ferguson fighting fear with fire:
a compilation …
(2014 – 15)
For updates scroll down the chronology
“Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”
– T-Bone Slim
“Black Lives Matter” disruption, 26th July 2015
“The experiences and information are outright overwhelming. I’m unable to synthesize all of it or really understand the gravity of what I’m living through. And I think this is true of everyone I know. It doesn’t paralyze us at all. We are just in this swirling cauldron and we have little idea of what it looks like from the outside.”
(written November 28th)
First published: 11/9/14 – but updated all the time to include the latest information (chronology begins in August – so scroll down for latest information)
Much of what appears here has appeared already on my News of Opposition page, even though some of the reflections have been added to or modified. However, it also has some other stuff: most notably a discussion between X of St.Louis and Y of South Africa. Plus something on the mini-riot on July 14th, 2013 in St.Louis after the release of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer. Plus various links to interesting texts about Ferguson, though I should add, maybe obviously, that I don’t always agree with them in their entirety. The bits I’ve written here on this page are, like in this paragraph, in this non-italic font.
I shall add in the comments boxes at the bottom any additional things that occur to me or any comments people might like to send in (assuming they’re not absolutely dogmatic). Though some slight modifications might be made to the text itself (e.g. correcting factual errors)
For a list of killings by cops in the US, click here. And you can click here to follow the streaming of events in or about Ferguson (includes lots of mainstream crap, though certainly not just that), this is my chronology of events, and comments, constantly updated where relevant:
Cop murders Mike Brown; cops leave body lying there for several hours, then desecrate makeshift memorial to him…independent witnesses confirm that Brown was surrendering when shot …peaceful demonstration, with crowds shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “We are Michael Brown”
Looting begins on second day (some occasionally intelligent, but mostly idiotic, comments on this thread here) “TV footage showed streams of people walking out of a liquor store carrying bottles of alcohol, and in some cases protesters were standing atop police cars or taunting officers who stood stoic, often in riot gear. Other witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Television footage showed windows busted out of a TV station van.” (more here and here) Lots of videos here…anarchist eyewitness account here (“Ferguson reportback”)… Philadelphia: cop substation tagged
Another St Louis eyewitness account (only on this site, so far):
“Thousands of people. Police lines a mile apart. For hours, they left us alone. After an initial confrontation with one line of cops (rocks, bottles) and 5 or 6 trapped cop cars running a gauntlet of angry kids, the gas station that reportedly called the cops on a boy for shoplifting was the first to go. What started as a mob rush on the store gave way to a slow-motion unreal atmosphere as word spread and people drove or walked up and helped themselves. Down the street, a liquor store, then a beauty supply store, etc. etc. Probably a dozen or so stores just in that stretch. Atmosphere was cordial. Smell of weed, people drinking in the street, smiling, cars cruising the stretch, playing loud music… but there was an edge, people were angry after all. Someone fired a gun into the air right next to me.
A white friend got hounded a few times by a group of black youth (but that sort of thing was the exception). By the time we left, the gas station was totally engulfed in flames. Others left the stretch and looted strip mall stores north of the police lines. Auto parts stores, Walmart, shoe stores, cell phone stores, a thrift shop.
The young people who “have no direction, no leadership” easily stole the night from the old guard of black nationalist leftists, ministers, and sympathetic politicians who appealed for calm earlier in the day at a protest at the police station. Also at that daytime protest, a younger faction of the New Black Panther Party members sang bizarre theatrical group songs and chanted “Black Power” and oftentimes rambled nonsensically about that devil rap music, the Moors, etc. It found little traction with others there. A black minister was shouted down as was the black leader of the County government at that daytime rally. The tension between the young and the old was clear at that point, and once it kicked off that night, there was no hope in recuperating it for any of those groups.
Along with the youth’s disconnection from (and disinterest in) the political world (including that of the tired 60s black nationalists), another interesting dynamic was that this was not an urban riot. It was a suburban riot. North County, where this took place, has seen waves of black folks migrate from the City over the past 20-25 years. Most of the North St. Louis suburbs (homes orginally built for 1950s white Americana) are majority black these days – and though there is a healthy dose of a Black middle class, most are poor, working class. So there’s no street grids, there’s strip malls and subdivisions. Subdivisions that over the last few days have been risky for police to cut through. So though the major four-lane strip mall-heavy streets seem impossible for people to control (Sunday night being the exception because of the sheer number of people – & the threat of gunfire aimed at the police), they are perfect for the style of smash-and-grab looting that occured outside the zone of rioting. Roll your cars up to the stores, smash windows, load the cars, get off the major arteries, and disappear into the subdivisions. Hell, a group of kids cut through a subdivision on foot, crossed railroad tracks and looted a shoe store in a strip mall where the police were staging their operations! I used to think the poor getting pushed to the suburbs, decreases density and decreases the chance of any social, collective resistance. I’m glad I was wrong.
Keeping my fingers crossed for it spreading… The initial night, people in the middle of the melee were already thinking about how all the police were here containing us and how other stores were wide open. Then stores 2 or 3 miles away got hit farther north in the suburbs. Last night 10-20 cars took part in a smash-and-grab in the city on the south side. And in the afternoon, a mob of kids seemingly tried to steal from an electronics store and a shoe store in an indoor mall in the wealthier suburbs to the west. It’s hard to tell how big this is when I’m in it. It feels big though, and hopefully other cities will see this is their chance too.
And finally, nobody with a loud mouth is on the side of what happened Sunday night, though to thousands who were there, it made perfect sense. The radio is hideous, the TV, preachers, the politicians, the internet… nobody is saying anything interesting or remotely thoughtful. It just doesn’t compute. I’ll be surprised if any of these youth are duped by a “leader” in the near future ”
The focus on the precise minutae of what happened or didn’t happen – whether Mike Brown reached for the cop’s gun, how many witnesses saw it or whatever – helps detract from the obvious: cops are there to protect and serve this system and the capitalist mass murderers (black or white) who profit from it. Which is why all that idiocy about getting some police accountability (e.g. the Anonymous video about the situation in Ferguson) is just so much reformist shit aimed to get people to yet again believe that they could control the cops through some bourgeois democratic crap. The abolition of the cops as a specialised form of social control involves abolishing the stupid society which needs these filth. To the question “who polices the police?” the answer should be – “the mass community of proletarians abolishing their enslaved situation” – ie no specialists-in-order.
