to understand that the primary task of police forces within the U.S. is to protect property and repress popular rebellion, it’s a great time to connect the same critique to the U.S. Empire, which performs the same function on the international stage. The U.S. Empire crushes international revolts and anyone who dares to dream of alternatives to global capitalism and so-called ‘American values.’ Doing so, however, would require activists to fundamentally challenge U.S. nationalism, an inherent component of the imperial project, both at home and abroad. Even amongst poor Americans, there remains a sense that Uncle Sam is a force for good in the world, and that the U.S. military ‘protects our freedoms.’ Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
The concept of American Exceptionalism must be challenged head-on if we hope to transition to defunding the U.S. Empire. It’s not surprising that the U.S. government has deliberately hidden not only the financial cost of war, but the images, pictures, and stories of its post-9/11 wars. After all, most Americans would be quite upset if they saw the death and carnage unleashed in their name, with their tax dollars. Important distinctions exist between the military and police, as my friend and former Army Ranger, Graham Clumpner put it:
“The U.S. military doesn’t have the same relationship with Americans as police departments do. Americans interact with cops all the time, and usually those interactions are bad. Cops also sign up for careers. Military personnel sign up for 2-6 year contracts, with the overwhelming majority leaving after their first enlistment ends. The contradiction is that the military is much more powerful and destructive than domestic police forces, yet it’s much easier to organize dissent within the military than it is to organize dissent within police departments. U.S. history shows this to be true. GIs have mutinied throughout the history of this country, from the Revolutionary War and Civil War to the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We should build on this tradition.”
If activists in the U.S. seek any level of partnership and solidarity with individuals inside existing repressive state institutions, they should look to the military before they look to the police.
Additionally, it remains unclear how the military would respond to a call for genuine Martial Law, whatever that may entail. Certainly, many active-duty troops and veterans are not motivated by the idea of patrolling the streets of America. In fact, “a majority of U.S. veterans believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a mistake,” as recent polls show. An even larger majority of U.S. veterans are opposed to a potential war with Iran. Indeed, more and more U.S. troops understand they’re being asked to fight unwinnable, illegal, and immoral wars, and they’re sick and tired of it. That’s a good thing. Troop morale is low after 19 years of war and civil unrest at home. Antiwar activists should build on this momentum, which will require a new antiwar movement, one led by U.S. veterans, the families of U.S. veterans, and the primary victims of Uncle Sam’s wars: Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, and so on.
Defund the Empire
Without the military and police at its disposal, the repressive arms of the state, American capitalism would be amputated, if not crippled. Political movements in the U.S. would greatly benefit, as would revolutionary political movements abroad. The cause of Internationalism would benefit. The planet would benefit, as would human beings in general. In short, there are countless upsides to dismantling the police and military.
Hell, why not extend the same treatment to the FBI, CIA, DEA, NSA, ICE, and a host of other repressive, violent, and inherently undemocratic agencies? Defund them all. After the police, military, and national security state is defunded, and their resources redistributed, why not defund the fossil fuel industry, Israel, Wall Street, the prison-industrial complex, and every other subsidy and corporate handout the state provides to entities?
Violence, Nonviolence, and Resistance to Capital
Discussions concerning violence and nonviolence always pop up during ‘Movement Moments.’ Usually, conversations about violence are overplayed, unhelpful, and totally detached from reality. This time, however, such conversations have entered mainstream political discourse for perfectly good reasons: Americans are engaging in more militant actions than at any point in recent memory. Police stations have been occupied, ransacked, and burnt to the ground. Government buildings have been stormed by leftwing activists and occupied by armed rightwing militias. Gun stores are empty. And Americans are stocking up on ammo. The situation in the U.S. is ripe for political violence.
Some on the left are actively promoting armed struggle, but the left in the U.S. isn’t prepared to engage in guerilla warfare against the military or the police, nor is the left prepared to face off against rightwing non-state actors. The left is disorganized, small, undisciplined, and fragmented. Even if the left generally agreed, which it doesn’t, that armed struggle is strategic, reasonable, or ideal, it wouldn’t matter because the left in the U.S. is simply incapable of waging an armed campaign against the military, police, or rightwing militias.
