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Jan 3, 17

To Stop Police Murders, We Need to Block the Ability of the State to Govern

Originally posted to It’s Going Down

1,152. That’s the total amount of people that were killed by American law enforcement in 2016. Every day over the last several years, on average, over 3 people are being killed by the police in this country. Sadly enough, at the time of this writing, a total of 12 people have already been killed by police in 2017, continuing this deadly average. The amount of people actually physically harmed by police, to say nothing of the millions who are left with mental scars, extorted through fines and tickets, killed as bystanders in high speed chases, or who have been sexually assaulted, is of course much higher. According to a report released in 2015:

In 2012, there were an estimated 12.3 million arrests, around 2.8 million stop and searches, as well as around 1 million traffic stops. American police officers killed or injured more than 55,000 people during “legal interventions” in 2012, according to damning new research on excessive police force. During these incidents, US police fatally injured an estimated 1,000 people.

Another 54,300 required hospital treatment for their injuries. The numbers show that members of ethnic minorities were much more likely to be victim to injury at the hands of law enforcement. Black people, Native Americans and Hispanics were found to have higher stop and search and arrest rates per 10,000 of the population than white people and Asians.

These are numbers that overall are holding steady. According to Killed by Police, from May 1st 2013 until December 31st, 776 people were killed by law enforcement. In 2014, 1,111 people. In 2015, 1,208. Combined with the 1,152 in 2016 and the already 12 killed in 2017, that’s 4,259 people who have been killed since May 1st 2013.

After 8 years under a Democratic Administration, the police who are now ready to be handed over to Donald Trump are more militarized, more equipped, more powerful, more networked in with federal authorities, and more deadly than ever. Despite all of the lip service that has been paid by politicians and the Left to ‘Black Lives Matter,’ as well as the cosmetic changes implemented by the State such as body cameras, the only thing that has changed since the Ferguson Insurrection is that the revolt against the police has become more generalized, and moreover hasn’t fucking stopped. Meanwhile, the Left has only attempted to force the movement back into policy making and the Democratic Party.

If we want an end to one of the most basic functions of a immense political apparatus based on violence to stop being violent, then we have to start talking about ending that very system.

Keep the Pressure On

In the wake of mass upheaval and violent resistance to the police from Ferguson, to Oakland, to Baltimore, the Obama Administration tried in vain to placate people by offering up lip service about racism and implemented cosmetic changes, while at the same time, pumped millions into militarizing local police departments and helped facilitate the wholesale spying on of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But despite the potential recuperation of Black Lives Matter back into politics, the black insurrectionary wave of action against policing in the US hasn’t stopped. In 2016, we again saw law scale uprisings across the US in major cities in the wake of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Then, in Charlotte, North Carolina, people again rose up in response to the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. In the wake of these rebellions, a series of ‘police free’ occupations began in Chicago and New York, which clearly articulated anti-police and abolitionist politics.

Thus, in 2016 we saw the break between the reformist, non-profit based, and policy oriented Black Lives Matter movement and the revolutionary, radical, and abolitionist Black Liberation formations which attempted to push the movement forward. As the #LetUsBreatheCollective wrote:

The Freedom Square occupation was a laboratory for the politics of abolition. We were building what we’re in favor of, not protesting what we’re opposed to. Organizers had the opportunity to co-create a new society within the shell of the old, a world where it was easier for people to share their gifts without intimidation. It was a project of liberation…

In this spirit, just weeks before Trump is set to take office, a wave of community assemblies have been formed from Seattle, Washington to Durham, and North Carolina, with the expressed purpose of beginning to build a counter-power to the State. These experiments show an intelligence to what we have learned the hard way over the last few years in a wide variety of social movements and struggles – working within the State, does not work. 

Accounting for the Police ‘Accountability’ Movement

The Black Lives Matter movement, which in itself is made up of a wide variety of organizations and groups, in the last year has put forward a variety of policy change proposals. These include ‘Campaign Zero‘ (released in the summer of 2015) and the Movement for Black Lives platform entitled, A Vision for Black LivesAs a recent article by Juan Cruz Ferre on LeftVoice wrote:

The platform is a comprehensive analysis regarding the different forms of institutionalized racism Black people in particular are subjected to. However, some of the political proposals lead the movement out of the streets and back into the system through the non-profit industrial complex.

The M4BL and BLM in particular have grown [as movements] because of the demonstrated unwillingness to bow to “respectability politics”: the rejection of the notion that the fight against police murder should only take place in constrained, legal arenas of struggle. By turning away from the call to action, the M4BL appears to acquiesce to the need for “pragmatic” solutions. We can only expect a concerted effort from the interested parties (funders, nonprofit managers backing the platform, foundations) to harness a movement that has been explosive, disruptive and unpredictable; to channel it through the cooling mechanisms of petitioning, letter-writing to Congress and lobbying.

We may ask ourselves, how did a platform of a movement that swept the streets throughout the US become a set of policy briefs meant to lobby Congress? The undersigned names and organizational affiliations give us a hint: most belong to the world of nonprofits, many are sponsored by the Ford Foundation, and other capitalist funders.

There is plenty of lip service to opposing capitalism, but how much challenge is really being made when the same organizations are accepting money from millionaire capitalists and billion-dollar corporations?

