Filed under: Analysis, Featured, Police, Southeast, White Supremacy
This account focuses mostly on the first three days and nights (September 15-17) of the response to the not-guilty verdict in the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith and is the perspective of one participant.
Friday, September 15th, Downtown
Not guilty. It makes sense; most of us knew what was going to happen. It doesn’t surprise so much anymore. The legal system, that is ultimately built to keep the interests of those with power and money intact, performed exactly as it should. The sooner we move away from being hopeful for it to deliver, the sooner we can create our own world.
Starting at the courthouse, the march immediately after the verdict was “led” by Anthony Shahid and Zaki Baruti, both older black nationalists who were crucial in getting Stockley charged and put on trial. We marched around a mostly dead downtown for a few hours, since they shuttered the courthouses, city hall, and most businesses before dropping the verdict. Anytime it got a little tense with police, leaders ordered us to move on. Eventually we made our way back to the courthouse to rest awhile.
In addition to the old figureheads, this verdict response was also partly led by those calling themselves the “Ferguson Frontline” —an arrogant, surreal and laughable designation if you were in Ferguson too. If there were any sense of humbleness, it would be easy to see that the “frontline” was and is not a cohesive form. The legacy of Ferguson has led some to use this term as a way to claim authority and pacify people. It’s sad and stifling. Thousands of people participated in 2014, not this small cadre with loud voices and political connection that is whittling something so much bigger than them into an informal organization. It is ultimately a good weapon at subduing many newcomers who know no better. This group includes reformist politicians, organizers, white activists, etc. who became notable during the uprising—many of whom told us to be peaceful, go home and threw the uncontrollable and unaffiliated participants under the bus. Yet, here they are, cashing in on a rebellion that blew past them.
Resting for a while, eventually we started to march again. This time the march was bit more uncontrolled. Barricades were pulled into the streets. When this started to happen, something started to click in people. Like, “oh shit, we can get away with this?”
An outdoor Shakespeare event was planned for that night at the library. There were plastic chairs everywhere. Security confronted us, the library closed down for the day and the Shakespeare event was cancelled for the whole weekend. As we left, people grabbed carts of chairs for the event and rolled them to block the streets ahead.
We head to Washington Ave, a popular bar district. Blocking the streets with whatever we could. There was a man who was holding a barricade so that it couldn’t be so easy taken. Someone went up to him and politely asked him if they could commandeer it for the struggle. He refused and said no. There proceeded to be tug of war. The marcher let go, giving up, but the man’s backward momentum caused him to fall right on his ass. The crowd of 250 busted out laughing. Someone, a marcher, came over with a gun and pointed it in the dudes face. It was tense moment to say the least. Guy with a gun was talked down and the barricade ended up in the street.
At this point, there was a group of multi-racial barricade grabbers. We all made friends, scoping out the next things to grab and people worked together well. Running up to each other and asking for help for this or that object and then making a plan to do it safely.
Approaching the Lumerie casino, all the double doors had already been locked. Some doors had 2x4s slid between handles. Someone ran up to one and through the small crack between the doors somehow slid one of the 2x4s out of place. Successful, people started to pull the door open. The security flipped out and tried to close the doors. There was so much pulling that the metal handle of one the glass doors fell off, but, ultimately, we didn’t get in.
On our way back to the courthouse, we passed the Old Courthouse, a place where black slaves used to be sold. It was also where Dred Scott was ruled 3/5ths of a human being. We ran up on the steps, people threw water at the security and they locked the doors.
The clever police, trying to be a the beacon of “peacefulness,” take on the term “agitators.” Sadly, some on “our” side start to use this term too…
At the courthouse, the police had assembled. At some point a group of people saw a lone cop car and started to dance on it. Someone kicked the windshield in. The police to move in to save the car. They mace those of us who wouldn’t move out the way. Eventually getting to the cop car, cops stood their ground for a little while people started to throw plastic bottles at them. Someone—a mad riot scientist—somehow pries a concrete manhole cover up and proceeds to lift it up in the air and smash it on the ground so as to make smaller concrete rocks. Then those were thrown too.
