It's Going Down

Decolonize This Place on J31 and Beyond: “People Are Becoming Ungovernable”

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Over the past few months, anger has exploded on the streets of New York as the city has pushed (along with increased fares) to hire 500 new transit police as part of a growing crackdown against the poor, the houseless, street vendors, and Black and brown people on mass transit. Governor Cuomo and other bureaucrats from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, have argued that this ramping up of police is necessary in order to curb “fare evasion.”

As we’ve pointed out in the past, this argument in itself is ridiculous, as it costs more money to hire the police to enforce the fares than the system stands to lose in expected losses. In fact, in most major cities, while there is a increasing need and demand for mass public transit, austerity cuts, crumbling infrastructure, rising fares, and aggressive “broken windows” policing helps to deny access to growing populations of working and poor people. Thus, such initiatives; be they in the form of policing, austerity, or surveillance, are part of a broader push by elites to socially cleanse urban cores to aid in the process of gentrification.

Adding fuel to the fire, video after video has gone viral of police beating and harassing people on mass transit. Moreover, according to the New York Times:

[A] lawsuit revealed that multiple police officers in Brooklyn said a commander told them to go after blacks and Latinos and to think of white and Asian people as “soft targets.”

In the face of this, a broad coalition of grassroots abolitionist organizations have come together to call for and organize a series of FTP mobilizations demanding the total removal of police off mass transit and free and totally accessible transit for all. Wanting to know more about the planned demonstrations being called Friday, January 31st, we caught up with some folks from Decolonize This Place to learn just what is expected to go down.

IGD: What do people need to know about the big actions planned for Jan 31?

DTP: Friday, January 31 (J31) is set to be a city-wide day of transit action undertaken by the political formation known as FTP. Building on the FTP mobilizations last November against the MTA and the NYPD, in downtown Brooklyn, Harlem, and the South Bronx, the actions of J31 will culminate in a convergence at the clock in Grand Central Station at 5 PM.

It is important for people to know that, as explained in the FTP III Operations Manual that has been circulating for the past few weeks, this day of action will involve a diversity of tactics. These will range from low-risk assemblies including a speak-out in the morning at the DOE organized by Free CUNY and the People’s Cultural Plan calling for the removal of cops from all schools and subways, to Court Support for FTP II arrestees (9:30-11 at 1 Center Street), to what we expect will be a wide proliferation of autonomous actions around the city, including but not limited to mass fare evasion. As for the Grand Central convergence, it is likely to be a high-profile gathering given that the location is a kind of spectacular media-amplifier.

In all honesty though, we do not know what to expect, other than it will be an antagonistic scenario in one of the most policed and survielled sites in New York, with large numbers of indignant people ready to throw down in whatever ways feel good to them. We only ask that those planning riskier actions do so in ways that do not use other people as shields or put others unknowingly in harm’s way. That said, this is a time for losing fear and moving things forward, so those coming to Grand Central should be ready for things to pop off.

A final point that people should know concerns the politics of this action: it is Black and brown led, and grounded in the principles of decolonization, abolition, and anticapitalism. The groups that make up this formation explicitly do not fuck with non-profits, NGOs, or politicians. Of course, we welcome all individuals and affinity groups to show up who feel the spirit of the action, but not in the capacity of professionalized organizers, state officials, or elected representatives. As for transit workers, a number of people have reached out and participated with us on an autonomous basis since FTP 1; however, the TWU itself remains a question. A Communique was recently addressed by the FTP formation to the workers, which we cite below.

IGD: For those who aren’t aware, why are people taking action on January 31st?

DTP: People are taking action for various reasons, but the most immediate spark and subsequent fuel for the outrage on the streets has been the ongoing brutalization and harassment of black and brown people on the trains. This is a long-term pattern that has only intensified as the MTA has ramped up its “broken windows” policing approach, deployed against fare-jumping and other “quality of life” crimes. These policies are related in turn to the MTA’s vote to add an additional 500 police to the subways this year to the tune of 250 million dollars as it undertakes an array of high-tech financial/datavaillence upgrades (OMNY), corporate branding campaigns, and half-measures like reduced-fee Metrocards.

This combination of criminalizing the poor and gentrifying the trains brings into relief the fact that the MTA is not, in any meaningful way, a public agency accountable to be the people whose use it out of their day-to-day need for mobility. The MTA is bonded to Wall Street creditors and controlled by Cuomo and an unaccountable board of directors; it is geared toward servicing the most wealthy interests in the city even as it continues to tax, harass, and punish Black and brown New Yorkers, who out of necessity, already enact practical and symbolic claims on this vital piece of collective infrastructure on a day to say basis, whether through fare-evasion, vending, performing, or sleeping, among other measures of survival.

