Editor’s Note: This pamphlet was initially produced as a discussion document for a small coalition organizing in Portland, OR. The coalition includes members of Hella503, All African People’s Revolutionary Party, Anarchist Black Cross and the Black Rose Anarchist Federation (Portland, OR). This document has been distributed in various anti-police violence and Ferguson solidarity events. As with other cross-posted items, the analysis and views contained within are not necessarily shared by all members of Edge City.
December 20th, 2014
Police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson on August 9th was horrific. Unfortunately, the police murder of a young Black man was nothing new. What was exceptional was the rebellion his death sparked and how rapidly it surged across the US and the world. This rebellion poses new possibilities for the struggle for freedom and true democracy. It is notable how quickly Black Americans have organized and led this struggle. This movement holds seeds of possibility for the expansion of human freedom and democratic ideals. These new possibilities extend glimmers of hope into the core of a system of social organization for which police violence is but one symptom of systemic disease. Police violence against the young, Black, poor, and others is not a question of good or bad individual police officers. The kind of violence that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others represent is a product not of individuals, but of the nature of the institution of police. This cannot be reformed. In order to end police violence, we will have to provide alternative models for community safety, and to do away with the institution of police as it exists now altogether. This movement needs broad participation in determining its activities, goals, and ideas. We present the following ideas in the belief that clarifying understanding amongst ourselves is not divisive, but strengthens the movement. We must learn to work together despite where we differ.
I. Points of Unity
1. We are fundamentally opposed to the institution of the police as it exists. Its violence cannot be reformed.
Michael Brown’s murder would’ve been yet another footnote in the history of policing, race and class, had the rebels in Ferguson not acted with such boldness, clarity, and resistance. The federal government has begun to propose reforms, from body cameras to civilian review boards in attempts to reassert the credibility of both the police and the system which they protect and serve.
None of these solutions actually confront the underlying realities which motivate police violence. The professional police force in the United States began with the slave-patrols, which drafted poor whites to hunt escaped Black slaves, and its modern form emerged from the institution being combined with private militias which were crafted to put down worker’s struggles. From these structures, explicitly created to repress democratic initiatives from the poor and oppressed, emerged the first professional police forces in the United States—explicitly developed not as a project of public security and safety, but as agents of social control. The exact shape of the violence that props up this system may be reformed. The underlying domination and violence, however, is a reflection of the fundamental role of the police—an armed force created to maintain an economic system that by its very nature creates conflict between “those who have and those who ain’t got.”
2. Only changing the system will bring an end to oppression, poverty and violence.
“There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.” –The Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
The election of Barack Obama and the emergence of a small but powerful segment of the Black community within the ranks of power are indicative of the system’s ability to adapt when threatened. It also shows the central features of a system based on private property—some will face exclusion and deprivation, and violence is the glue that tries to hold when the credibility of the system’s ideology crumbles. We do not oppose reforms outright, but believe we must ask whether such reforms expand the terrain of equality and power within the working class. History is littered with “victories” which birthed new inequalities or entrenched existing ones, further dividing the working class.
3. Independent organizing by oppressed people is legitimate.
Black Americans are disproportionately targeted by the police and judicial system, and therefore have both experiences and an interest that must be at the center of this struggle if it is to truly win freedom. The specific nature of various forms of oppression of women, immigrants, Black people, indigenous people, gender nonconformists, and numerous more make it necessary at times to organize independently and autonomously from others while within the struggle. The particular experiences and grievances of Black Americans must lead and are central to this struggle, yet all working class people have an interest in dismantling the police. It is of central importance that the interests of those most affected are not abandoned for limited victories that betray this for concessions for political parties, individual “leaders “or in the form of privileges for one sector at the expense of those most affected. Unity is needed to build real power, and cannot be accomplished without equality within the movement.
