When confronted with the idea that the modern police force is an oppressive institution, many people have responses along the lines of “… But not all cops are bad! There are a lot of good cops who are trying their best to keep us safe, and the actions of a few dirty cops give them all a bad name“.
However, there is no such thing as a good cop.
There are two simple reasons that we can say that every cop is a “bad cop”:
1) Large numbers of cops beat people, shoot people, rape people, recklessly drive, steal things, fabricate evidence, intimidate the public, and a million other crimes and the so-called “good cops” do nothing about it. This is not something that is happening in a few isolated cases. Police violence is a daily occurrence in the U.S. Cops see their fellow officers harming innocent people, and still choose to side with the people who are doing it — they are thus complicit in all of the actions of these “bad cops” who they work with.
2) Cops are tasked with upholding the law – it’s their job. Even if they actually do this, the laws themselves are fundamentally unjust. “Upholding the law” means destroying immigrant families, locking people in prison for possession of illegal substances, protecting the property of the rich, etc. That is, even a hypothetical cop that never does anything “illegal” (and I think it’s questionable whether they actually exist) is still enforcing unjust laws – they are the enforcers of state-sanctioned oppression and defenders of the rich.
Don’t buy into the myth of the “good cop” – they don’t exist.
Decolonization is always a violent phenomenon … Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content. … If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the wellknown words: “The last shall be first and the first last.” Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. That is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful.
The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.
You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence. …
During the period of decolonization, the natives’ reason is appealed to. He is offered definite values, he is told frequently that decolonization need not mean regression, and that he must put his trust in qualities which are welltried, solid, and highly esteemed. But it so happens that when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife–or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him. In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values. In the period of decolonization, the colonized masses mock at these very values, insult them, and vomit them up. …
Now what we must never forget is that the immense majority of colonized peoples is oblivious to these problems. For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with the dignity of the human individual: for that human individual has never heard tell of it. All that the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him. As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence–in a word, to put him out of the picture. The wellknown principle that all men are equal will be illustrated in the colonies from the moment that the native claims that he is the equal of the settler. One step more, and he is ready to fight to be more than the settler. In fact, he has already decided to eject him and to take his place; as we see it, it is a whole material and moral universe which is breaking up. …
Thus the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner. All the new, revolutionary assurance of the native stems from it. For if, in fact, my life is worth as much as the settler’s, his glance no longer shrivels me up nor freezes me, and his voice no longer turns me into stone. I am no longer on tenterhooks in his presence; in fact, I don’t give a damn for him. Not only does his presence no longer trouble me, but I am already preparing such efficient ambushes for him that soon there will be no way out but that of flight. …
All the Mediterranean values–the triumph of the human individual, of clarity, and of beauty–become lifeless, colorless knickknacks. All those speeches seem like collections of dead words; those values which seemed to uplift the soul are revealed as worthless, simply because they have nothing to do with the concrete conflict in which the people is engaged. Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend–these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on. The native intellectual takes part, in a sort of auto-da-fé, in the destruction of all his idols: egoism, recrimination that springs from pride, and the childish stupidity of those who always want to have the last word. Such a colonized intellectual, dusted over by colonial culture, will in the same way discover the substance of village assemblies, the cohesion of people’s committees, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of local meetings and groupments. Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred–or everyone will be saved. …
What are the forces which in the colonial period open up new outlets and engender new aims for the violence of colonized peoples? In the first place there are the political parties and the intellectual or commercial elites. Now, the characteristic feature of certain political structures is that they proclaim abstract principles but refrain from issuing definite commands. The entire action of these nationalist political parties during the colonial period is action of the electoral type: a string of philosophicopolitical dissertations on the themes of the rights of peoples to self-determination, the rights of man to freedom from hunger and human dignity, and the unceasing affirmation of the principle: “One man, one vote.” The national political parties never lay stress upon the necessity of a trial of armed strength, for the good reason that their objective is not the radical overthrowing of the system. Pacifists and legalists, they are in fact partisans of order, the new order–but to the colonialist bourgeoisie they put bluntly enough the demand which to them is the main one: “Give us more power.” On the specific question of violence, the elite are ambiguous. They are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes. When the nationalist political leaders say something, they make quite clear that they do not really think it.
This characteristic on the part of the nationalist political parties should be interpreted in the light both of the make-up of their leaders and the nature of their followings. The rank-and-file of a nationalist party is urban. The workers, primary schoolteachers, artisans, and small shopkeepers who have begun to profit–at a discount, to be sure–from the colonial setup, have special interests at heart. What this sort of following demands is the betterment of their particular lot: increased salaries, for example. The dialogue between these political parties and colonialism is never broken off. Improvements are discussed, such as full electoral representation, the liberty of the press, and liberty of association. Reforms are debated. Thus it need not astonish anyone to notice that a large number of natives are militant members of the branches of political parties which stem from the mother country. These natives fight under an abstract watchword: “Government by the workers,” and they forget that in their country it should be nationalist watchwords which are first in the field. The native intellectual has clothed his aggressiveness in his barely veiled desire to assimilate himself to the colonial world. He has used his aggressiveness to serve his own individual interests.