Having said that, however, there are immediate things that anyone with some semblance of humanity should support – like looting QT and burning it probably had the support of most rebellious young people in St Louis, but other shops being looted were met with a lot of moralistic finger-wagging which merely shows how colonised people are with the ideology of exchange value that is inculcated in people as soon as they begin to watch TV. Looting implies mass communal direct power, unmediated by buying & selling: it is the necessary ‘chaos’ through which we must pass in order to organise the distribution of things on a rational and playful human basis. Theft, particularly mass theft, gives you the chance to re-invent the use of a thing beyond the resigned individuals’ normal submission to the insult of its market value the use to which the Economy demands the individual sacrifice himself to, for which degrading irrationality all the Property Laws are the tedious justification. As for the shop-keepers – if they identify with their present means of survival, they always always side with the perpetuators of their misery in the end, regardless of their colour – and black and white youth are beginning to recognise it. It’s not too difficult to see that behind the shopkeepers’ “May I be of any assistance sir?”, behind the “Thank you” and “Please” and the obligatory smile, lurk petty-minded shrivelled little tyrants, who think they’re free because they’re ‘their own boss’, content with their island of illusory dictatorship, where power is reduced to short-changing. However, historically, the non-employing petit-bourgeoisie has not always been on the side of the ruling class by any means (those who are bosses almost invariably are, however much they complain about the rulers). And times change – more and more people are forced into petit-bourgeois work by the system. But at the same time, it’s inevitable that they became a target for the poor – they always have been and always will until the abolition of poverty and of shops.
supermarkets of the future
The rumour on the internet is that it was QT that called the cops on Mike Brown for shoplifting – don’t yet know how true that is; and whilst the video apparently showing him nicking cigars has circulated everywhere curtesy of the cops, this apparently shows he paid:
Of course, whether he paid or not is irrelevant really, except insofar as it possibly shows how much the cop lie machine will go to justify themselves. From those who protect and serve the looters of the planet (and are almost invariably on the take themselves), killing someone for stealing a cigar or two merely indicates their priorities.
A personal account of what happened written by anti-statists (“an eye for an eye makes our masters blind”)…more clashes – rocks thrown at cops, tear gas and rubber bullets fired at crowds…video of young black guy supporting looting whilst QT smoulders in background
Another eyewitness account:
“ been busy… shopping and such…. good deals these days here in st. louis. Was out late last night. Lots of roads blocked off by police. Ended up in neighborhood trying to get to ground zero (burned out gas station) where crowds were gathered all day. Police cleared it out, before we got there, with tear gas, and rubber and wooden bullets. They pushed a bigger crowd south and a smaller one to the north and into the surrounding neighborhoods. We ended up on the north end – a line of riot cops occasionally firing pepperballs at people who got too close, people watching from their yards and in cars and on the street and sidewalk. a small crowd. The cop on the loudspeaker was responding to what people were saying in a conversational tone. “Go home,” someone yelled. They responded, “It’s simple. Everyone go home and then we’ll go home.” Someone reported someone asked “Can we go home?” They responded, “Maybe you shouldn’t have acted a fool” Later, some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles. Then the SWAT vehicle zoomed up and shot pepper balls right at us. We scattered into the neighborhood side street and eventually everyone trickled home.”
The free world in Ferguson
Sadly, riots do NOT spread from Ferguson to LA after this new cop murder there. More about this LA murder here
cops restrict air flight zone over Ferguson to keep media out (added 3/11/14)
More tear gas and arrests…left-liberal video constrasting cop attitudes with Nevada stand-off in April (also shows other stuff – eg massive amounts of tear gas)…“Unmediated Solidarity; Just Do It! Uncovering and Disrupting Police Disinfo in Ferguson and Other Flashpoints”: critical look at how cops spread disinformation about Ferguson riots
St Louis – cop sniper trying to decide which pretext he’ll use after he’s decided which teenage black guy to shoot
1st day of school in Ferguson district suspended till Monday in response to cop killing of Mike Brown, as top cop declares his fear of anarchists “Police Chief Thomas Jackson… said his fear is not of the understandably angry residents, but “the anarchists that are coming in, the people that don’t want healing, the people that just want to continue to fight.”
Democracy in action: protectors of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness defend their mine-resistant truck in Ferguson
Soft cop policing descends on Ferguson “Captain Ron Johnson …..refused to rule out using the military-style equipment that drew sharp criticism from the state’s senior senator, Claire McCaskill, and a plea for calm from Barack Obama, who said there was “no excuse” for excessive force by police. However he signalled his intent was to rid Ferguson’s streets of the teargas, rubber bullets and pepperballs that have been shot at dozens of demonstrators this week. “Before I came here today, I had all my troopers take their teargas masks off their belts,” he told reporters. As evening began several of the few police officers who were present were chatting with demonstrators and residents – an unthinkable sight over the past four nights.”
black and white unite and flight (from confronting the contradictions)
“Hey – step back with the riot shaming” ““Destroying ‘your own neighborhood’ won’t help.” I’m not sure how people who make this argument imagine ‘owning’ a neighborhood works, but I’ll try to break it down: we don’t own neighborhoods. Black businesses exist, it’s true. But the emancipation of impoverished communities is not measured in corner-store revenue. It’s not measured in minimum-wage jobs. And no, it’s especially not measured in how many black people are allowed to become police officers….insinuating that simply because all the white people left certain neighborhoods following desegregation doesn’t mean they are suddenly ‘ours’. This kind of de facto ‘self-determination’ is so short-sighted it makes me wonder how we can even talk about gentrification and segregation usefully if we think black people somehow ‘have all these neighborhoods’. We don’t have ghettos. Ghettos have us. Prisons have us. Sports teams own us. Record labels own us. We don’t have shit…..Police apologists: if you still think a few looted shops ‘distract from the message’, wait until you see the guillotines.”
The demonstration this weekend in LA because of another cop murder seems to have been the usual impotent display of useless moralising.
Ferguson graffiti: Good Cop replaces Bad Cop….?