4. Reforms are both advances and obstacles.
Resistance to land theft and genocide by native peoples, the movements to end slavery and Jim Crow, gay and women’s liberation—all of these struggles indicate the dual nature of reforms. The institutional reforms enacted in response to these struggles improved lives of many in meaningful ways as well as posing moments where radically democratic possibilities emerged from within them. It’s also important to note how today’s reforms can become tomorrow’s biggest obstacles. When the early trade unions attained the power to bargain, they frequently compromised on questions of racial equality in negotiations, on the logic that “black” issues were too divisive to unite all workers behind. Though these struggles won victories and improvements for workers in industry even for some black workers, its racialized creation of a second tier citizen reinforced the division and the inequality between white and Black workers, dividing and weakening both.
5. The movement is more than the demonstrations in the street.
Demonstrations have been and will continue to be central to developing a movement that can make real change but they cannot succeed alone. The movement must take forms that extend to those who, for various reasons, will not be in the street but in workplaces, nurseries, and homes. Militant street demonstrations can be routed, attacked, and repressed into smaller bases of activity. If the broader population doesn’t identify with and support them, the costs to the movement of dealing with repression can outweigh the gains made, rather than expanding the realm of possibility.
6. “By any means necessary.”
In the movement, distinctions between “violent” and “nonviolent,” arrestable and unarrestable—are cultivated by our opponents to neutralize people in the movement that have moral authority and real power, while legitimizing opportunists. This facilitates sell-out “victories” for one segment of the working class (historically white and male) at the expense of the rest of the class. We must use all tactics at our disposal, while determining for ourselves what values and principles we must uphold if our struggle leads to freedom. The police and the state know that this system’s violence will breed resistance and they’ve learned that social movements cannot be crushed without risking triggering even broader rebellion. Through selective repression and limited concessions, the state hopes to route the movement into forms of activity and demands that do not pose a challenge to the existing order, while cultivating impotent elements of resistance as ‘legitimate’ and undermining effective methods as “violent,” “illegal,””subversive.”
Strategy and tactics matter—frequently discipline and restraint will be needed to achieve our goals. The limiting of such considerations to “nonviolent” and ”peaceful” methods of resistance as the only legitimate expression of revolt is a state strategy which distracts from the most pressing of questions – Are our actions effective? Are they actually building power? Are the sacrifices and risks people are taking actually worth it? The disproportionate police violence meted out to Blacks, Native peoples, immigrants, queer people, women, and poor whites on a day-to-day basis has long been justified through official society’s portrayal of us as violent, dirty, amoral, lazy, or criminal.
7. Our power is the collective action of masses, and must remain there to make real change.
We recognize that power will not yield without resisting violently, and that official society will deem any movement which fights to win as criminal, regardless of its activities. We support a diversity of tactics, but believe mass activity is the true basis for change. Consciousness-raising groups, public forums, speak-outs, demonstrations, shutdowns and strikes by students, workers, and mass organizations—the movement must integrate and spread into society as a whole. Widespread participation is critical both for building a real base of power, but is also needed to prevent sell-outs and opportunism.
8. We will not accept concessions that sell out one segment of the movement in exchange for privileges for a few.
In the words of Malcolm X, “It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.” We see the struggle against the entirety of the institution of policing as a universal struggle for humanity and justice. The primary role of those in organized groups is not to determine the “right” ideas or to ‘teach” the large numbers of people who have propelled themselves into motion. Organized groups should observe and reflect the most advanced segments of the struggle as it matures. This means participating within the movement, taking risks, and knowing that our own ideas will have to be transformed as part of the process as much as any others if we are to create a new world. We seek the elements of the struggle which point towards the universal.
9. The system is more fragile than it appears.
We’ve yet to see the police and their repressive co-conspirators in the FBI, NSA, and security apparatus demonstrate their full capacity for violence, and must assume their willingness to use it. Nonetheless, their power is tentative—prior to the Ferguson rebellion, the police could afford heavy handed approaches to both daily interactions in the streets as well as against demonstrations. For now, the movement’s power has demonstrated how costly this can be to the legitimacy of the state and its police, to the extent that police themselves have. If police violence is so intrinsic to the system that a successful challenge to it poses threats to its very existence, this movement must begin to envision just, democratic institutions to replace those we oppose.
