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Jun 2, 21

Washington Post Echoes Trump in Falsely Claiming Protests Connected to Rise in Gun Violence

by Bjorn L. with It’s Going Down

On, May 31, 2021, the Washington Post published an incredibly dishonest, defamatory and reactionary smear piece by a reporter named Scott Wilson with the headline: “Anarchists and an increase in crime hijack Portland’s social justice movement.” The entire framing, starting with the headline itself (which was predictably amplified by supposedly high-minded, “nuanced” reactionaries like Jonathan Chait and Glenn Greenwald), is that anarchist resistance is in some way connected to the city’s recent increase in gun violence, which isn’t directly supported (nor directly claimed) anywhere in the article. In reality, as researchers have pointed out for years, the rise in gun violence is directly related to systemic white supremacy and poverty created by capitalism – all things which anarchists exist to oppose.

This isn’t even getting into Wilson’s direct claim that anarchists—who have been active in the Pacific Northwest region in a variety of social movements throughout the decades, have somehow “hijacked” (subliminal terrorism association) “legitimate” resistance (read: non-establishment-threatening, non-Democratic Party aligned, non-profit ordained and managed) over the past year. This same false claim has been repeated ad nauseam by Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and other neoliberal opinion columnists.

Last year, Farah Stockman of The New York Times, after reaching out to local activists who pushed back against her narrative, used an out of town far-Right conspiracy theorist, Jeremy Lee Quinn, a former YouTube comedian, as the main source to push false conspiracy theories about anarchists in Portland supposedly derailing the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the opinion piece appeared, Quinn has gone on to push further conspiracies about the attempted pro-Trump coup on January 6th, which he attended and filmed. Quinn claims that the 6th was partially instigated by ‘Antifa’ and inspired by “anarcho black bloc tactics which have origins in West Berlin in 1982 & Seattle 1999.” In numerous editorials on far-Right websites, Quinn would downplay the violence on January 6th, along with the role of far-Right, militia, and white nationalist groups in the storming of the capitol, writing: “Are these fringe outliers truly representative of the wider mass? We could ask the same of the left.” Such conspiratorial talking points have gone on to form the backbone of the Republicans opposition to an inquiry into the January 6th attempted coup, while Trumpian forces openly call for a military dictatorship.

Although one would hardly know it from the lack of coverage in the neoliberal press, anarchists have been involved in everything from organizing the first labor unions in fast-food restaurants in the area, providing mutual aid in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and to those displaced by recent fires, fighting to save old-growth forests, and being on the frontlines of struggles against the far-Right and ICE. This is to say nothing of the dedication that anarchists – in particular young folks, have had in the face of non-stop police and State violence that has led to multiple hospitalizations, activists disappeared by federal troops, and people being exposed to chemical and projectile weapons on a mass scale. Is it any wonder why in the aftermath of the Derick Chauvin trial, Rodney Floyd, the brother of George Floyd thanked protesters in Portland specifically for demonstrating non-stop; acknowledging that this pressure on the street pushed the State to make concessions.

Further, Wilson directly claims that anarchists in Portland—and implies that anarchists more broadly—are “mostly White” (capitalization: the Post’s). Their source on this? Literally just Portland’s mayor and chief of police, both of whom are highly opposed to and have been embarrassed by Portland anarchists’ morally consistent direct resistance against police brutality, white supremacists and fascism over past decades.

This is willful erasure of the many, many Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian anarchists (and direct resisters more broadly) in Portland and throughout the Americas and the world—and a well-worn establishment smear tactic against dissidents, closely related to that of so-called “outside agitators,” which was frequently used to try to discredit the Civil Rights movement, dismiss the agency of non-white people, and discourage multi-racial solidarity.

Wilson’s piece also tries to link the push by some activists to defund the police with an increase in gun violence, when data from cities across the US over the past year shows that whether a given city increased or decreased police spending, this had no direct correlation to whether violent crime increased or decreased or to what extent.

As Salon wrote:

…[D]ata shows that Republican-led cities and even those that increased police budgets have experienced similar spikes…data compiled by crime analyst Jeff Asher from 51 cities shows that the murder rate in Democratic-led cities increased 36.2% through the fall, while the murder rate in Republican-led cities spiked by a virtually identical 35.6%.