That said, coordinated, sustained, and dynamic nonviolent actions, including massive acts of civil disobedience, strikes, walkouts, and direct actions such as blockades, occupations, and various forms of sabotage could create a series of crises significant enough to bring the current regime to its knees, if not topple it. At this stage in the game, an overemphasis on weapons, self defense, and militant posturing could prove detrimental.
The U.S. military is far more fragile, unorganized, and ideologically incoherent than many Americans realize.
Even leftists have a view of the U.S. military as an omnipotent force capable of locking down the entire country, maintaining the empire abroad, and imposing martial law throughout the fifty states. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center, “There were a total of 1.3 million active duty military and more than 800,000 reserve forces as of September 2017 . . . Total active duty personnel for the five armed services were approximately 472,000 for the Army, 319,000 for the Navy, 319,000 for the Air Force, 184,000 for the Marine Corps and 41,000 for the Coast Guard.” About 1.1 million Americans are in military reserve units, which only train periodically and lack the combat skills or experience to effectively engage in serious counterinsurgency efforts.
Remember, only a tiny fraction of soldiers (15%) and marines (12%) perform infantry functions — most active duty troops are ‘Personnel Other than Grunts,’ otherwise known as POGs. They drive trucks, fix vehicles, run supply warehouses, conduct logistical operations, set up communications networks, work on computers, answer phones, file paperwork, conduct ceremonies, and a host of other non-combat related tasks.
The U.S. military doesn’t actually have the manpower to keep the country locked down.
Sure, one could argue that the U.S. military has the capacity to carpet bomb the entire country and turn the landscape into rubble, true, but it’s not clear whether or not the military would actually respond to such orders, or initiate such actions, especially if massive numbers of Americans were engaged in nonviolent acts as opposed to offensive guerilla assaults. Again, if the left can effectively organize within the ranks of the military, the odds of such calamity decrease significantly. That’s why the work of groups such as About Face: Veterans Against War and Veterans For Peace is so important. Their efforts should be supported.
Right now, members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and United Electrical workers’ union (UE) are organizing non-unionized workers in a wide-range of industries. Their efforts should also be bolstered and supported. Defunding the police and military, at best, allow us to amputate capitalism, but the ultimate goal is to decapitate capitalism, and the only way to do that is through highly coordinated actions that include massive numbers of people, particularly workers who have the ability to shut down business and bring society to a halt. It also requires a vision of what we want after capitalism (a topic for another day).
Students, mothers, nurses, teachers, the disabled, and unemployed have a role to play. Bus drivers, healthcare workers, retail, and restaurant workers as well. Workers in the most critical industries: railroads, trucking, warehouses, shipping, and factories, will play a vital role in determining how things play out over the coming months and years.
If the current wave of rebellions can result in long-lasting revolutionary organizations and institutions that operate coherently and cohesively with national and international movements, while building up bases of support at the local level through deep organizing efforts, there’s a serious opportunity for radical political change in the U.S. If not, it’s easy to see this entire wave of protests dying out, being stomped out, or morphing into a spectacle of violence utterly void of substance and detached from reasonable political ends. Now is not the time for posturing. Now is the time for deep organizing.
Vincent Emanuele is a writer and organizer born and raised in America’s Rust-Belt. A former US marine and Iraq War veteran, Vince refused orders for a third deployment in 2005 and immediately began working with the anti-war movement during the Bush years.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash.
Thoughts on Dylan Roof, The Charleston Shooting, The Spectacle of Death, & The Roanoke Killings
by Dominique Christina / Deep Green Resistance
I hate writing about this stuff…
But today in Roanoke Virginia, a black man gunned down three people on live television, killing two of them. He even held a camera phone up to record himself doing the deed. I got wind of it late. That is usually the case for me. I actively avoid the news. It leads me toward feelings of hopelessness and I have kids to raise. I have to have enough language left in me to give them hope or something like it. But social media has a way of making sure you know things. I saw tweets like:
And…And just like that I am again entangled in the too frequent conversation about violence in this country and gun laws, and questions about motive and debates about whether or not it was race-related and the connection between this event and the shooting in Charleston where nine people were killed by Dylan Roof who was named by the Roanoke shooter in the manifesto he wrote and sent to a news station two hours after he murdered the two newscasters.
