Pittsburgh doesn’t have a police brutality problem. We have a police problem.
This problem won’t be solved by internal investigations, desk duty, body cameras, or – can you imagine? – community outreach, de-escalation training, and disarmament.
It will only be solved by the total abolition of the entire state security apparatus – cops and cameras, batons and bombs, prisons, armies, mass surveillance, and drone strikes. Nothing less will do in service of total liberation.
A viral video, captured on a civilian’s cell phone outside the PPG Paints Arena, spread Pittsburgh’s shame and the events of September 19th across the web. Five cops, one victim. His face bashed against the hard concrete again and again and again. Torrents of profanity from the cops. One screams “don’t resist” at the man lying limp on the ground.
Giving Officer Andrew Jacobs desk duty was more than just a moral error on the part of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. They named the most violent cop in the video and gave us the name of the person responsible. Voter registration records gave us the address of the only Andrew Jacobs in a fifty-mile radius of the city. We spread the word to close friends and accomplices – offline, via text and in person. We made signs and flyers and brainstormed chants.
A group of around ten assembled downtown and took the train to Mount Oliver, meeting three of our friends waiting at the station near the cop’s house and a few more parked up the street. All told, over 15 people gathered on the night of October 2nd to condemn this bastard in blue. Standing on the sidewalk, we passed around a megaphone and chanted in what amounted to a half hour of targeted disruption.
At one point, a woman screamed at us from a neighboring window. We screamed back – “Police are violent! We will not be silent!” Her husband emerged and slowly crossed the street towards us. Our chants wavered. He was aggressive, but not hostile. His kid was trying to sleep. We apologized and expressed sympathy before asking if he knew his neighbor was famous. He didn’t. “It’s not a tight-knit community,” were his words. Once we told him who lived two houses down, he begrudgingly granted our request for a few more minutes. One friend gave a speech – “If Black lives don’t matter, no lives matter.” A few more chants and then we split.
It’s good we left when we did. Our walk back to the train station was interrupted by two squad cars – buddies of Officer Jacobs, no doubt. Had we still been chanting when they arrived, we would surely have been subject to greater harassment. Lucky us. Curious cops just asked some friends a couple questions before escorting our group the remaining twenty feet to the station. We caught our ride, made it downtown, and went our separate ways.
A friend, a little late to the party, drove by the house a few minutes after we left. A uniformed cop stood in the front yard patting a visibly distraught Andrew Jacobs on the back. Mission accomplished.
Cops aren’t afraid of their fellow cops, of their bosses, of courts or prosecutors or legislatures. But they’re afraid of us. A little research and some word of mouth is all it takes for us to bring the fight from our neighborhoods to theirs. Organizing against police violence challenges the separation of people from political power, the social logic of the badge made material by the physical force of the baton. Power insulates individuals from the consequences of their actions. This power must be seized through collective action and abolished, disorienting the powerful by rejecting the justification for their every misdeed.
We have a message for Officer Jacobs, for the cop comforting him, for the four who followed us home, for the four who assisted his brutality, for every Pittsburgh cop who thinks being the law makes you above the law:
You have names and numbers, just like us. Just like us, you have homes that can be surveilled, neighbors that can be turned against you, communities that will reject you if the alternative becomes too costly. Just like us, your actions have consequences.
Activists accept targeted retaliation as a basic fact of their work. It’s time the police reckon with something similar.
“When friends and neighbors are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”