The following eyewitness report was more a reflection on this one day, a reflection which proved to be overly-pessimistic:
“Haven’t been up there as much lately, but it seems like a chapter is over. The days of tame, but boisterous protests, followed by the nights of violence is over. The looting couldn’t sustain itself past Monday night. And it failed to really geographically spread (some orchestrated daytime marches downtown and in the suburb with all the government offices and also heard recently of 3 more smash-and-grabs that took place on Monday night in places outside of North County).And slowly the mish-mash of “community leaders” have developed, not really a following, but a confidence and cleverness to stifle crowd criticism, organize pressure valves to release anger buildups, and put forth demands that actually echo some of whats being said on the street. Of course you could see it coming, but it’s still heartbreaking. Everything they say to the crowds now closely mirrors what the media and authorities say. But they can get away with it, because outwards they say firey words (though completely hollow). The loud ones have also engaged in a strategy of racializing the situation to the farthest extent possible (“This is *all* about race.”) to “unify” the black community for their own ends. They refuse to acknowledge how *willingly* fragmented that “community” is. Over the course of the week, thousands chose to shout them down and loot, vandalize, and fight the police when they told them not to. They have no place to put the “white” rioters in all this either, so they downplay it or demonize them. Authorities got real smart. Pulled the police out. Put black public figures in charge. Put “new” police in charge. Obama says blah blah blah. They release the name of the cop. The top cops mingle in the crowd. Other police departments come out against the old one that was in charge. The contradictions are deafening, but the “community” leaders are doing their best to skirt them. I didn’t make it out last night, but those who did, described it as a block party. There was nowhere to direct anger at last night. No police. And most of the businesses in the area were already pillaged. Only thing to do was occupy public space- the burned out gas station. A well-travelled LA Times reporter on the scene described it as a “Suburban Tahrir.” It’s become a tourist destination, with people visiting it just to take selfies in front of it. The future is uncertain. Anger and the experience of our collective power are still fresh.”
This, by Loren Goldner, about race in the States seems pertinent: “In the 1670’s, in Massachusetts and Virginia, two fundamental components of American ideology were set down. The Puritans, in the wake of the 1636 Pequot War and the 1676 King Philip’s War, worked out the theological justification of wars of extermination in terms largely borrowed from the Old Testament, transpositions of the old Iranian dualism of good vs. evil, projected onto the dark-skinned enemies of the “mission into the wilderness”. In Virginia, after the black slaves and white indentured servants rose up together in 1676 in Bacon’s Rebellion, the planter class began to create an ideology and practice favoring the poor white at the expense of the black, in order to better chain the poor white to the status quo. The fusion of these two creations of the 1670’s, produced a complex that has run through 300 years of American history, in which questions of class, race and imperial expansion have all been inseparable. The key to this ideology is the appearance of a class condition as a racial condition. The working out of this complex has been one in which, from the beginning, questions of race and empire have cast their shadow over all attempts at working-class politics…..The white working man thus stepped onto the American political stage in alliance with both genocidal expansionism against the Indians and accomodation with Southern slavery. This complex was repeated on a more international scale with the New Deal of F.D.R., and his alliance with the Dixiecrats. The status of the black at the bottom of the social scale gave the poor white, and later the working white, a hallmark of the social floor, above which he stood one small step. It created, along with other factors in the American liberal ideology, a duality in the white worker between his status as (white) “citizen” and his status as a proletarian… This peculiarity sets up a “dialectic” between foreign expansion and domestic racism, because the theological foundations of the ideology justifying expansion are a form of social bonding.” – from here
But it has taken a black president to attempt to hide the racist foundation of the American state (and its expansionism) and the American identity (Obama said during the Ferguson riots “Let us remember – we are all Americans”) to try to hide the essential class contradictions hidden by the social function of the issue of race. Along with local black leaders which include the decomposed attempts to reconstitute the Black Panther Party, How these contradictions are played out in the separations of daily life need to be elaborated and understood as part of the practical process of overcoming them – a focus which I, partly because I don’t live in the States, am not up to, but hopefully some of those reading this are.
For some interesting analysis of some aspects of US black history from the late 60s to the early 90s, check out this.
….resistance to the colonisation of our point of view and of our daily lives by external authority, by the authority of some Collectivity, means resistance has to spread everywhere, along with solidarity with such resistance
Another Ferguson (mini-) riot ”…police in heavy gear and armored vehicles confronted more than 100 protesters near the place where Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, had been shot dead by police. While peaceful demonstrators tried to dissuade them, even attempting to block shop fronts with their bodies, small groups of looters smashed windows and rushed into several stores, grabbing merchandise. Police in riot gear shouted on bullhorns, ordering them to disperse…At least three Molotov cocktails were lobbed”…state of emergency and curfew imposed on Ferguson
”…peaceful demonstrators tried to dissuade them, even attempting to block shop fronts with their bodies”
The desire for a nice moral image of respectable “opposition” unites with a near-total incomprehension of any critique of commodity relations to produce the impotent Good Citizen. The Reified Good Citizen always tries to dissuade any anger other than a verbal show. The Good Citizens always attempt to block, with their bodies and minds, any attack on the commodity form that makes them and us miserable, and which mentality is essential to the entrenched reification of which cop murders are part of. Anger has to be channelled respectably because the Good Citizen fears losing the image of respectablity. As for those proletarian Good Citizens who don’t play any paid social role in any respectable official capacity – they fear their own anger against a dead-end deadened life, and crave the acceptability of normality. They suppress their doubts and choose to believe the lies of this world because belief in lies is somehow reassuring. Such belief sustains the sleep of reason, and sleep – shutting off your doubts – suppresses the anxiety. The truth hurts. And though the lies will kill you, acceptance of them dulls the pain: the pain of realising you’ve got a world to fight to discover the feeling of being alive and awake and not sleep-walking through this vale of tears.
“Everything they say …now closely mirrors what the media and
authorities say …outwards they say firey words (though completely hollow).”
New York Time bemoans lack of leadership “One protester…said, “Do we have a leader? No.” Pointing to the spot where Mr. Brown was killed, he said, “You want to know who our leader is? Mike Brown.”… Many African-American civic leaders in St. Louis said they were frustrated by their inability to guide the protesters. At an emotional meeting at a church on Thursday, clergy members despaired over the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the protest movement and the flare-ups of violence that older people in the group abhorred.”