And in spite of myself I went looking for who this man was that shot and killed two people on live television in Virginia today. And I found this…
But then I found this…
And I watched video that showed this woman…
…just moments before she was gunned down. You can hear her screaming…or somebody…somebody is screaming…and it is the same unlanguageable hurt that visits us regularly now. We’ve seen it all before. It’s almost naive to call it “unthinkable” now. We have made a home of it. The old familiar anguish, if you aren’t too desensitized to feel that, visits but only stays around a couple of days before we are right back to our lives, our business trips, our smart phones…But this shooting made me remember when my paradigm changed…
My son was just seven months old when two young men walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado killing fellow students and a teacher. I had just completed my Master’s program at The University of Arkansas and had moved back to Denver with my young son. My advisor had arranged for me to complete my student teaching in Colorado. I was assigned to Columbine High School. I was scheduled for a visit on the day of the shootings. But something happened that morning. My infant son woke up early with a cold. His first. I was a new mother. I freaked out. Called the school, told someone at the front desk that I was going to have to reschedule, was assured that that would be fine, hung up, and nursed my son until we both went back to sleep. When I woke up I turned on the television and saw this…
I didn’t have any language for it. I had no point of reference for it. A shooting at a school? What world was this?
In the days that followed, I, like many, grieved for the students, the teachers, and the parents. Like most folk, I struggled to make sense of it. America, the violent, was not news to me. But this new ugly rattled me. A lot. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t let go of the images of students pouring out of the school screaming. I needed answers. And then…
The parents of Isaiah Shoels, the only African American student killed in the Columbine shooting, decided to make their son’s wake and funeral available to the public. I decided to go.
At the wake I met Isaiah Shoels’ mother and stepfather. I talked with them for a long time. I was honored to be allowed to do so. I let their grief engulf me. They had just lost a son to unimaginable violence…unimaginable because it was the suburbs; unimaginable because it was in a school with so much privilege, unimaginable because they had moved to Littleton to ESCAPE the violence they knew and were met with another kind. I let their grief engulf me because I had my own precious son, unkilled and waiting for me at home. The very LEAST I could do was stand still and hold a space for them. I promised them both I would attend the funeral the next day. I promised them I would never forget Isaiah.
Before I left the wake I stared at him in that coffin. I was shell-shocked and destabilized by the whole damn thing. I remember having to pull over in my car when I left Pipkin Mortuary. The ululation…pinned me to the steering wheel and hung on for a good while.
I brought my son with me to the funeral the next day. There are things I remember with absolute clarity and other things are lost to the sadness. I remember the choir. I remember them singing “No weapon formed against me, shall prosper.” I remember the swell of folk in the church that day. I remember pressing my son so tightly against me at one point he squealed in protest and a man standing behind me reached out his hands and took my baby from me so I could cry like I needed to. I remember those things. I remember the church being stuffed with mourners and reporters…I remember his parents’ faces…
At some point I left the church that day. At some point I let the memory of Isaiah Shoels slip from around my neck and while I have NEVER forgotten that young man, I have not quite carried him with me either. I’m not sure if that’s noble or not. Today brought it all back though…
The man in Roanoke Virginia did something unspeakable. He murdered two people and he did so in a manner that encouraged spectacle. He wanted an audience. He wanted to inherit the legacy of other mass shooters. He named them in his manifesto. I will not do so here but…that broke me.
In the scraps that have been made available to the public from his manifesto, the shooter talks about being bullied for being black and gay. If that is true I doubt it not. This is America after all. Where God looks like a straight white man with a 401K plan. That is not a statement intended to legitimize what the shooter did. It is, however, a statement about the real life consequences of treating people like second class citizens and then using the old bootstrap anecdote on them when they become dysfunctional. Powder kegs often blow.