This “work within the system” approach that focuses on policy changes, which currently have done nothing to stem the tide of police killings, is counterpoised against others from within the Black Liberation movement which support mass resistance to the police and the current regime, no matter who is president. In an interview by Sarah Lazare with Kali Akuno of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement entitled, Here’s How We Prepare to Ungovernable in 2017, he stated:

We cannot and should not legitimize the transfer of authority to a right-wing populist who has neo-fascist orientations. We shouldn’t legitimize that rule in any form or fashion. We need to build a program of being ungovernable. We are not going to legitimize this regime, and we are going to try to draw a deeper level of criticism to the entire system. If Trump and Clinton were the best the system could offer, there is something wrong with the system. There always has been. We need to start envisioning what kind of future we want and need.

Lazare goes on to write in the article:

Strategies for large-scale disobedience should be buttressed by local plans that simultaneously prepare us for survival and orient us towards social transformation, [Akuno] argued. “[We’re] in the midst of a pivot that we’re calling, ‘Build and Fight,’” said Akuno, explaining that the initiative is premised on the assumption that “the left’s infrastructure domestically and internationally is profoundly weak. There needs to be a building piece in our view. This has to be a primary focus, and we want to build something that leans in an anti-capitalist orientation…”

This position of living and fighting, and the creation of infrastructure that can not only aid in struggle but also begin to push us toward a different way of life is currently growing across the US, and all in the in the face of a dying electoral and institutional Left.

The Growth of Autonomous Assemblies

As we speak, autonomous assemblies are popping up across various cities in the United States, all aimed at building a counter-power to the political and economic regime. While the popular assemblies such as in Occupy that touched tens of thousands of people, are not new, what is new is that these assemblies are being organized in order to carry out specific tasks and fulfil various needs: from defense, to community organizing, to medical care. As a recent article from Workers Assemble wrote:

Across the country, we’re seeing massive demonstrations of resistance against the threat of Trump’s looming regime in the form of grassroots municipal anarchism: community members and neighbors across Portland have organized for reading groups, anarchist assemblies and the city-wide Portland Assembly throughout the month of January;every district within Seattle is forming a Neighborhood Action Council and anarchists in the city have called for a day of city-wide autonomous direct actions in resistance and protest against Trump’s inauguration and his agenda; chapters of the Democratic Confederalist Union of America have formed in Austin and Dallas TX, Huntsville AL, and in Wisconsin.

These are only some examples, as other assemblies are springing up in a wide variety of cities, while other groups are organizing self-defense programs, offering trainings, gathering resources, and holding discussions about how to move forward in the coming terrain.*

All of this activity points to the understanding that not only is the authority of the State illegitimate, but that it is also necessary to build a counter power to it in order to create new worlds outside of its influence and control.

Blockade the Ability of the State to Govern

To fight for a world without the police is to fight for a world without the State. 

We must push back against those that would pull our struggles back into politics, back into policy, into any political party, and instead focus our efforts into building power and autonomy within our own communities. We should push the current assemblies as far as they can go; and not so that they become mini-governments in themselves as some proclaim, but instead so that they become centers of counter-power where people can begin to come together to organize themselves to run their own lives. These formations need to grow and expand, replacing the bureaucratic and State forms that currently rule over us. At the same time, such as was done within Occupy Oakland, we must draw a line through all of these assemblies that is both abolitionist and anti-police. We should push to not allow the police to enter our spaces, our movements, our struggles, and ultimately, our neighborhoods. Above all, we should be focused on the abolition of police and prisons, not accountability of these institutions. Moreover, we shouldn’t expect that these systems can be done away with as long as the State still exists.

Furthermore, we must continue to push for the creation of police free zones, not only in moments of riot and rupture, but also in the territories that we take through autonomous action. As some comrades in Carbondale wrote:

We have the impression that the current tactical menu (freeway blockades and generally-pacified protest marches) actually fall short of what makes sense to people right now. Both on social media, in everyday encounters we’ve had, as well as in recent demonstrations among some of the newer Black activist cadres, folks right now seem to be much more interested in talking about the abolition of police than its reform or ‘community control.’ We see this as a significant ‘ideological’ development (to speak loosely) that is encouraging, but which has so far failed to have any material consequences at the level of new practices. If we don’t want ‘better policing’ but rather to have police out of our lives, what sorts of experiments can respond to this collective need? What does it mean to give this theoretical and effective destitution of the police a practical face, one that corresponds to our currently low levels of material organization? This is the question that the current cycle of struggle is attempting to ask, and it’s one that calls for a practical answer.

To begin to remove the State from our lives, and by that extension, the police, means many things and can take on many forms. Much of these forms are practices which are already taking place. It means forming self-defense committees to stop attacks by the far-Right and setting up ‘underground railroads’ in the case of political repression. It means taking out surveillance cameras wherever they are. It means forming real neighborhood associations that can confront everything from anti-social behavior to gentrification; solving problems on a direct level instead of relying on some outside power or contrived authority. It means pushing the potential of riots, demonstrations, occupations, and revolts as far as they can go; setting up police free zones along with new forms of coordination, defense, decision making, and resource gathering.

If we wish to see and end to the daily mechanized murder of thousands of people, then we need to destroy what lies at the heart of the police, the State, which is the very institution that they are designed to protect.

* For a list of events, go here.

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