Saturday night – 200 blacks and whites brave tear gas as midnight to 5 a.m. curfew is defied (more here) “ Activists from the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam and Christian groups urged people to go home by 11.30pm.”… more here “Earlier that day the civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson fell foul of the generational gulf when he asked a Ferguson audience to donate generously to a church, prompting scorn. “We were, ‘What? People here are poor. And angry……it seems he may be doing it for camera time.” …
A guy on the streets was accidentally shot and almost killed, losing a kidney and his spleen. A bullet also grazed his heart on entry and as it was being forced out through the same path somehow made it’s way inside the heart, though somehow not piercing it (despite being almost certain it wasn’t the cops who’d shot him, his first words on waking up from his medically-induced coma – written, because he had tubes inside almost every orifice – were “Fuck the police”). Shot by an idiot desperate for armed struggle now who had no idea how to make such a potential armed struggle part of the struggle against this indifferent carelessness that pervades reified social relations everywhere. The streets cleared pretty quickly, bullets ricocheting everywhere. How pleased the cops must be that this moron was doing their dirty work for them, that if someone breaking curfew had got killed, they wouldn’t have had to face the blame. And how pleased they must be that the moron hadn’t done any target practice since the age of 4, when he threw a stone at the neighbour’s car and hit the cat instead. Another guy who knew the guy who’d been shot, hurled abuse for about 20 minutes at the top cop, rightly blamed him for what happened to his friend (though, hopefully, keeping in mind not to let the moron off the hook) told him he wanted the top cop’s kidney and that he would pay if his friend died. There was a small crowd following the top cop around for a while. Some people were interested in shaking his hand, others just in getting him to leave/intimidating him. The fact that people were able to yell all kinds of abuse at the officer in charge of the police operation without any immediate negative consequences speaks to the power of the moment. Acting like that at a normal protest would certainly have different results. When there’s such raw anger that it’s obvious that people don’t care much about getting arrested or not is when they get scared and feel the need to back off, at least when it’s just verbal abuse or stuff which doesn’t too physically threaten their power.
Unfortunately it’s all too easy to believe that it’ll take a lot more than mere protest to change the shit definitively. All failed social movements get recuperated in the form of apparent change (e.g. a black president) whilst the reality of the hierarchy and divide and rule of the social organisation of each against all intensifies. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to believe that the vast majority don’t want to believe that contributing to an anti-hierarchical, anti-commodity revolution is the only way to overcome belief in illusions and to make progress.against this shit world. Without that fundamental recognition history will endlessly repeat itself as tragedy upon tragedy compounded by incomprehension.
Sunday night – smoke cannisters fired at about 400 demonstrators ”Police drove into the protest area in armored vehicles and shot smoke canisters at watching media representatives during a protest that had until then appeared to be peaceful”..…whilst in L.A. – nothing so far
$4.3 billion worth of equipment transferred from Pentagon to US cops ….molotovs thrown at cops…Governor calls in the National Guard (after having said he wouldn’t)…more here “This is a revo-fucking-lution,” said DeAndre Smith, a 30-year-old barber. “Plain and simple, this is the revolution. The one everybody was waiting on. It happened like this. It’s the gain in culture by a people who want respect. African American people in this country.“I been out here since day one. I was on the frontline. Mike Brown was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s when we said this is enough. That’s it.” …Ferguson schools still closed…American football players in gesture of solidarity with Ferguson
A cop-defined protest zone is being put into effect to give the appearance of the right to demonstrate as long as it’s utterly passive and contained and surrounded by the National Guard with their millions of dollars worth of equipment. The burnt-out QT supermarket, previously an area where people gathered spontaneously, has been surrounded by cops and declared out-of-bounds…
State forces order everybody but the media to leave…then make arrests…no classes today – no class society tomorrow “The Ferguson-Florissant School District announced Monday night that schools would stay closed for the rest of the week….Originally, the school year had been scheduled to start on Aug. 14. That was delayed to Monday, then delayed again. In its announcement, the district said it made the decision with input from local law enforcement and the district’s security staff.”…cops come under fire, molotovs thrown ….soft cop recommendations from the guy who was top cop during the Battle of Seattle…no more official midnight curfew, now just an unofficial 10p.m. curfew…lying manipulative cop-loving prosecutor still in place to apparently prosecute the cop who killed Mike Brown
Order reigns in Ferguson
If nothing else, it’s kind of funny to see the panic that’s being shown amongst the policy makers for the situation. First they militarise, then when that seems to exacerbate things, they try the soft cop approach, then when that doesn’t seem to work, they impose a curfew. Then when that seems to exacerbate things, they withdraw the midnight curfew. Then they impose an unofficial curfew at an earlier time. They say they won’t bring in the national guard, then next moment they do. They say they won’t use tear gas then the next moment they do. They say peacful demonstrations are ok, then tell everybody to get off the streets. They tell people to go home, then arrest people trying to go home. Meanwhile, Obama keeps his distance, playing non-commital verbal games with bland assurance. Which merely shows he’s watching which way the wind is blowing, fearing that things might flare up outside of Ferguson, but hoping that people will just get tired.
Which could well happen – repeating the same strategy rather than trying to atack using different tactics (e.g. outside of Ferguson, or not just street demonstrations, but occupations or going to workplaces or…?) does get exhausting and even demoralising.
As for those who say cops should taser people rather than shoot them, check out this
St. Louis anti-statist article “The situation in Ferguson is scary. It’s easy to understand why some, especially those who live near the activity, want a return to normal: bullets, tear gas, sound cannons, check points, fire. But despite all this, there are a sizable number of us who don’t want a return to normal. We descend on West Florissant day and night to figure out how to avoid it. To us, the struggle is not limited to justice for Mike Brown and the conviction of a single cop of murder in a court of law. We are doing this for ourselves, our friends and family, as well as Mike Brown. We’ve already found this system guilty – the racism, the class structure, the government, the police. When the “peace” you are continuously urged to return to looks like powerlessness, humiliation, poverty, boredom, and violence, it shouldn’t be a surprise many choose to fight. And to witness the ferocity with which some of us fight, it’s almost as if we’ve been waiting for this moment our entire lives. Two nights ago people took a run at the police command post forcing the authorities to call in the National Guard. Previously this would have been unthinkable, but then again just two weeks ago this whole thing would have been unthinkable. And so we raise a shot of looted gin – A TOAST! May we continue to surprise each other.”
ferguson: cleaning-up after the filth
US, Minneapolis: workers show solidarity with Ferguson revolt (more here and here)…North Carolina: march in solidarity with Ferguson rioters “..a Black student and columnist for the university paper (which we learned later) attempted to address the crowd. He shouted in exasperation, “This is not in the spirit of Ferguson! It is a time for healing! We should be mourning!” After a tense moment, the crowd yelled back at him, critical and dismissive of this attempted pacification….“In Ferguson they mourned by burning down the QT!” .… As one of the speakers had said before the rally, “The authorities want there to be peace before there is justice, but we know it doesn’t work that way. No justice, no peace!”