The police, having enough of the hoopla and of taking projectiles, moved in on the crowd. In the process, an elderly lady was trampled and walked over by the riot cops. The police threatened arrests and tear gas. Most people dispersed a little later to regroup for a planned march in the Central West End (CWE).
These measly rocks are apparently enough to scare the cops armed with shields, mace, guns and batons.
Night in the CWE
The Central West End is fundamentally a ruling class neighborhood where there are many private gated streets lined with mansions. The mayor lives here and the current governor used to reside here. There are many bars and restaurants interspersed with in it. A few blocks north of its heart is Delmar Ave, a street that divides the mostly rich and white from the mostly poor and black in St. Louis.
The idea was to go to the nearby highway and block it. The police, ever ready, had the ramps blocked off with riot cops before we got there. Either way, this was a massive disruption to traffic. We ran up to one on-ramp, 1000 strong against 5 or 6 riot cops. People at the front were too scared to break through them, even though we could of. As we wavered, more and more cops showed up to back them up. Highway patrol also showed up down below us on the highway. We gave up.
Getting back to the heart of the CWE, there was a meeting at an intersection. If there was ever any indication that the self-proclaimed “frontline” is a lot of ego and something to wield in authoritarian ways, this was a transpiration of it. Frontliners, predominantly men, were asked to middle of the intersection and various arguments ensued between them. We watched for 40 minutes. Some in the group of people called for a moment of silence for Anthony Lamar Smith, but the arguing was so passionate that others didn’t care. One person got on a megaphone and literally made a “shhhh!” noise at those arguing. Those of us outside this club got to watch various factions of “frontliners” air dirty laundry merely as spectators. Someone, bored, at one point, started screaming, “What’re we doing? Let’s march! I wanna fucking loot!”
The streets are narrow here and 2000 people makes for some claustrophobia. As the crowd finally moves, some of us stick to the front of the march to avoid this. All around American flags are being pulled off light polls to be burnt. It’s hard at first because flags are coated in inflammable material. But a man has some kind of flammable alcohol that he sprays on the flag and whoosh!
You’re really disrespecting the flag! Couldn’t you just knell instead?
Some black guys in masks are calling for the crowd to take it to the wealthy and white. “We burned down Ferguson, a poor black neighborhood. It didn’t get us shit! It’s time we burn down the white neighborhoods! Burn this shit down!”
Lyda Krewson, the mayor of St. Louis, lives in a house nearby. There is a quiet push to go there. It takes about 30 minutes to get there because the crowd is so long. Being a sort of plebeian, I figure she lives in an epic mansion with fountains and gates because she’s the mayor or whatever; but when we get there, it’s a modest townhouse, albeit in a very rich neighborhood.
A few organizers rush to her steps and get on a megaphone and let the crowd know whose house this is. Someone goes up to knock on the door, parts of the large crowd that are terrified of disrupting her privacy are screaming, “NO, DON’T DO IT! DON’T DO IT!! NO NO NO!” And others are screaming excitedly, “FUCKING DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! HAHAHA!” The person knocks, no answer. After this, an organizer, in a bizarre request asks for a white woman, any white woman ally please, to come do the knocking. Out of the cut seemingly, droves of white women flock—run—to the yard and one finally knocks. It’s pretty confusing and surreal. Uh… why? Maybe Lyda, since she is white woman, would feel safer if it was white woman who did it? Are we really trying to make her feel safe right now? Besides, I don’t think if a white woman knocks or not, she’ll feel safe with a large mob menacing her home outside.
One organizer tells people not fuck the house up, that we should keep it peaceful. Several people in the crowd immediately scream various equivalents of “FUCK THAT!” at the speaker. Soon one of Lyda Krewson’s windows is broken. More follow. Someone threw paint on the bricks as well. Each time a window breaks, the response from the crowd–much like when the first person knocked on the door–is a chorus of contradictory terrified screams of nay and excited supportive howls of laugher and anger. A friend tells me they see a black group of riot scientists trying to break a large limestone rock into smaller rocks, but they fail and decide to throw the whole rock in. People are talking about how we need to rob this house and then burn it down. People are going in the backyard trying to get in.
