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January 11

Breathe Together: From some of the recent Black Lives Matter/FTP arrestees

Breathe Together.

From some of the recent Black Lives Matter/FTP arrestees

After recent Black Lives Matter/Fuck the Police demonstrations in Durham, the toll of those arrested and how they were arrested has taken on a life of its own. The narrative of the arrestee has drowned out the very reason we were in the streets, and debates centering on which kinds of police violence are acceptable for crowd control mirror the debates seen in mainstream media about which kinds of police murder are acceptable.

Let’s refocus on what our fight actually is. We don’t care about getting arrested, and we are not afraid. We are not afraid of police tactics, the city councilors’ or mayor’s words, or media scaremongering. We will not be intimidated out of the streets and away from each other. It is easy to back off, step down, and take the reasonable course set forward by liberal, credentialed, social activist politicians. It is easy, but it won’t gain us a damn thing.

What’s At Stake–All Cops are Darren Wilson

We stepped out of our civilized roles onto the streets of the city where we live, work, and play to reach out to and find others who oppose the police in all their forms. We know the brutal history of the police—formalized bands of vigilantes created to keep black, indigenous, and poor white people from resisting class society—and prisons—the modern-day form of slavery. Understanding this history, we know, too, that the system isn’t broken; it’s not a question of corruption or a few bad apples. The system of policing works as it was intended, and we have seen how police reform efforts bring us back again and again to put our faith into the system to make fundamental changes to itself that are contrary to its own purpose.

What needs to change is the way we all value Black and Latino lives, the lives of indigenous people, and poor people of all races—and the ways we act together in community self-defense like our own lives matter.

The police work through a constant, implicit threat of violence that is conveyed through their actual violence. Much like how police kill some Black men as a message to all Black men, police attack and arrest some protestors as a message to all protestors. Although the stakes are very different, the message is the same: there is no guarantee of safety.

At any moment, regardless of what you are doing, the police can take to you to prison or take your life. This is our reality—though some of us feel it more acutely in daily life than others. Some who feel it less are protected by whiteness, or the material resources that come from higher education or family money, and daily make choices to maintain those positions. When we step into the streets, when we take action against the police together, we are fighting the social and political systems of white supremacy and we are acting against the parts of our own identities that afford us some protection in our society.

The idea of a peace we can return to is a sham. We are not surprised about the non-indictments of murderous cops because police acting with impunity is essential to their role in our culture. Consequently, we won’t ask for stronger judicial enforcement or support from the city council. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in the last weeks are recognizing that we must take action together, against the recognized channels, because our lives matter.

Rising like Lions

We take our cue from the freedom fighters who initially entered history’s stage in Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, people whose brave and riotous actions pushed the visibility of the demonstrations that would follow to the forefront. Those willing to put their bodies on the line have only multiplied, as the non-indictments of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo have been announced.

Durham, which has had its own beef with the cops and was not a year removed from intense street confrontations after the police murder of Jesus ‘Chuy’ Huerta, has made its own mark of late with a number of planned and wildcat marches and actions. As incidental arrestees in some of these recent protests—among 62 arrested in different actions—we want to urge more action, not guided by the needs or dictates of social justice coordinators, but guided by the unflinching desire for a new world.

We cannot recoil, and we cannot succumb to a false fear. Rather, we must continue to be visible, to be in so-called harm’s way in roadways, on bridges, commercial thoroughfares, and continue to grow and diversify our approach to bringing justice front and center. That was and is our strength. We were not safe while shutting down Route 147 on two different occasions because the cops closed off the road. We were safe because we had each other’s backs. We were powerful because we were a mass of people, many of whom didn’t know each other, acting together.

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now

The police deaths in Brooklyn should not detract from people’s anger over police violence and its sanctioning by the justice system. We will not be caught in a tide of condolences for those who daily keep us on edge; don’t let hyperbolic proclamations about the inherent dangers of policing divert you. Clearly, they are not diverting the families of Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley (in Cleveland and New York), who are urging more action. We are heartened by the fact that more rallies, marches, and events are being called for in Durham, and we encourage any and all of these, especially those without prescribed rules for behavior or management by the social justice police.

Politicians of all stripes and the mainstream media cannot pretend everything is normal. They may try to downplay the mass actions that have taken place in hundreds of cities. They may try, like Councilman Schewel, to steer us toward manageable forms of dissent, or like NYC Mayor DeBlasio, to put a moratorium on protest. But everything is not normal when masses of people shut down major bridges, highways, and shopping malls or beacons of commerce, and when attempts to quiet us by mass arrests or divide-and-conquer techniques will not work. No, they cannot claim on the evening news or in their fourth quarter economic reports that everything is normal, unless they want to acknowledge that the new normal is open rebellion, that on the horizon lie only more shut downs, occupations, and takeovers.

Conflict Is Inevitable

The deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, while they have gained wide attention, are not especially egregious when it comes to the horrific annals of police violence. Police cut short the lives of people every day—indeed, every 28 hours a Black man is killed by law enforcement in this country—and they will always justify it however they can.

In Durham, we lost at least four people at the hands of the police in the past year and a half, and we want these names to never be forgotten: José Ocampo, 33, in July 2013; Derek Walker, 26, and Tracy Bost, 22, in September 2013; and Jesus ‘Chuy’ Huerta, 17, in November 2013. In Charlotte, Jonathan Ferrell, 24, was killed by police in September 2013, the same week the Durham-based coalition FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) had been planning to propose Charlotte police’s racial equity training as a model for DPD to emulate. In Wilmington, police killed Keith Vidal, 18, late in 2013, and on December 10, 2014, Travis Faison, 23, was murdered by Sanford cops who were serving him with a warrant. This is a very partial list. One cannot keep up because it happens so damn often.

We are not in the streets protesting police murders of only the perfectly innocent victims, and we reject the idea that those who fought back don’t deserve our support. To posit that one victim of police violence is more worthy of our grief or anger than another is offensive to all whose lives have been snuffed out by the police. Although the details of these lives matter deeply, tremendously, to those they touched, the details of exactly how people were killed by police do not. When we are pulled by media to delve deeply into these details, some unique circumstance or issue always emerges, and often leads many to point to solutions or reforms or quick fixes: cameras in cars, body cameras, increased funding for mental health services, school reform, or increases—any increases!—in social spending. But for those who have been enraged by recent police murders and non-indictments, and/or by police behavior at demonstrations and marches, we urge you to look more closely at policing itself, and its corollaries: incarceration and probation.

As each victim of police violence is painted with the ‘criminal’ brush, it becomes a reason the police can literally get away with killing people—or that the state can get away with the slow death of imprisoning people. Thus, just like the mass uprising against unpunished police murder, the struggles of prisoners against conditions are essential in what we believe to be a necessary conflict with everything existing. The penal institutions and the people who uphold them erode the myth of safety by their very existence. To avenge the deaths of Mike-Mike, or Chuy, José Ocampo, Jonathan Ferrell or the thousands of others killed by police, to imbue these deaths with any meaning, is to ultimately wrest the responsibility for our community safety from the very institutions assigned that role by the state. That process will be rife with contradictions, and it involves other factors, but it will by necessity be a conflict. Attempts at intimidation on the streets or through media cannot and will not deter us from this important historical task. As we chanted on the streets, “We believe that we will win.” Let’s steel ourselves, grow bigger, and make it so.

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