US, St.Louis: new “flash-bang” cop weapon used on Ferguson protest “Peter Callahan was caught between two police lines in the West Florissant section of Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday night, when something fiery hot singed his leg. A nearby protester’s shirt briefly caught fire.”
Ferguson – Mike Brown & The 21st Century Race Riots (translated from German)
Cops pelted with bricks etc. at protest about cop murder of Mike Brown “police were pelted with bricks, rocks, concrete chunks, filled water bottles and glass bottles during the nearly three-hour stand-off with demonstrators….someone threw a brick at St. Louis County police officers. Someone else threw a bottle, then outran police who tried to capture him. “… professional activist denounces “professional agitators” (video)
US, St.Louis: “unruly crowd” hit cops with rocks, loot store, attack cop cars, molotov city truck, fire shots at cops, etc. after burning of part of Mike Brown memorial (video here) A friend writes: “Thought you might wanna know the memorial for mike brown burned yesterday-arson or an errant candle who knows. Good cop Johnson came in with pastors later on and news said people spit on the pastors and told the media to leave cause they lie. Then some kids broke into a beauty store on the main strip at night. Lots of cops responded. Crowd of 150 or so gathered yelling at police. Despite lots of black activist peacekeeper types, people threw stones at cops who then chased them back into side streets. They said people fired guns at them too:/. Later on some building in the quaint part of ferguson was set on fire with gasoline they say. Maybe it was a museum, I’m not sure. And they said the lot where police impound cars was tried to set on fire with molotovs. Busy night. People still jump on any provocation to restart things.”…demonstration in another St.Louis suburb after woman dies in cop custody…Louisiana: 65-year-old woman arrested for inciting riot after cops shoot 14-year-old
US, St.Louis: clashes with Ferguson cops as top cop Jackson apologises for Brown killing whilst his cops close protest camp …more here and here “Jackson had stepped out to answer questions from the protesters and was walking with them, when a scuffle broke out. According to the protesters, who lashed out at officials on social media, the police attacked peaceful protesters. …“If you are not resigning tonight, go home,” a man on a bullhorn, told Jackson” Here: “I don’t think he was marching with the protesters more than 30 seconds before the riot cops came out into the crowd and tried to get themselves closer to him and protect him,” said French, a St. Louis elected official who has been following demonstrations since the Aug. 9 shooting and who supports calls for Jackson’s resignation. “Just them being out there pushing started stuff — it’s a complete misread of the situation. His very presence agitated the crowd.” Clearly, as always, there are those hoping to advance their political careers by recuperating anger into a mere change of personnel at the top, just as there are those who would be temporarily satisfied by a mere change of who makes the world miserable. Fortunately, there are also a growing number of people who will never be satisfied until there’s some irreversible change of perspective, a society based on the needs and desires of the community of individuals, people who will continue to find the weak links in hierarchical social control, regardless of the appearance of change this society deems neccessary to control explosions of anger.
US, St.Louis: another Ferguson cop shot and slightly wounded; report claims both shootings of cops are unrelated to protests…2 arrested at protest as cops continue to refuse to arrest cop who killed Mike Brown…call-out from black reformists (“Black lives matter”) for 4 day (October 10th to 13th) demonstrations and discussions in Ferguson ostensibly in order to put pressure on grand jury
US, St.Louis: “Black lives matter” liberals disrupt concert by singing “requiem for Mike Brown” to the indifference, occasional outrage and some polite applause amongst St.Louis’s upper crust… as 4-day long weekend protest looms
US, St.Louis: 2nd night of clashes with cops “Throughout Thursday night and into the early hours of yesterday as many as 400 demonstrators spread out across several city blocks in south St Louis, shouting and chanting at police officers, many of whom were clad in riot gear.” Excellent eyewitness accounts here.
“Some protesters in St. Louis burned an American flag on Thursday night, with one activist telling USA Today, “It’s not our flag. Our children are being killed in the street. This flag doesn’t cover black or brown people… ” ( here ) …nor is it on the side of most whites, of course…..
US, St.Louis: riot cops confront protesters near University A friend writes: “I don’t have much detailed information to pass on. My sense though is that after the first week or so of street-fighting, the terrain shifted from “uprising” to “protest” and that not much has changed since then. Even the latest flareups were more politicized-activist oriented than the initial rioting. Rocks were thrown at the cops, windows broken (even a house in a wealthy neighborhood) and American flags torn from houses were burnt, but still it seems like this activity is qualitatively different.
US, Pennsylvania: self-defeating individualist notion of how to spark a revolution The road to permanent incarceration is paved with good intentions (not that many of us haven’t had these fantasies, but…)…St.Louis: report that local form of the commodity-spectacle is in crisis
“premeditated anarchy” of the market
US, St.Louis: more clashes outside Ferguson cop HQ….Anonymous claims cop who killed Brown is linked to KKK (though does this really matter?… there are plenty of murderous cops not linked to the KKK; are their murders less vicious than Darren Wilson’s?)
US, St.Louis: D-I-Y riot fashion “Don’t have a bulletproof vest, but still want to face the cops (or go to the supermarket)? Here are great at-home recipes for all the accoutrements you need to protect your bod”
– This time it spread. There were three major flashpoints and lots of outlying smash-n-grabs and fires.– I read a couple people were shot again, one was killed. And maybe a carjacking or two. But all in all, the mentality of the mob was to attack everything police or business related.– It seems many of the fires were set before people had a chance to properly loot them. The fencing around the QuikTrip station erected to prevent people from gathering there in the summer was torn down. A dozen or so cars at a car dealership were torched. A church and a church van were even set ablaze (the pastor seems to be Sharpton’s mouthpiece in St. Louis, though some who don’t want to believe the black “community” is full of people furious at the church’s role in maintaining peace with the state, are claiming white supremacists did it). A journalist’s car was also burned at the memorial. The looting was mostly festive and people seemed to be sharing what they had with strangers.-…outside the police station in the nicer part of Ferguson….the announcement was coming, Mike Brown’s stepfather just lost it. “Burn that bitch down!” he said pointing at the police station. “Burn that motherfucker down!” He approached it and tried to get people to chant “Burn it down!”– One of the first things thrown at police was a bullhorn. Finally a real use for those things, ay?– After an uneasy calm, the escalation was quick and the diverse crowd bricked the cops and their cars and some businesses. This district had not seen any mob vandalism or heavy clashes even back in August. They reponded with a barrage of gas. Heavy, heavy gas. One woman lost an eye to one of the canisters. It cleared the main street. Those pushed north started looting and fires. I saw people looting the back of a business while riot cops were marching past the front of it. Somehow, the police station escaped vandalism, but two squad cars were set alight (not before an AR-15 [ a cop machine gun] was stolen from one of them).– Both on this strip and on W. Florissant, it didn’t matter if a business was black or white-owned. All that nonsense from the Black nationalists and Leftists over the last few months fell on deaf ears.