But here’s what I’m left with…in the wake of the Roanoke shooting, the thing that stuck out to me most profoundly was the media’s treatment of the event. Yeah…I’m going there…
The shooting of the two newscasters was done on live television. The shooter seemed deliberate about wanting the spectacle. But media outlets refused to show the killing. MSNBC stated that fact flatly. They would not show the video. CNN has just announced that they will “only” show the video of the journalists being shot once per hour. Here’s why that is noteworthy…
CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and others ran a constant loop of Michael Brown’s body, which lay on the ground for more than four hours after he was shot. They did not blur the image. They did not make speeches about “honoring the family” or “protecting the public from the horror.” I never heard descriptors like “gruesome” and “ghastly” attached to the sight of an 18 year old black boy’s body in the middle of the street, the blood pouring from his head and face creating a highway of blood several feet away from him.
Eric Garner being murdered in front of our very eyes at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo…it was played over and over again on various news stations. No pretty speeches about honoring the family, no blurred image. You can literally watch Eric Garner die whenever you like.
And the video of Tamir Rice, 12 years old, being shot dead by police officers in Cleveland which I still can’t watch but, which is readily available online if I ever change my mind.
The surveillance video inside Walmart that shows John Crawford being shot dead for holding a BB gun that was for sale in that same Walmart…found easily online…
And Walter Scott, a black man in South Carolina, shot in the back by a police officer who later lied and planted evidence…you know…standard procedure…
And this…Samuel Dubose…shot in the face by a University of Cincinatti cop who stopped Mr. Dubose because…he did not have a front plate on his car.
I can’t get on the internet anymore without seeing at least one streaming video showing a black or brown body being brutalized or murdered. It is literally EVERYWHERE. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…oh yeah…remember Kajieme Powell? The young man who was shot by police in Saint Louis RIGHT after the death of Mike Brown? His death is available online too. See?
And on and on. Death as spectacle. But only if it is a black or brown body.
The televised shooting of the two journalists is being protected in a particular way and do you know why? Because they are human beings. And they are being treated as such. Their death is a tragedy. It is being treated as such. The victims and the victims’ families are being honored by not turning their murder into something to gawk at; something to be triggered and traumatized by.
But we have seen black bodies on display before.
There is no accident in such behavior. You brutalize a body out loud and in full view because of the function it serves. What better way to train docility, fear, or apathy into a people than to show them it is always hunting season. And they are ALWAYS the prey.
It’s like: “Look! I can murder you in front of witnesses and STILL get off. The system is designed to protect me and annihilate you. The spectacle of horror….
Now listen. I am not itching to see the two newscasters being shot. This ain’t that. If that’s your read of what I’ve said, go back and start at the beginning cuz I ain’t got time to help you grasp the obvious. What I am talking about is the inherent racism in regarding black bodies as sound bite and constant loop while holding white bodies with reverence and respect. What happened to the newscasters was loathsome. What happened to Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Samuel Dubose and so many others, was…you know…normal. And often times, while the loop of some black person’s death played on major media outlets, reporters were having conversations about the victims that vilified them in death. “She had marijuana in her system.” And, “He had been arrested before for a suspended license.” And “He had been suspended from school for smoking weed.” On and on…
And that’s the shit up with which we cannot put.
There has not been rigorous conversation about the possibility of mental illness in the shooter in Roanoke. Nobody is poking into the newscasters past to find out if they had ever smoked marijuana or been pulled over for a busted tail light or been convicted of petty theft. But in each case, when it is about a black or brown person being killed, those conversations are stentorian, all while the video of their death is played on a loop.
What I do know, is that at some point soon, we will all need to risk something in order to have deliberate and intentional conversations about race and the legacy of violence in this country. If we don’t, there will be more blood, more hashtags, more videos, more breaking news, more spectacle, and…there will be more events like the one in Roanoke. And if I know nothing else, I KNOW America is not ready to see marginalized folk invert that mechanism the way the shooter in Virginia did. Trust me, once you allow for one act of brutality to go uninterrupted, you permission the space for others like it.