There is something about the sound of a window breaking that strikes fear in people. It’s the same with a shop window. The façade that protects power and profit is not even really that thick and to shatter it makes for some pretty extreme mental breakdowns. Power and profit not only need police, prisons, cameras to stop us. They also need people to actively believe in them and do their bidding. Funny…to break this stupid glass, from a universal perspective is literally space dust in the grand scheme of things. But to those who believe in it, it’s a traumatic and terrifying event. To others, who don’t give a shit, who have every reason to have no love for any white, or in general, authority figure, it’s an empowering moment.
This terror…is it something about breaking that façade of personal safety, that deep societal contract we are taught from early on? The one about not infringing upon the privacy of others, especially those who claim to rule us? To not ever go where they are in a vulnerable position, where they relax, shit, eat and love their precious families? I imagine such people who were opposed to what happened would call people in this crowd juvenile, that this is not the way of doing things, that people are just making the world harder to change by inviting more police repression. That people should go to city hall—that enemy terrain where we have to speak in the tongue of civil dialogue—a dialect that is so often used against us. It’s true, this is not civil dialogue—it’s a righteously angry mob realizing that the people ruling over us have addresses. This is why they need police, jails, rent, prisons, etc, because if they were unprotected, we would get the right idea and easily attack.
After or in-between the various windows breaking, someone screams “MIC CHECK!” over and over. This subcultural mechanism confuses people, but eventually people quiet for a second. He starts to yell:
It’s pandemonium for a minute. Various people in the crowd scream in sadness, laugh, groan and sigh all at the same time. Some still don’t even give a fuck because this is a rich neighborhood. With a little research, someone looks up the address and it turns out… IT IS HER GOD DAMN FUCKING HOUSE GOD DAMNIT.
The police finally show up. People start to run. They aren’t snatching anybody, just trying to get to her house. More and more cops stream in. The crowd gets divided in two with riot police facing both directions. Some folks who have positioned themselves as organizer types are screaming bloody murder that we’re all about to get mass arrested, that they know what this is, that we must leave now! The terror in some people’s voices should really be kept inside sometimes. If you are scared— and this is a legitimate feeling—you can leave to where you feel safe—please do not add more stress to the crowd!
People are throwing rocks and bottles. I hear later that a brick hits one cop and his jaw gets broken. Eventually they shoot tear gas at the crowd opposite of us. Then they shoot it in our direction too. We don’t really feel the gas. I assume because it’s a wealthier neighborhood, they aren’t going to gas us too hard.
We head back to the CWE to see what’s up. There’s a dispersal meeting being had by some folks, but others haven’t stopped. A few stores and restaurants get their windows busted in. One restaurant, Culpepper’s, is smashed out with a metal chair or table. Eventually the riot police show up with a bearcat tank.
They start to tear gas a little and a riot of riot police seemingly 10 layers deep marches down the street to push the rest of us out. People disperse to some extent, but regroup in smaller groups. Roving groups of people are running around smashing random shit. The library gets hit, books strewn about on the sidewalk (#notthelibrary! The library is the shit, but it could be worse). Buses are getting rocks thrown at them, presumably because the city buses are being used to transport riot police. But some of the buses being hit are carrying normal passengers.
A group of us chill on the sidewalk for a few hours, shooting the shit, reflecting, getting high, loitering, drinking. There are new friends being made. At one point, we hear a loud POW! and see someone run into a broken window and then quickly run out with something under their shirt. The police show up. We go over see what’s up. Glass is everywhere from the Subway window. The cops run in check the scene. Something strikes our stoned eyes though….it’s one of those cookie racks that Subway has by the registers. It’s sitting in the alley, cookies still inside. The cookie looter didn’t get them unfortunately. We troll the police, ask them if there are any macadamia or chocolate chip cookies left. “Can we have some please? PLLLEASE????”
Unfortunately, there are some people who, in disbelief that people would ruin the parade of “peaceful” protest, believe that the police or (white) agitators were responsible for the windows at Lyda’s and other property destruction. That it was a “false flag” to help give the police justification to brutalize protesters. Using all sorts of mental gymnastics, they refuse to see the real battle lines drawn, substituting it for conspiracy theories.