– Across town on the southside of St. Louis City, near where city cops killed a guy in October, hundreds blocked the interstate. Later they marched south and 20 or so businesses on the South Grand strip …had windows smashed. Some looting at a pharmacy and pawn shop, including a crossbow(!).
– Sporadic vandalism, looting, and fires occured in other parts of south city (including a bank), downtown St. Louis, and East St. Louis, and some of the suburbs right around Ferguson. The scope and intensity surpassed the night of August 10th.
– Some people kept refering to it as “Black Monday,” not in regard to race but in regard to everything being “on sale.”
– Someone scrawled “Free Phones” outside a looted cell-phone store
Like I said, it’s hard to make sense of it all (see its limitations, its direction, etc.) because so quickly it plowed through all the rhetoric and efforts of the “sympathetic” politicians, pastors, activists who had all the time in the world to prepare for this.
No idea what the future might hold.”
A friend writes: “Edgy. Thats how I would describe things here now. The storm has passed, but so much hasn’t settled out. Last weekend six Rams (the American football team) players did the “hands up” gesture at the game. Caused quite a stir. The local police union demanded the league fine the players and the team apologize. The league refused to fine them, though they had clearly broken rules- I suspect if they had fined them the protests would have spread to other teams, and the NFL knew that. These players may be millionaires, but most of them sure didn’t grow up that way. The weakness of using these spectacular sporting events as a way to “provide a distraction” and “help heal the city” (both real quotes from players and management before the game) is that it relies on the athletes to feel outside of the world around them, to discount their experiences as young black kids seeing the underbelly of American glitz. Anyhow, the team even refused to apologize. And later the Ethical Society of Police (!) a mostly black cop organization, supported the Rams “free speech expression.” Meanwhile, during the game, riot police met protesters outside the Dome. Later a cop bar in south city declared they weren’t going to show Rams games anymore. The next night protesters (which are still remarkably decentralized) showed up as Rams fans and were denied entrance sparking a lively protest.
Early this week, in the Bosnian part of town, a Bosnian guy was beaten to death with hammers by a group of kids. Some signs show it was a group of kids saying something about “Fuck the white people, Kill the white people.” But the mayor and police chief are playing down the racial dynamic. That night though, the Bosnian community in that neighborhood, blocked the main street to protest violence against them. Police responded with negotiators, but around the corner was a column of riot police ready to go. The following night saw an even larger march down that main street, with calls for more police protection. Really yucky racialized stuff. The city seems really on edge.
A dozen or so high schools had social-media organized walkouts. Every high school in North County I think, one in posh Clayton, some in the city and even one in South County. A couple of the ones in North county had mini-confrontations with the police (banging on a car, yelling…). The South County one is interesting because its a mostly white, working and middle class part of the region, with a growing Bosnian population. Schools still bus in students from across town as a part of the desgregtion policies from the days of old. But video of the South County walkout showed it was a mixed crowd. There’s also unconfirmed reports that there was a big fight between Bosnian and Black students that day. But this is being fed by local right-wingers. Some facebook posts confirmed that some Bosnian kids took part in the walkout though.
A different cop bar was robbed in deep south city in what seemed like a Wild West shootout between customers and robbers, 6 shot, 1 dead.
Amidst all this, the mayor is calling to increase the number of city cops by 15%. So much is in motion right now.
The NAACP has been marching to the capitol in Jefferson City for the past week. Recently in a small town, they were met with a nasty counter-protest in scenes reminiscent of 1960s Mississippi.
I can’t help but feel the obsessive racialization of the struggle by certain loudmouths has helped create this newfound racial edginess to the city (and maybe country). Like you said during the pumpkin riots in New Hampshire, some people here chose to separate themselves from what happened, instead of identifying with it and broadening the struggle. Maybe this is the result?
The protests continue here, like I said earlier, in a mostly decentralized form. A protest outside the Ferguson police department yesterday afternoon connected the struggle against the massacre of the Mexican students to the struggle unfolding here. Later, when the NYC Eric Garner stuff came out, protests hit the Fergusn PD, the downtown St. Louis Federal Building, the fancy Central West End (where demonstrators were hit by a van whose driver flashed a gun, later knocking out his back window & they also occupied the lobby of the nicest hotel), and then downtown inside the casino and on the main shopping strip.
In Ferguson, a controversial private group of current and ex-military volunteers dressed in camoflauge continue to protect business by standing atop them with rifles.
Nothing I said here was remotely normal before August. I hadn’t seen riot police in the city since 2004 and the tail end of that Trayvon mini-riot last year, now they seem ready on a moment’s notice.”
US, Colorado: several school walk-outs over killer cops…New York: Apple store on 5th Avenue taken over by Garner protesters…Oakland: protesters against killer-cops shut down BART station…Miami: as spontaneous blockade of main road by 800 people develops, here’s an arty “radical chic” recuperation trivialising this anti-cop movement “If you wanted to get the eyes of art people wanting to party, that was the time, because we’re talking about 7.30pm Friday night – I mean that’s prime cocktail hour…and some of the biggest satelite art fairs around actually enjoyed some of this disruption”
US, Berkeley: shops looted, cop injured, as protest gets angry; rubber bullets fired by cops (deliberately confusing article by pacifists blaming COINTELPRO for the violence)
US, Berkeley: report of 3rd and 4th night of demos and roadway blockades A friend told me the fact that these interstate/motorway blockades are happening on a regular basis all over the place is a major shift, an enormous break with the previous epoch of depressing normality; in the past people would avoid doing such things because, for one, it’s a major felony but also because drivers didn’t give a shit and would drive straight into people because the freedom of the car is sacrosanct. He told me of a “Reclaim the streets” situation back in the 90s where someone was hooked up high on some contraption blocking the road and that a truck driver was told that if he drove on the guy was sure to die; the driver just drove into the thing; fortunately at the last moment the protester managed to quickly hook up onto an overhead wire, and was saved, but this incident put a stop to these kinds of actons. All that is changing………Berkeley council cancel meeting...elsewhere in California: 300 high school students walk out……simplistic, but in some kind of way moving, call to take over everywhere (video)…MTV get in on the act (video)
See also this: From Ferguson to Oakland: 17 Days of Riots and Revolt in the Bay Area / CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective “I can’t breathe” – Eric Garner’s last words whilst being choked to death by NYPD officers. “It has never been like this before. There’s no breathing room” – an unnamed Oakland police officer lamenting the current wave of protests.