The Roanoke shooter attributed his behavior to the Charleston shooting. He expressed admiration for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters. He aspired to be like them. Who’s ready for that to become the template of normal? For brothers to go gunning down the folk they feel are oppressing them? You ready for that? Because violence almost never trickles up. But it did that day.
I hate writing about this stuff.
I do not want my children to grow up in a world that feeds them a steady diet of executions, and particularly the executions of black and brown bodies while handling white bodies with care. I do not know what toll this has already taken on their psyche as black children trying to navigate this place. I’m not even sure what woman I am as a result of constant trauma.
More than that though, I am tired of us avoiding the conversations that are the most urgent. If you want to live, you better look at it. If you want your children to live you better look at it. Otherwise…I suggest you stay indoors. It’s hell out here.
Originally published August 29, 2015 on Storify
By Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin / Memphis Black Autonomy Federation
To grasp what happened at the March 30, 2013 Klan demonstration, you need to understand what led up to everything. The Klan said it came to Memphis to protest the renaming of the racist Memphis Confederate Parks system. Of course, all police preparations and media reporting claimed that the cops “had” to create a downtown police security zone of 10-12 square blocks to “keep the peace”, and not repeat the so-called anti-Klan “riot” of 1998, which was blamed on protesters then, but actually was a police riot as a result of an order by then-Mayor Willie Herenton to gas and beat protesters because they were approaching the Klan through breaks in the police line.
So, using that mantra of “preventing a riot”, and also the media propaganda that this was a “new” Klan group, in response to critics who asked why the Klan was being allowed to protest at all, they put together a police army of 600 cops, 4 military armored cars with machine guns, a chain link fence to separate protesters from Klan, and confined the residents of Memphis behind a line of paramilitary riot police to “protect” the Klan from the people. Of course, the obvious reflection was that this happened over 15 years ago and that the anti-Klan protest movement was “new” as well, did not penetrate the prevailing myth circulated by the cops and the lapdog media.
Our movement, the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation, had created a broad-based group called the Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality to bring out Memphis residents, but also anti-fascist activists from throughout the Southern and Midwestern regions. We tried at first to have a meeting at city hall, but this was refused by a groups of businessmen, then the city permit office refused a permit for the same area as the Klan, which was at the courthouse itself, just a few hours before. Then, the cops wanted to not allow any more than 100 people from the community come to the event, but we fought that, and they apparently allowed everyone to go in, including white supremacist supporters and anti-Klan activists. This latter decision was a recipe for disaster, we felt, and we did not initially feel that it would be safe to go inside. If someone got to fighting a Klan supporter, they could be shot and we all would have been in danger. We decided to press on anyway.
If we had not applied for the city parade permit, no one would have been allowed to protest at all, and we would not have even known of their security plans at all. Only because we kept prodding the city to back off on at least some of its security precautions, did they agree to allow the protest. They then issued the permit at the last minute, and the lapdog media dutifully reported it, including the city’s denial that it had ever denied our permits. This little media report would prove to be the undoing of the city’s plans for total denial of the event, and its plans of discouraging any protest through media saturation by the Mayor and government officials who time and again tried to frighten, scold, and intimidate people from coming down to an anti-Klan event. Just the fact that people knew that there was going to be a protest made them come down to the event, even if they were totally unfamiliar with our movement.
The day before the event we were concerned about being pushed into a “protest pit” as was done at many other events in other cities and was used to crush the anti-globalization movement, and because the original plan called for us all to be shoved into a small space on the side of the courthouse itself, we decided that it would be a threat to our security to go in that space, and we called for an activist General Assembly at a nearby park, which was outside the police protest zone, to discuss options. So about 150 of us met at Court Square park, and talked about going to the Forrest Park and attacking the statute itself, but then the cops came up and told us that we “had” to go to the “security zone”, and we feigned going there, but in fact we had prepared a number of signs saying “Cops Stifle Free Speech!” and about 150 of us marched down to police lines and protested the police state methods of controlling the protest.