Thus there is very easily brought into being a kind of class of affranchised slaves, or slaves who are individually free. What the intellectual demands is the right to multiply the emancipated, and the opportunity to organize a genuine class of emancipated citizens. On the other hand, the mass of the people have no intention of standing by and watching individuals increase their chances of success. What they demand is not the settler’s position of status, but the settler’s place. The immense majority of natives want the settler’s farm. For them, there is no question of entering into competition with the settler. They want to take his place.
The peasantry is systematically disregarded for the most part by the propaganda put out by the nationalist parties. And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and that of force first and foremost. When in 1956, after the capitulation of Monsieur Guy Mollet to the settlers in Algeria, the Front de Libération Nationale, in a famous leaflet, stated that colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat, no Algerian really found these terms too violent. The leaflet only expressed what every Algerian felt at heart: colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.
Anti-Black racism, always just beneath the surface of polite racial discourse in the U.S., has exploded in reaction to the resistance of black youth to another brutal murder by the agents of this racist, settler-colonialist state. With the resistance, the focus shifted from the brutal murder of Freddie Gray and the systematic state violence that historically has been deployed to control and contain the black population in the colonized urban zones of North America, to the forms of resistance by African Americans to the trauma of ongoing state violence.
The narrative being advanced by corporate media spokespeople gives the impression that the resistance has no rational basis. The impression being established is that this is just another manifestation of the irrationality of non-European people – in particular, Black people – and how they are prone to violence. This is the classic colonial projection employed by all white supremacist settler states, from the U.S., to South Africa and Israel.
The accompanying narrative is that any kind of resistance that does not fit the narrow definition of “non-violent” resistance is illegitimate violence and, therefore, counter-productive because – “violence doesn’t accomplish anything.” Not only does this position falsely equates resistance to oppression as being morally equivalent to the violence of the oppressor, it also attempts to erase the role of violence as being fundamental to the U.S. colonial project.
The history of colonial conquest saw the U.S. settler state shoot and murdered its’ way across the land mass of what became the U.S. in the process of stealing indigenous land to expand the racist White republic from “sea to shining sea.” And the marginalization of the role of violence certainly does not reflect the values of the Obama administration that dutifully implements the bi-partisan dictates of the U.S. strategy of full spectrum dominance that privileges military power and oppressive violence to protect and advance U.S. global supremacy. The destruction of Libya; the reinvasion of Iraq; the civil war in Syria; Obama’s continued war in Afghanistan; the pathological assault by Israel on Palestinians in Gaza and the U.S. supported attack on Yemen by the Saudi dictatorship, are just a few of the horrific consequences of this criminal doctrine.
Race and oppressive violence has always been at the center of the racist colonial project that is the U.S. It is only when the oppressed resist — when we decide, like Malcolm X said, that we must fight for our human rights — that we are counseled to be like Dr. King, including by war mongers like Barack Obama. However, resistance to oppression is a right that the oppressed claim for themselves. It does not matter if it is sanctioned by the oppressor state, because that state has no legitimacy.
No rational person exalts violence and the loss of life. But violence is structured into the everyday institutional practices of all oppressive societies. It is the deliberate de-humanization of the person in order to turn them into a ‘thing’ — a process Dr. King called “thing-afication.” It is a necessary process for the oppressor in order to more effectively control and exploit. Resistance, informed by the conscious understanding of the equal humanity of all people, reverses this process of de-humanization. Struggle and resistance are the highest expressions of the collective demand for people-centered human rights – human rights defined and in the service of the people and not governments and middle-class lawyers.
That resistance may look chaotic at this point – spontaneous resistance almost always looks like that. But since the internal logic of neoliberal capital is incapable of resolving the contradiction that it created, expect more repression and more resistance that will eventually take a higher form of organization and permanence. In the meantime, we are watching to see who aligns with us or the racist state.
The contradictions of the colonial/capitalist system in its current expression of neoliberalism have obstructed the creation of decent, humane societies in which all people are valued and have democratic and human rights. What we are witnessing in the U.S. is a confirmation that neoliberal capitalism has created what Chris Hedges called “sacrificial zones” in which large numbers of black and Latino people have been confined and written off as disposable by the system. It is in those zones that we find the escalation of repressive violence by the militarized police forces. And it is in those zones where the people are deciding to fight back and take control of their communities and lives.