The mayor might have come out against the verdict, but that doesn’t matter to those who have no power and suffer from those who have power. Lyda is a literal manifestation of power. People who weren’t a witness to the destruction draw these false lines (or if they were witness, they seem to miss crucial parts) and there are gullible people who trust this narrative because it is proclaimed by “black organizers.” Such organizers, since Ferguson, have shown themselves time and time to be counter-insurgents against nameless and powerless black rebels. Some of the most vocal black “organizers” this weekend who were spouting this bullshit are politicians and nonprofit workers themselves whose job depends on having political access to city government. Of course they, having large and influential voices, will condemn these acts, because it might lose them votes and access to the mayor’s table. And the naïve will listen to them before they ever listen to the random powerless black person on the street who has nothing to prop their voice up.
Really in this perspective, living black people who resist the death society imposes might as well be dead already. There is no room for agency in this perspective. Just like society already kills black people literally and socially, many seem apt to kill off black people and their actions in the stories of resistance. It is because the intense, violent and complicated reality might sour their homogeneous and peaceful narratives. Those who come alive and attack with rocks, guns or other means that don’t fit into established strategy are substituted for a conspiracy of police, “agitiators” or white anarchists.
The use of whiteness by these supposed anti-racists is striking. In this case, it is a way of re-victimizing black people who choose to resist in combative ways. It is an erasure of resistance, a very helpful tactic for the continuation of white supremacy. It makes it seem unchallenged, when in fact it is challenged very often—just not in ways that fit into an organized political program, but more in ways that are matters of spontaneity or life and death–not so much strategy. From slave masters houses being burned to the ground, to runaway slaves gaining freedom in the nether regions of swamps in the south, to contemporary prison riots and black rebellions that destroy and loot property. It’s just not done in ways that compute as respectable civil disobedience—it is done in ways that scare even those who are activists because they are afraid of people being seen as “thugs.” The truth is our enemies will always see black people as such because the struggle against this world will—and must—involve things that inflict harm on those with power.
Instead of an unruly, passionate crowd, refusing to bow down and continue to be victimized by the State, the narrative shifts to a shallow black crowd cowering in fear of police agents or white agitators who are exploiting them and making their lives hard. The depth of people, with the range of perspectives and actions, does not get seen. If we continue this narrative, we come to a dis-empowering end.
There is some thing to think seriously about though: black people who engage in combative tactics are often under more threat from the police. But this should be the blame of the police. Such a reality should make us all fight harder; to make sure people are supported when they get arrested for whatever they do. The more of an ethic of solidarity we make across racial lines, the more powerful we become. The more acceptance of differing and combative tactics, the more normalized they become. It should all make us think of ways to have each other’s back even more.
Saturday, September 16th, The Loop
The march is slated for downtown, but trying to be clever, we move to the Delmar Loop in University City—20 minutes away. (Plus, we were going to try and shut the U2 concert done, which they cancelled preemptively). The Loop is a bar, shop and restaurant district, known as a sort of bohemian hang out, as well as an intersection of St. Louis youth of all colors. Close to the prestigious and extremely expensive Washington University (not quite an Ivy League school, but close), over the years the Loop has become more and more a playground for students. New condos have been built specifically targeted at students. The Loop can still claim a diverse, bohemian character, but this is all a façade that covers up its gentrification. The white and class supremacy here is not outright hatred of POC and poor people—it is structural hatred.
The Loop for years has been a contentious place for black youth—the harbinger of chaos in the minds of the respectable. The MetroLink runs through the Loop, giving youth access to the area. Almost every summer for awhile there would be some unrest between the police and shop owners against groups of black youth. The police have been known to impose youth curfews. Lots of residents nearby complain again and again that the Metrolink was bad idea.
There are more than 1500 people here. The march organizers take us in a long snake that starts in the Loop, passes Wash U and then snakes through a quiet neighborhood. It’s stopping every 5 minutes, for photo ops, for speeches by the usual characters, for special chants.
Heading back to the Loop, there is a manipulative call for people to disperse and the people on the megaphones are not so subtlety telling us we really should leave in a passive aggressive way. “You can stay if you want to, but you might hurt the action tomorrow if you do stay.” It’s shameful. Other activists are telling us that we should stay, that the main organizers action is over and we’re going to march.