Building on the long time work of groups like Why Accountability and Swipe It Forward, Copwatch NYC, Take Back the Bronx, and NYC Shut It Down to name only a few, the FTP actions are weaving the acts of refusal, resistance, and mutual aid that happen on a day-to-day basis into a popular movement. As things escalate on J31 and beyond, transit workers could be a potentially radical force. As the recent FTP Communique reads, which reads, “Rank and file MTA employees–station cleaners, conductors, bus maintainers, token booth clerks and motormen–are drawn from the same populations profiled by the NYPD and now the MTA police. Black and Brown people RUN the system as well as USE it. Are those your sons being attacked? Are those your school children being punched? Is that your sister with a stroller being harassed, demeaned, and intimidated by cops?” The Communique continues, “Rank and file workers must speak out against these racist practices by the NYPD and MTA police. Your bosses, who make decisions about your job safety and pay, are OK with this repression.”

IGD: Since the last action, there was a lot of push back in the mainstream media about the mass, anti-police nature of the marches and the sabotage of the turnstile. Why do think these actions and messages resonated with so many people?

DTP: While grounded in the reality of police violence and the fucked up Behemoth that is the MTA, the stakes of J31 are not reducible to any one or combination of issue-silos. They concern the entire organization of power and wealth in the city, and are drawing in all those who are ready to take on the edifice of settler-colonialism and racial capitalism. People are becoming ungovernable; this does not mean aiming for crisis and chaos for its own sake, but breaking open a new horizon for power from below.

Directly saying – and enacting – Fuck the Police feels good to people because they know the police stand in for and protect the system at large. Holding a large space for that sentiment, unburdened by concerns with civility or electability, galvanizes people’s imaginations and sense of power.

The cutting of the turnstile during FTP II was an act of radical beauty, not only enacting the right to free transit, but physically debilitating the equipment used by the state to enforce the restriction of that right. It found resonance with people across the city and the world because it was a direct blow to the infrastructure and technology of control.

IGD: Has police harassment increased against abolitionist initiatives like Swipe It Forward or other organizing?

Police harassment and surveillance is of course always a factor with abolitionist work, and it has indeed intensified in recent months as organizers have become more emboldened and visible. The state has yet to overtly roll out its full arsenal of criminalization against FTP, but it is no doubt in the process of preparing.

The place we are seeing quite explicit repression is on group’s social media accounts. On Facebook, posts are regularly removed for “inciting hate,” and the Decolonize This Place Instagram has been shadowbanned, making it very difficult to find. Law enforcement is obviously involved in monitoring online activity, and we will not be surprised if certain platforms are shut down altogether.

IGD: In the past few weeks since FTP II, what has been happening in the streets? Just more of the same in terms of police harassment and brutality on mass transit?

DTP: Harassment and brutalization of people on the subway has indeed continued apace; most recently was the video of a black teen detained after a white subway rider called the cops on him for having a toy Nerf gun.

At the same time, the MTA has also been rolling out campaigns designed to counteract the popular anger at the MTA and to defuse the demands around free transit and the removal of cops; it recently released for instance its half-priced Metro cards for those who qualify as “poor,” and has started a series of PSAs calling for “solidarity” between subway riders in the face of “hate crimes,” further justifying the 500 new police.

But despite these measures, people know and feel that the whole MTA edifice is in crisis, signaled most recently by the departure of subway chief Andy Byford. Of course, mainstream coverage emphasize the intractable tensions between Cuomo and the city as the reason for Byford’s departure; but like the departure of the NYPD head late last year, its evident that increasing antagonism around these institutions from below is creating a crisis of responsibility and accountability for these governing agencies.

IGD: How can people plug into the mobilization and also get updates in the lead up to Friday?

DTP: First, we encourage everyone to consult with the FTP Operations Manual for the big picture of what’s at stake with J31 and how to plug in. As noted above, DTP social media is currently under attack, so while people should to check our Instagram for developments  – and to send us documentation of their own autonomous actions and artworks, which we will happily re-circulate – we also strongly encourage people to disseminate FTP materials through their own social media channels so as to multiply and ramify the message instead of it being dependent on one central platform.

Finally, on the day of, people should sign up for our Signal channel. Instructions are evident on the page we are posting here are the end of our response.

IGD: Anything else you want to add?

DTP: The action is not over until everyone is out. Do jail support!