The cops were perplexed, and a small number of them tried to chase us around or steer us into the barbed wire area, but we refused to go. It was a standoff, but they did not arrest anybody or beat us up. It was clear that they did not want to break their ranks to try to arrest all of us, so we took advantage of the moment and kept protesting. Then we moved towards the park, but there was a split between those who wanted to go inside the police lines, and those who did not. The group started splintering. After much soul searching, we decided we would go inside. So we headed for the entrance, and many followed us. The cops had everybody head through TSA style metal detectors, empty our pockets, and searched us. They seized all papers, pamphlets, protest signs, and denied you entry if you were wearing “radical” t-shirts of Che Guevara or Huey Newton, but also Jefferson Davis or N.B. Forrest attire. They seized our bullhorns, but returned one of them as we were entering the event.
When we got inside, everyone seemed subdued, and there was no chanting or screaming, everyone was just looking for signs of the Klan to show. The Klan was kept 2-3 football fields away from us, who were behind barbed wire. There was a long line of riot police inside arrayed as a gauntlet we had to pass, then there were police snipers on the roof, and a line of police standing across from us, about five deep and then others on horseback. They never moved for five hours, just stared ahead at us in military formation.
What made us feel good about going inside is that there was in fact a large number of people already inside waiting on us. They kept streaming in. These were not the usual white middle class activists or the old civil rights deadheads, these were working class Black people of every age. They were angry as hell because the Mayor had brought these “Ku Klux Kowards” to town, and had put us behind barbed wire and coddled the Klan. The Klan came on special city buses, only about 60 of them, which contained riot police and a special security wing of Memphis police and Shelby County Sheriffs.
By J. G. / Deep Green Resistance Great Plains
On March 15th the International Day Against Police Brutality was observed for the first time in Memphis, Tennessee by the Black Autonomy Federation. People came to the event from as far away as Iowa, Ohio, and Denver. People gathered first outside city hall and spoke. Cardboard coffins were lined up facing out from city hall representing 13 of the 14 people killed by the Memphis Police Department in the last thirteen months.
Women have also been sexually assaulted by the Memphis police officers. JoNina Ervin, acting chair of the Black Autonomy Federation stated that they have been told by a number of women that there are police in Memphis that arrest women and force them to have sex with them, “That’s the kind of police we have here. This is a corrupt police department and a police department out of control.”
Lorenzo Ervin of the BAF stated that “We have out right atrocities that no one of these people can defend but the authorities here, the city authorities as well as the state prosecutors are engaged in a conspiracy to cover up and not to prosecute these crimes by the police, the authorities and others working in concert with them. This is why it is important for us to bring attention to the city of Memphis, Tennessee.”
People later chanted and marched to the Memphis police department and the Shelby County Jail. Activists and family members of those murdered spoke out. In attendance was the family of Delois Epps and Makayla Ross who were killed on August 26th leaving from a family get-together by a police officer Alex Beard. Thirty- three year old family member Shaquitta Epps asks “Why wasn’t he charged?” When asked if she was surprised by the response of the city and police department towards her family members death she responded “No it happens all the time but I never thought it would happen to my family. You see it in the paper and on the TV but you never really know until it happens to your family.”
Martin Ezsutton brother of twenty-two year old Rekia Boyd who was killed in Chicago by police officer Dante Servin stated that “The police were highly disrespectful.” Servin is not being charged with the murder and is being paid working a desk job that pays 90,000 dollars. “He just got a promotion for murdering my sister!…Who is going to take responsibility? They failed to prosecute him for his actions.”
Unfortunately the deaths of black people by the police in Memphis and across the country are not a rare occurrence with a rate of one black person every 36 hours being killed by the police in the United States (“Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 120 black people” Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, July 2012)
The next day a conference was held to discuss how to organize against police brutality and killings with activists from various communities. The BAF discussed the ongoing police killings and brutality in the context of the capitalist state. Lorenzo states that “ We understand we are not just fighting the police we are fighting fascism.” The BAF is calling for an international boycott against the town of Memphis until it “stops persecuting and killing poor working class black people and consorting with the KKK.”