Homicides were already on the rise by the time protests erupted in late May. A preliminary FBI report found that homicides were up by about 15% between January and June. A report from the Council on Criminal Justice showed that homicides were up 25% in 27 major cities between April and June from the previous three years. The latter report did find a brief spike in homicides immediately following the protests, as officers pulled back patrols or were reassigned to police protests, took extended leave or early retirement, and solved far fewer crimes. But that was not a significant factor overall, ultimately amounting to “fewer than one additional death in each [of the cities tracked]” per day, with most of the increase taking place in Chicago, wrote Weihua Li, a data fellow at The Marshall Project. In fact, Chicago had increased its police budget in eight consecutive years ahead of the spike and has nearly tripled its per capita police spending over the last six decades. Homicides remained far higher than in the past even after protests died down by the fall.

Beyond the protests, many critics of the “defund the police” movement have tried to paint a straight line from police budget cuts in certain cities to the rise in murders. But few cities have actually cut their police budgets to any significant degree. Only about a dozen of the roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. had reduced their police budgets by the fall. And many of the cities that did cut police budgets blamed revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic rather than demands from demonstrators.

Portland has real problems—gun violence is a real problem; its corrupt, racist, authoritarian police force and their two-faced enablers in its City Hall are real problems. But to smear anarchist resistance and the push to defund the police as contributing to that (without data) and to attempt to erase non-white anarchists in the process is particularly noxious. Shame on the Post for this.

Speaking of data, as the New York Times has reported, the major factors behind the increase in gun violence, (which soared well before ‘Defund the Police’ was a rallying cry), and has been exacerbated since the start of the pandemic, are the exact same forces of structural white supremacy and capitalist inequality and exploitation that anarchists have been fighting for centuries:

Experts told The Times that the coronavirus has compounded the socioeconomic stressors that often give rise to gun violence, including poverty, unemployment, housing instability and hunger. In Kansas City, for example, my colleagues have reported that many recent shootings have seemingly had no clear rationale, often arising from petty arguments that devolve into violence. In many cases, economic hardship appeared to play a role. “The pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of gun violence,” Michael Sean Spence, policy and implementation director at the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety, told The Times. “What we’re seeing is almost a perfect storm.”

To go even deeper, in an interview with Boston University, professor Jonathan Jay stated:

…[T]he gun homicide rate in US cities is likely to have increased by 35 to 40 percent from 2019 to 2020, which would be the biggest single-year increase on record. This was staggering, but we didn’t see it getting widespread attention outside of the communities most directly affected, predominantly people of color, who have suffered most during COVID-19. Resources and attention are critical because we have a pretty good toolbox of interventions for curbing gun violence.

Those kinds of services have fallen off during the pandemic, which likely explains part of the violence rise. But we also need to be able to see how gun violence is highly concentrated in neighborhoods with high rates of economic deprivation, trauma associated with past violence and now COVID, and poor access to resources. They’re also the most physically deteriorated and least conducive to community-building in shared spaces. We need to see that it’s not a coincidence that all of these burdens fall overwhelmingly on people of color, especially Black people. Our cities are racially segregated from decades of public policy that overtly and covertly aimed to maintain white dominance.

Simply stated: the rise in gun violence predates both the pandemic and the George Floyd uprising – the fact that neoliberal legacy media has been ignoring it for years is of course not surprising, but the attempt to link it to anarchists and social movements for grassroots change; forces which are attempting to address the very inequalities leading to the rise in such violence, is clearly part of an organized smear campaign against social movements from below that would make grifters like Alex Jones on the conspiratorial Right beam with envy.

Not only are Portland anarchists and other assorted direct-action activists not responsible for the senseless violence and suffering in their city or its recent increase, they have consistently—physically and intellectually—been on the front lines fighting against it, in Portland and beyond. It’s for this reason that they are targeted: in the form of police brutality, denunciations from upper-crust bureaucrats, and the outright lies of every pundit with a political axe to grind that seeks to grease the wheels of State repression.

photo: David von Diemar via Unsplash

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