Of course people stay, mostly rowdy young folks who were bored by the march. We march down the Loop again and block a major intersection for a while. More people join us and folks throw water bottles at small groups of cops as we meander down Delmar.
For a while, not much happens. I lay down, tired, ready to go home. It’s probably gonna fizzle out. But ya never know, all it takes is a spark and then everything changes. And armed with the Ferguson Equation, some of us know not to leave. Basically, the equation goes like this: when you are the most utterly bored and ready to go, it means some crazy shit is about to happen and you’ll end up in whatever situation for another hour to twelve hours. You might literally be leaving the scene, getting on your bike or putting your keys in the ignition and then somehow you’re there forever. This equation has been proven true many times. “Well, yep, guess it’s time to leave. It’s been a good night, but I’m bored as fuck, tired, we’ve been standing here for hours and hours, it already went down. I could really use some res….OH FUCK, GET UP! What’s going on over there! The cops are coming, a man with dirt bike/car is doing donuts, someone just threw a rock, stores are being looted, etc.”
Eventually, more and more police show up including a small group of riot police that stands in front of us. They mysteriously part ways eventually and a white Socialist Alternative man who has been delegated the role of the Lead White Ally by the “Ferguson frontline” tells us to head through them, saying that we got to get outta here, that busloads of police are coming for us. The SA man’s role is apparently to speak the wishes of frontline black organizers as to how white folks should act or when they are to leave. Notwithstanding the ridiculousness of this, he’s now seemingly out of his bounds, on autopilot telling the racially mixed crowd of people what to do.
Eventually some people come with the SA guy through the parted waters of riot police, but others argue that this is a dumb idea. Of course when they go through the opening of police, the police rush back in the streets and create two separate groups. Somehow people eventually negotiate their way back through the police.
Now even the organizers who wanted us to march are telling us to go home. People argue with them, saying people can make their own decisions. Thankfully, someone gets on the megaphone and says a little less passive aggressively, “Some organizers are leaving if you would like to leave, but you can stay if you want.” Most people stay.
A chair is thrown through a Starbucks window. A crew of black folks is in a parking lot is magically turning big rocks from a retaining wall into smaller rocks. They’re throwing the rocks at the line of cops, living their dreams I’m sure. Annoyingly they’re almost hitting some of us in the crowd with their poor throws. The cops barely react to the rocks. They even back up a little bit. Just noticing, some huge splat! of red paint had appeared on one the police shields. It’s a striking image.
Your country, swear to god, hoped to die, tis of thee, can you even see through that stupid shield though?
A lone cop car has just been sitting nearby the parking lot for the last hour and people seem to finally recognize it. Rocks are thrown at it; someone tries to break its windows. The police rush over to it. It’s unclear how it happened next, but people are now throwing more shit at the police. Loads of riot of police are come to join the thin line of existing cops. People are re-purposing the metal lids of trash and recycling cans and throwing some of them at the cops and others into the various business windows. Glass starts to shatter everywhere. It’s on now. For the next minutes, there is just a chorus of glass shattering. The metal lids are all over the street. Lots of the crowd is running.
The small police presence that has been behind us acts quickly and grabs people, some of whom were caught in the act of throwing lids or chairs. Most people get out, but 9 people get arrested, and most are currently facing felonies.
The police take to twitter to do the classic good/bad protestor divide. They tell their followers that the official march had been declared over, but that people refused to listen to the main organizers and stayed. It’s clear that the police and the main organizers aren’t on the same team per se, but the police are being very good at exploiting the language of the organizers.
In the immediate aftermath, according to news reports that night, with most of the bars and restaurants still open, there is a mad scurry to clean the glass.
The most striking is a middle aged white woman. Interviewed on the news, she is livid. “This does not happen in U City. This ruins the cause of BLM. BLM protestors, keep it peaceful!” Carrying a Black Lives Matter sign in one hand and a broom in the other. Gesturing to the broom, she’s remarks, “I’m armed,” eluding not to a gun, but to the broom itself. The video goes viral and the next day she is interviewed again, sporting a new haircut as well.