These are defining times for all those who give verbal support to anti-racist struggles and transformative politics. For many of our young white comrades, people of color and even some black ones who were too young to have lived through the last period of intensified struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s and have not understood the centrality of African American resistance to the historical social struggles in the U.S., it may be a little disconcerting to see the emergence of resistance that is not dependent on and validated by white folks or anyone else.”
The repression will continue, and so will the resistance. The fact that the resistance emerged in a so-called black city provides some complications, but those are rich and welcoming because they provide an opportunity to highlight one of the defining elements that will serve as a line of demarcation in the African American community – the issue of class. We are going to see a vicious ideological assault by the black middle class, probably led by their champion – Barack Obama – over the next few days. Yet the events over the last year are making it more difficult for these middle-class forces to distort and confuse the issue of their class collaboration with the white supremacist capitalist/colonialist patriarchy. The battle lines are being drawn; the only question that people must ask themselves is which side they’ll be on.
A father holds the body of his child as South Vietnamese Army Rangers look down from their armored vehicle on March 19, 1964. The child was killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border. (Horst Faas/AP)
“Of all our institutions public education is the most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.”
–Napoleon Bonaparte, on the importance of state-controlled public schooling as a form of mass indoctrination
As a nation, we fail to comprehend Black political strategy in much the same way we fail to recognize the value of Black life.
We see ghettos and crime and absent parents where we should see communities actively struggling against mental health crises and premeditated economic exploitation. And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.
I’m overwhelmed by the pervasive slandering of protesters in Baltimore this weekend for not remaining peaceful. The bad-apple rhetoric would have us believe that most Baltimore protesters are demonstrating the right way—as is their constitutional right—and only a few are disrupting the peace, giving the movement a bad name.
This spin should be disregarded, first because of the virtual media blackout of any of the action happening on the ground, particularly over the weekend. Equally, it makes no sense to cite the Constitution in any demonstration for Black civil rights (that document was not written about us, remember?), but certainly not one organized specifically to call attention to the fact that the state breaks its own laws with regard to the oppressed on a nearly constant basis.
But there is an even bigger problem. Referring to Black Lives Matter protests, as well as organic responses to police and state violence as “non-violent” or “peaceful” erases the actual climate in which these movements are acting, the militant strategies that have rendered them effective, and the long history of riots and direct action on which they are built.
I do not advocate non-violence—particularly in a moment like the one we currently face. In the spirit and words of militant Black and Brown feminist movements from around the globe, I believe it is crucial that we see non-violence as a tactic, not a philosophy.
Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege. When those on the outside of struggle—the white, the wealthy, the straight, the able-bodied, the masculine—have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care, are not invested, are not going to step in the line of fire to defend the oppressed, this is a futile political strategy. It not only fails to meet the needs of the community, but actually puts oppressed people in further danger of violence.
Militance is about direct action which defends our communities from violence. It is about responses which meet the political goals of our communities in the moment, and deal with the repercussions as they come. It is about saying no, firmly drawing and holding boundaries, demanding the return of stolen resources. And from Queer Liberation and Black Power to centuries-old movements for Native sovereignty and anti-colonialism, it is how virtually all of our oppressed movements were sparked, and has arguably gained us the only real political victories we’ve had under the rule of empire.
We need to clarify what we mean by terms like “violence” and “peaceful.” Because, to be clear, violence is beating, harassing, tazing, assaulting and shooting Black, trans, immigrant, women, and queer people, and that is the reality many of us are dealing with daily. Telling someone to be peaceful and shaming their militance not only lacks a nuanced and historical political understanding, it is literally a deadly and irresponsible demand.
The political goals of rioters in Baltimore are not unclear—just as they were not unclear when poor, Black people rioted in Ferguson last fall. When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.
Black people know this, and have employed these tactics for a very, very long time. Calling them uncivilized, and encouraging them to mind the Constitution is racist, and as an argument fails to ground itself not only in the violent political reality in which Black people find themselves, but also in our centuries-long tradition of resistance, one that has taught effective strategies for militance and direct action to virtually every other current movement for justice.
And while I don’t believe that every protester involved in attacking police cars and corporate storefronts had the same philosophy, or did what they did for the same reasons, it cannot be discounted that when there is a larger national outcry in defense of plate-glass windows and car doors than for Black young people, a point is being made. When there is more concern for white sports fans in the vicinity of a riot than the Black people facing off with police, there is mounting justification for the rage and pain of Black communities in this country.
Acknowledging all of this, I do think events this weekend in Baltimore raise important questions for future direct and militant action in all of our movements. In addition to articulating our goals, crafting our messaging and type of action, we need to think carefully about what the longer term results of militant action might potentially be. Strategies I might suggest, and important questions I think we should try and answer as we plan or find ourselves involved in political actions are these:
Are we harming state and private property, or are we harming people, communities and natural resources? Is the result of our action disrupting state and corporate violence, or creating collateral damage that more oppressed people will have to deal with (i.e., Black families and business owners, cleaning staff, etc.)? Are we mimicking state violence by harming people and the environment, or are we harming state property in ways that can stop or slow violence? Are we demonizing systems or people?