US, Berkeley: 5th night of angry protests “… the protesters’ numbers had dwindled to about 50 people, the statement said, some of whom broke windows at a T-Mobile store and a Chase bank. Looting also was reported in an area of small businesses at a downtown intersection, it said. “An officer outside the Oakland Police Department was assaulted and an arrest was made,” the statement said. A Reuters photographer witnessed an undercover police officer, who had been marching with the demonstrators, pointing his pistol at protesters after he and his partner were attacked” (more here) …a policeman’s lot is not a happy one “Officers say that many protesters are trying to provoke them into doing something wrong by yelling at them or even tossing full bottles of liquor at them that were looted from nearby stores.”
UK, London: clashes with cops as demonstrators march through shopping precinct in solidarity with anti-killer-cop demos in the US (video)…76 arrests “Police were forced to use kettling tactics as violence broke out when members of the group assaulted security staff and caused damage to property.”
US, New York: passive peaceful demo mars blockade of Brooklyn Bridge and hospitalisation of 2 cops “Protesters streamed onto Brooklyn Bridge Saturday night, closing traffic in both directions for nearly an hour. Debris, including a trash can, was thrown from the bridge’s walkway at police officers escorting protesters on the roadway below…The windows of one squad car were smashed by protesters”
US, Oakland: temporary blockade of police department “… demonstrators scaled poles to replace OPD flags with those memorializing unarmed black people killed by police. Meanwhile, others blocked a major intersection leading to a major freeway nearby.”
US, St.Louis: demonstration against new cop killing briefly blocks motorway….Christmas in Oakland ……march turns beautiful: “A “Black Lives Matter” march against police brutality in Oakland turned ugly, with protesters reportedly attacking a journalist, smashing shopfront windows, throwing bottles, and defacing the main Christmas tree in the heart of the city….around 30 storefront windows were smashed and liquor looted. The Chronicle reported one of its photographers received an injury to her hand after a protester lobbed a bottle at her. The Christmas tree in the square also served as an easy target for some of the more unruly demonstrators, who tore lights and ornaments off of its branches.”
US, Ferguson: improvised Mike Brown memorial destroyed and then rebuilt “The Washington Post reported that when asked if there would be an investigation, a police spokesman referred to the memorial as “a pile of trash in the middle of the street”.
US, Ferguson: cops receive beauty treatment “…police officers were shot at Tuesday night, as they tried to investigate a burglary call at one of the town’s many buildings burned down in anti-cop riots. Officers were called to the shell of the old Beauty Town store on West Florissant Avenue on Tuesday night around 6pm, and found several suspects stealing hair products from the building’s basement. While trying to arrest the suspects, the officers heard gunfire coming from the Park Ridge Apartments located behind the store. They ducked for cover and then heard another round of fire coming from another location across the street. …They called for back-up and 15 to 20 minutes later, the area was cleared out and no one was injured. ”
banner used on Santa Cruz demo (31st December), which ended up smashing County Jail vehicles
…The following reflections about armed attacks on the forces of the state, from a guy in South Africa, seem pertinent, and should certainly stimulate some consequential thinking and discussion (I don’t agree with everything said here, but I’ll leave this till later when I’m not so tired or busy with other stuff):
“…it would be good for all concerned to start paying serious attention to these questions before events impose difficult decisions without offering any chance at an adequate preparation. In 1977 when the Italian struggle began to drive many more people in the direction of Brinsley [the guy who killed the 2 New York cops on December 20th], Sanguinetti cautioned: ‘The lack of clarity in theory and practice on strategic issues, such as the issue of weapons, is likely to produce very serious effects if the radical movement cannot quickly overcome it. Weapons should not be used until everyone is ready to use them. They will be available for use when their use has become essential. The question is not tactical, but strategic. Those who play with guns today are playing with power, and power is much better armed than we are. When it comes to power, you don’t play with it; you destroy it.’
While the above certainly doesn’t provide any fail-safe recipe for conduct (and certainly was never intended as the basis for more-radical-than-thou denunciations of acts which, however misguided, cannot be condemned by anyone who wants even to pretend a semblance of seriousness when it comes to overthrowing the everyday violence against which ‘terrorists’ act in self-defence) it bears repeating.
It is interesting to note, however, that the historical development of class struggle has tended towards a definite REDUCTION of class violence over the years — especially in the US. Whereas, for example, it was not uncommon for American strikers and scabs to engage in shoot-outs during the 19th century, and the most radical situations of the early 20th century tended to be precipitated by crises involving mass slaughter (All of which followed the model of the Paris Commune erupting from the Franco-Prussian war: WW1 which precipitated revolutions and near-revolutionary uprisings across europe; the build-up to WW2, more violent in Spain than anywhere else, that precipitated the Spanish revolution; Hungary 1956 that began as something like a nationalist war of independence) those of the latter half of the 20th century, while certainly not pacifist, saw the role of armed struggle significantly diminish (France 1968, Italy throughout the 70s, the fall of fascism in Portugal and Spain, the movements in Poland and South Africa) to the point where it was often more of a spectacular distraction, assisting in the work of repression — first of all repression of the forms of proletarian violence whose organisation is ACTUALLY called for by the circumstances of the moment, secondly as a justification and obfuscation of the state repression directed against proletarians in the name of combatting terrorism & the parastate repression which under these conditions almost always constitutes the terrorism itself. Even in Italy it is possible to trace how over the course of the decade the social war involves actually radical armed struggle at the start, during the uprisings in Battipaglia and Reggio Calabria in 1970 where proletarian self-organisation was only in its infancy, localised and poorly co-ordinated, whereas by 1977, when these embryonic councils had got to the point where in ‘Milan, for the first time, 3000 delegates from 350 factory councils gathered in a common assembly’, it was not proletarians who were shooting at cops, but the specialists in armed struggle who no doubt would turn their guns against the proletarians — who even when they did fight the police would loot gun shops and then throw the weapons in the river — the moment they took power. The situation in South Africa, where Mandela and his cronies prestige was almost entirely based on the image of an armed struggle which never actually existed except when, during the democratic transition, it was waged by every competing fraction of the ruling class (and ruling-class-in-waiting) against the proletariat and its violent self-activity as a whole. Finally, the 1997 Albanian revolution confirmed everything Sanguinetti said as the use of guns became revolutionary precisely at the moment when everyone siezed them from the cops and turned them from tools of hierarchical oppression into toys of ludic subversion — the population doing target practice by taking potshots at the embassies of foreign states and the crosses of churches, and so on. Once the proletariat rose up en masse with the determination to seize weapons for its own use, the cops could do nothing to stop them and, once armed, there was very little need to use their weapons, since there was no one left to oppose them. The uprising in Southern Iraq during the Gulf War was again initiated spontaneously by masses of proletarians — the mass desertions in the army taking on such a revolutionary character precisely because they threatened to dissolve a significant portion of the forces of specialised violence, merging into the generalised revolt on their return and putting weapons in the hands of a people already up in arms.