Sunday, September 17th, Downtown
There is a planned die-in at the police station. There are probably around 1000 people around.
The die-in reminded me of an occurrence in 2014. It was at a march for Kajieme Powell in North City. There was a man on a megaphone who wanted to stage a die-in. He was impersonating a cop, going around and symbolically shooting us all dead with his hand in the shape of a gun. As he came nearer, others and I thought, “Fuck this death shit, we’d rather resist and die on our feet.” Thinking of all the humiliating times we’ve complied with cops, because we were alone and powerless. Or the times we’d been beaten by them. The times we watched friends get beaten with batons, shovels or flashlights and how traumatic it was to not be able to intervene. But a rebellion was different, we were many and we could resist and we were.
Once he came to where a group of us was standing, he “shot” others and me. We refused to play dead. He grabbed me and tugged at me. I, still playing along like he was a cop who was assaulting me, told him, “I’m resisting!” It got more and more intense. Right next to me, a black woman next to me did the same. She felt the same, better to resist and, if need be, die on your feet. There was great argument, lots of screaming and pushing, a lot of chest puffing on the man’s part about how he was the organizer/authority at this die-in. The man was pissed that we didn’t want to accept death.
After the die-in, we stood in front the police station chanting for a while. At some point, cops just around the corner detained one or two people. A large section of us ran towards them. The cops were running to their cars and when we got near, one of them did a fake charging motion at us. Instead, he got in the car and then the car proceeded to reverse into the crowd. We all barely parted ways; someone hit the undercover car with a hammer or rock.
It reversed right into another group where riot cops had staged. We all ran to it. Two non-white men in masks started throwing water bottles at the police. The politicians and organizers in the crowd got angry with them. There was a confrontation, they were told to stop. The two dudes argued with them and threatened violence against the politicians. The police promised to release the people if the crowd went back to the police station. It took awhile but the crowd eventually backed away. It’s unclear if they released those they detained.
After a bit the action was declared over by the official organizers. Much like last night, there was a mix of people telling us what to do. Some said we were going back to the CWE. Others said somewhere else. And there were people who were passive aggressively telling us to leave in language that seemingly respected autonomy, but was cancelled out with “if you don’t leave, you might make the action tomorrow harder.” Most people did leave and we were left with just around 100-150 people.
All the sudden a march started down Olive towards the center of downtown. People were yelling that we are going to take the highway. But before people could get even just a few blocks, things started to get trashed. If you remember, the library was going to have a “Shakespeare in the Streets” this weekend, but it got cancelled because of the verdict. The materials and set up for it were still out. People started to break all the plastic chairs they could. A block later storefront windows started to get it. Many huge concrete planters were being tipped over, breaking in to many pieces.
There is a gang of vigilantes, one of them is a national Fox News reporter, the others are his security. The reporter is carrying a news reporter microphone but in all the times I’ve seen him through out the weekend, he’s never once talked into it. Tonight his security is either live streaming or talking to police on their phones. I can hear them relay the intersections that we are passing through. They grab someone who had been smashing stuff and tie his arms up with rope. People confront this and they pull guns.
The streets in the heart of downtown are very narrow. On all sides are tall buildings, obstructing your view, creating a dangerous and claustrophobic territory to be in. The police could easily be around any of the tight corners, waiting. And they were. Some people suggested we get to a wider street with more exits. We zigzagged to Washington Ave and when we got there, there were cops everywhere. People bolted and the police sprayed mace at anyone they could. For the next 30-40 minutes people scattered to the winds. Cops in undercover cars with their windows down just slightly would mace us as they drove by. There were even riot cops piled in ambulances. This felt like some gangland tactics.
Some of us tried to get into a bar to hide out. Just as we’re about to get in, a police bearcat pulled up and shot us all with pepper balls. We all huddle against each other, trying to shield ourselves. The cop didn’t just shoot us, but also the bouncer and another worker at the bar. After they drove off, the bouncer pushed us way, cussing up a storm and told us to get the fuck out of the bar. Fuck.