10. We share our ideas but do not assume that they are right.
We need mechanisms to debate and discuss the movement as it progresses. We should advocate for our ideas and engage each other about them. We should also be open to the lessons that masses of people demonstrate through their actions. Too often small organizations assume to represent masses. We believe the sympathies and experiences that exist with workers under this system are also potential seedbeds for the systemic change necessary to confront the system’s violence. Furthermore, the problems we confront cannot be solved in a representative manner. They require participation and direction by masses of all people affected by the injustice of the police and judicial system. If we desire a movement not for select privileges for few but towards equality and freedom for all, the leadership and collective experiences masses of Black Americans will have to be at the struggle’s core.
II. Proposed Principles
We are told we live in a colorblind society, that hard work pays off, and that if you just follow the rules, you have nothing to fear, yet our lived experiences contradict this. When the official society’s ideology fails and loyalty is replaced with rebellion, the real job of the police in our society becomes clear. When individuals rebel, we find prison, the mental health system, and unemployment. We’re labeled as violent, criminal, amoral. When we rebel collectively, the police are the first line of defense for wealth and privilege. They understand that overt violence risks loss of credibility. They will actively sow distrust, divisions, and suspicion within the movement, hoping to weaken it, demoralize it, so as not to have to physically attack it in the public eye. We offer these points as a contribution to what we hope will be a collective reflection on how to we can minimize the ability for such manipulations to be effective.
1. Do not attack others in the movement publicly.
This does not mean we must accept unprincipled or abusive actions of those in the movement. We do need a principled and public discussion
2. Show care when engaging in public debate.
We strive to reach a higher standard for airing differences in public forums. We must clarify what is public debate and what is debate within the movement that should not be aired publicly. This is especially challenging in the context of social media and the deteriorating presumption of privacy.
3. Show respect and solidarity to all in the struggle.
We strive to have the grace to recognize common ground and common interests with others that we have differences with, and the need for wide base of support in order to change society.
4. Do not engage in secret/closed negotiations with power.
We must guard against selling out, betrayal, and people using the movement as a spring-board for a political career at the expense of the movement. If meetings or negotiations with elected officials, police, or other in positions of power are to be held, they should be open to public attendance by all within the movement.
5. Do not be sectarian.
Cooperation is the basis of successful movement. This movement has shown that arrests and police violence alone are not enough to stop us. The police and state’s greatest tools are exploiting and sowing divisions within the movement. They will do all they can to encourage infighting and divisions. We will not attack, undermine, or disparage those with whom we have disagreements in the public sphere.
6. Do not engage in attacks or denunciation of others who share our aims on the internet, media, or public spheres.
Do not repeat unverified, or anonymous attacks. When we have problems or differences we will take them up directly with those involved.
7. Do not spread or repeat rumors or speculation.
Rumor-mongering, speculating, or repeating of unsubstantiated rumors are destructive of the fabric of social movement. Radical struggles of the seventies were critically weakened by splits within leadership and within their organizations. After thirty years, we are only beginning to unearth the extent by which these were encouraged and even created by undercover agents, false media, planted evidence and falsified letters. During the liberation movements of the 70s, honest rank and file leaders were cast as cops or snitches, often by the actual undercover police in the room. These situations frequently ended with organization splits or collapse, personal beefs, and even the death of innocent activist leaders. The costs to the movement were monumental.
8. Show up with our full selves.
Our emotional and physical well-being impact our ability to do this work, as does the way in which we are socialized and positioned in this society. We must be self-aware and responsible for ourselves and how we interact with each other and our movement. We need to challenge ourselves and each other to reduce dynamics of oppression and privilege, while treating each other as comrades and focusing on transforming history.
Disagree with some of the ideas here? Write us: firstname.lastname@example.org