Who is in the vicinity? Are we doing harm to people around us as we act? Is there a possibility of violence for those who are not the intended targets of our action? Are we forcing people to be involved in an action who many not want to be, or who are not ready?
Who is involved in the action? Are people involved in our action consensually, or simply because they are in the vicinity? Have we created ways for people of all abilities who may not want to be present to leave? Are we being strategic about location and placement of bodies? If there are violent repercussions for our actions, who will be facing them?
We should attempt to answer as many of these questions as possible before action occurs, in the planning stages if possible. We also need backup plans and options for changing our actions in the moment if any of the agreed-upon conditions are not the same when it comes time to act.
I rolled my eyes when inquiries in Ferguson “shockingly” revealed racist emails sent throughout local government, including higher-ups in the Police Department. I think many of us knew the inquiry of virtually any police department would yield almost identical findings. The riots in Baltimore have many drawing parallels between policy and conduct in both cities now. What kind of action brought to light for the less affected what Black people have always known? What kinds of actions will it take to make it widely understood that all policing is racist terror, and justice can only come with its permanent abolition?
Black power, Queer power, power to Baltimore, and to all oppressed people who know what time it is.
On February 24, 2013, the citizens of the municipality of Tecalpatepec, in the heart of the Tierra Caliente region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, rose up in armed resistance against the Caballeros Templarios [Knights Templar] cartel. Sick of the violence, the abuses and the indifference and complicity with which the authorities were treating the narcotraffickers, the citizens decided to solve the problems that none of the three levels of government: municipal, state and federal, had dared to confront up to that date. The Autodefensas [Self-Defenses] of Michoacán had been born.
The news spread quickly, and in fewer than three months the municipalities of Buenavista Tomatlán, Coalcomán de Vásquez Pallares and Apatzingán de la Constitución, members of the regions of Tierra Caliente and Sierra-Costa also rose up. 2013 was, on the side of the citizens, a year of confrontations against the criminals; on the side of the governments, on the other hand, it was a year of reflection about the possible solutions to this crisis of legitimacy, which put in doubt nothing less than the monopoly of the State over violence.
In January of 2014, after a period of relative calm, the Self-Defense groups rose up again. The problem that the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, had tried to ignore in 2013 re-emerged in an even more urgent way: the fever of the armed fight had spread in the whole area and the municipalities of Meseta Purépecha, in the mountains [Sierra] and the coast [Costa]. Conscious that the armed movement could not be stopped in any way, the federal government launched a series of means to disarticulate it from within: it created a register for citizens who intended to continue fighting the Templars and detained all those who refused to register themselves in this list; it named a special Commissioner for the pacification of the State, Alfred Castillo, an obscure functionary who had never been involved in “Michoacán issues;” it founded a new police body, the Rural Forces, with the objective of coopting the armed citizens, giving them uniforms, and submitting them to the command of the State.
In mid-December, 2014, for the third time, an ample number of “legitimate” Self-Defenses rose up again and, with more than 30 highway blockades, manifested their disagreement with the governmental management of the crisis, demanding the liberation of the more than 400 members of the Self-Defenses that still remain in prison, the exit Commissioner Castillo and the extinction of the Rural Forces, which had soon revealed itself to be a perfect shelter for those ex-Templars intending to continue committing crimes and abuses, only this time with uniforms and permission to carry guns. A little more than a month later, the federal government satisfied two of these three petitions. Never the less, it was done in a way that, for the zillionth time, confirmed to the citizens of this region, the uselessness of turning to the authorities to solve their problems.
If, by the end of December, the Rural Forces had effectively disappeared, it wasn’t because there was an end to the assassinations, massacres and disappearances: according to the statistics of the Secretary of the Government, Michoacán in 2014 continued to occupy the second highest rate of homicides, with 2,634 cases, and was confirmed as one of the 10 states with the highest rates of kidnapping (121 cases) and extortion (275 cases). On the contrary, the Rural Forces was eliminated to permit that the creation of the “sole command,” a pillar of a pending police reform dating from Felipe Calderon’s “War On Narcotraffic” and inherited by Enrique Peña Nieto. The reform hopes to do away with the country’s 1,800 municipal police departments, putting them under the direct control of the state police of each region. The disrepute of many state police entities, like their proven participation in various crimes, causes the population to see the disintegration of the Rural Forces and the activation of “sole command” only as a subsequent re-structuring of special interests and forces in the countryside. […]