We make our way away from this shit. Paranoia reigns in my body. Looking over our shoulders at every car driving towards us, we’re not sure who is a civilian or a cop. Trying to blend, to look like restaurant workers, downtown bums or thinking smoking a cigarette gives us an air of “just taking a smoke break,” doesn’t really soothe the paranoia. Especially when they randomly shot us a minute ago.
Meanwhile, the police have surrounded people at Wash Ave and Tucker. The police are kettling people, 100+ are arrested, including those who came out of bars to watch what was going on. People were maced, kicked, beaten. I return later to see the end of the kettle and hear the police chant “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they beat their shield with their batons. It was only a matter of time before they took the chants we say as theirs too. The cops are also chanting “Hoo-rah! Hoo-rah!” as if they are in a military operation that was successful.
Now and the Future
For the last three weeks, there has been ongoing resistance against the verdict. The first nights were more combative, with people going toe to toe with police and destroying property. Even though this has more or less ended, it hasn’t softened the police much. The police have been more apt to engage in hand-to-hand combat, tackling and macing us whenever they can. After the police arrested a reporter in a kettle, the media has more or less come out against the police tactics, but this still has not reined them in. At this point, it can feel like we are engaged in a personal feud with the police.
September 15th – 17th did not make a good case of police having control of us. What is clear is that the police, having initially shown a bit of restraint (not entirely restrained of course) for the rocks, the attacks on them and the property destruction inflicted the first three nights, are now no longer taking anything so quietly, even if peaceful. Not only has there been a psychic toll from them losing control the first nights, but there also has been a huge economic toll. Highways blocked, big events cancelled, malls shut down. Maybe there are now complacent citizens too scared to go out, to buy things or even drive on the highway.
An injured cop in the CWE. For all we know he coulda just broke a nail or stubbed his toe on his shield and now he’s gonna collect workman’s comp. They love to exaggerate. Wish it were that easy for the rest of us. All and all, over 30 cops were “injured” in the first 3 nights.
Let’s be real, though: This is to be expected. We are not innocent and we don’t want to be. In many of the rebellions of the last years, people have done a lot of things that are not constitutional or lawful. But looking at the history of law and constitutions, you can see slavery, poverty and oppression.
Whether it was arson, assaulting and shooting at cops, interfering with police scanners, looting. When people block highways or throw rocks, they are doing illegal things. When people looted and then burned a gas station in Ferguson, it was no surprise that the police acted the way they did. They militarized more and more and yet they still couldn’t control people. Neither could the organizers who told us all to go home. There is a reaction to all of that. The longer we are shocked at the police reaction, the more we will be stuck in a hopeless game of reform. We are engaged in a fight, and it’s not a fair fight nor is it respectable or within the realm of State democracy. Of course, if we must exploit constitutional arguments to soften the police, to get off on charges or get paid, let’s do it. They exploit the law and so can we—but the law is not our friend.
An attack on the police is also an attack on the order of those who seek to rule us. The police, in the creation story of the democratic State, exist as a ‘neutral’ party that keeps the peace. But the obvious question is always: peace for whom? For the rich, for the property owners, for the white and class supremacist system that is engaged in a parasitic and deadly long war against our bodies. Their peace is an inevitable conflict that they must manage. When this violent creation myth is physically confronted and exposed, when what they think are inert bodies actually become living, resistant, breathing people, there is a violent reaction that ultimately seeks to re-impose the tense peace of a latent civil war. The police and the State serve to manage this civil war in various ways: housing people away in prisons and jails, paying us crumbs at work, enforcing the system of private property where we have to pay for a place to call home. All the while, the wealth and power of those who rule grows. But every once and awhile this all explodes.
There is a growing literal and psychological unrest in this country that firmly challenges the police and much of the current regime of governance. The Ferguson and Baltimore rebellions have a direct connection the rise of the right wing reaction that exists today. Such rebellions brought to the surface the violent white and class supremacist origins of this nation. They directly challenged the institutions and people that have been churning along unobstructed.
For many, what it is happening is a lawless harbinger of an unraveling society—all the normative understandings of race, property, gender and class are being upended and it feels like its the end of the world. The nightmares they feel right now are actually our wildest dreams getting a chance to bloom. Let’s not back down.