On March 30th the Black Autonomy Federation are organizing a counter protest against the KKK. The Klan are prompted to come because of a name change of Nathan Bedford Forest Park to Health Science Park. Forest was the first grand wizard of the Klan. According to JoNina Ervin the city has been uncooperative with their efforts to organize an anti Klan rally. “There is a media campaign telling people to stay home, don’t come out, ignore the Klan, and the line they are using is that any person that comes out is crazy. They want to criminalize the people who are protesting the Klan when the Klan are the real criminals.”
According to members of the BAF the NAACP has been collaborating with the state in this. “The head of the NAACP in Memphis said on TV, people should stay home and wash their cars and shook hands with the Sons of the Confederacy. The constitution gives people first amendment rights they will have police to protect them but people opposed to the terrorism of the KKK are just supposed to shut up that day. They want us to be off in a corner some place. The city has been in collaboration with these neo confederates for so long.” For JoNina and others in the BAF, it is crucial for people in Memphis and from all over the country to come and take a stand against the Klan, “If you don’t let the Klan know that you’re here and opposed to their white supremacy, that gives them free range to keep on coming back here and that is why they keep coming back.”
If you would like to get in contact with the Black Autonomy Federation or offer support, please contact them at Organize.email@example.com.
By Tar Sands Blockade
Nine people sitting 80 feet above ground in tree platforms on the path of TransCanada’s Keystone XL construction enter their third day of sustained action to stop the toxic tar sands pipeline. The sitters are undeterred by TransCanada’s role in the torture of their fellow blockaders.
Tuesday, Shannon Bebe and Benjamin Franklin delayed construction for most of the day when they locked arms around construction machinery, intent on protecting East Texas homes. The two were subjected to torture tactics by police only after TransCanada’s senior supervisors huddled with law enforcement to actively encourage the use of extreme pain compliance techniques on the peaceful protesters.
Immediately following TransCanada’s consultation, law enforcement handcuffed the protesters’ free hands to the heavy machinery in stress positions and proceeded to use sustained chokeholds, violent arm-twisting, pepper spray, and repeated tasering to coerce the two to abandon their protest. Extraordinarily, despite their torture, the two endured for over five hours, affirming their courageous stance that taking action now is less of a risk than doing nothing.
Upon the protesters’ arrest, TransCanada supervisors were seen and heard congratulating law enforcement on a job well done.
“TransCanada has frequently claimed its interest in protecting the safety of workers and protestors but now we can see that’s all a lie,” said Ron Seifert a spokesperson with Tar Sands Blockade. “Now that they have actively encouraged the torture of peaceful protestors its clear that this multinational corporation assigns no value to the basic humanity that all Texans and people everywhere deserve.”
With the news that their friends had been tortured with TransCanada’s approval, the eight original tree sitters were bravely joined by another, expanding the tree blockade further as TransCanada’s clear-cutting heavy machinery rapidly approaches. Construction is roughly 300 yards away from the tree blockade. All refuse to come down until TransCanada halts its dangerous pipeline project.
“I climbed this tree three days ago in the path of Keystone XL to demonstrate the dangers of this toxic pipeline and to let TransCanada know that we will continue to non-violently resist their brutal tactics,” said Justin Jacobs, an aerial blockader. “I’m here to defend this land from a multinational corporation who has blatant disregard for the safety of peaceful people, families, and our planet.“
Tar Sands Blockade is a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma landowners and climate justice organizers using peaceful and sustained civil disobedience to stop the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Concluding hours of hard-fought Keystone XL construction delays, Benjamin Franklin shared, “In light of everything that happened at the direction of TransCanada, I still don’t regret my involvement at all. I encourage everyone to persevere in the face of this type of sheer brutality. To follow one’s moral compass despite extreme challenges is the way we move forward towards a more humane, tar sands-free planet.”
From Tar Sands Blockade: http://tarsandsblockade.org/press/press-releases/