The dismal record of failed revolutions in the present century only confirms this tendency. From the 2001 revolt in Algeria to the revolution in Ukraine this year, not a single insurrectionary situation has been initiated or even aided by groups specially organised around armed struggle. Rather, the immediate targets of these rebellions have always been precisely these groups, namely, the security forces of the state. Where rebels have looked for assistance from these groups, such as in the 2011 Egyptian protests when the army was welcomed as an ally against the Mubarak regime, they either remained neutral (as was the case until after Mubarak was already dead in the water) or imposed their own dictatorships, as happened in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak and again when the Muslim Brotherhood was toppled, as was the case with Libya in the same year, and in Syria and Thailand this year. It seems clear then, that the global revolutionary movement must struggle with weapons that are available to everyone, but this is not to say it must resort to pacifism until the moment insurrection magically materialises out of the ether. Opposition movements around the world, which are as I write drawing millions into ever fiercer combat against the established order, demonstrate eloquently just what weapons are available to everyone: petrol, matches, sticks and stones, barricades and occupations, strikes and sabotage, courage and communication, fury and self-organisation. It is precisely from the effective deployment of these that other more sophisticated forms of arms become both possible and necessary.
Strangely enough, around the same time Brinsley iced the pigs I was reading an essay by Hilaire Belloc about how, in the absence of a socially regulated outlet for the release of mental pressure and wild passions through regular bouts of reckless festive irreverence as once occurred when the Lords of Misrule presided over the Saturnalia, that same pressure and those same passions tend to express themselves individually in various far more malignant forms. It seems to me that, despite all the above, there is definately a need for some sort of collective combat which will allow those at the sharp end to release the pressure and passions constantly accumulated by their position in an effective socially regulated way. Probably, as you say, this will require them ‘to connect to other struggles and to white working class people resisting in some way or another but not with any understanding of the race question (ie probably supporting Wilson and the state in this situation) and to think up new intitiatives not just involving attacks on the cops, banks etc., maybe something involving riots and occupations as well as theoretical elucidations of the contradictions we set ourselves against.’ It may also need to involve, as a means through which such initiatives might be mediated and sustained, the development of ongoing forms of collective self-defence that will be able to harness the anger, frustration and despair for which struggles against the direct agents of oppression is obviously the most immediate outlet. “
Vice has just published this about New Black Panther Party (NBPP) gun clubs in Dallas. Considering how fearful they were about all independent forms of opposition, like looting of black-owned shops, during the riots in Ferguson in August, we can assume that this elitist form of armed struggle is a classic hangover from Leninism worthy of our contempt and disgust. Much of this is the victory of apparently “cool” style and image over any clear revolutionary content or goal. As a guy from St.Louis wrote about the NBPP during August: “Their role in the events has been to direct traffic, protect shops that others were attempting to loot, telling people to go home and obey the state imposed curfew, marshalling crowds onto sidewalks, projecting terror into peoples’ minds by declaring that we will all be massacred unless we obey police commands thus ignoring or attempting to hide the middle ground that people have been occupying since the beginning: somewhere between all out war and compliance. The NBPP even goes so far as to don berets, sunglasses and leather jackets. A testament to just how out of touch they are with the current moment and generation. Fitted hats, t-shirts as masks, high top sneakers: these would all be better choices for a uniform. “
US: Oakland and New York: anti-cop protests move into restaurants… right-wing report on how illegal immigrants are joining anti-cop movement “Some illegal alien activists… are threatening to kill U.S. police officers if their demands are not met. Threats are nothing new, but what is new is the audacity displayed by protesters who have no fear of retribution by police or federal law enforcement agents and no fear of public outrage.”
US, Indiana: cop’s body camera liberated on demo against cop brutality (see also this) “A tire on a squad car also got slashed Monday evening. “
demo in Bloomington, Indiana
US, Detroit: angels arrested “An Angel can illuminate the thought and mind of man by strengthening the power of vision.” ~ St Thomas Aquinas
US, New York: protests about killer cops continue; die in at Grand Central station Read this for a critique of die-ins: “…the die-in aspires (on the one hand) to a disruption that re-enacts scenes of police murder within spaces of civil society that are normally sheltered from the regular barbarities of racial and class-based violence. On the other side, the tactic is a kind of didactic theater, communicating a message on police brutality to oppressors and oppressed alike. The common targets for die-ins have included luxury retails stores (like Macy’s or the Apple Storeon 5th Avenue, or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center), hubs of human and commodity circulation like Grand Central Station and Times Square, and of course the blockaded streets themselves. To the surprise of many, it has progressively become common sense that “diversity of tactics” is an integral part of most historical movements that have changed society. Existing alongside and supplementing more aggressive forms of protest (road occupations, blockades, even urban riots), the die-in has played a useful role in the post-Ferguson cycle (and not only in NYC). However, as the more militant, “practical” dimension of the street protests faded, the preponderance of the die-in shows the extent to which the previous mobilizations had become largely symbolic; rather than spontaneous efforts at disrupting or challenging the police or the flows of commodities, these demonstrations risk becoming mere appeals to the state for reforms that it will not and cannot concede. Although we cannot explore the issue further in this account, considered strategically, we call attention to how the die-in might shed light on a fundamental tension within both the discourse of the movement emerging after the killing of Michael Brown (#blacklivesmatter) and its tactics (#shutitdown).”
US, Wisconsin: capitol occupied by 1500 high school and university students on 4th day of protests against another killer-cop (for backgound information, see here)
US, Ferguson: 2 cops wounded by gunshots on demonstration celebrating resignation of chief cop in wake of government report (very unclear video of shooting here)
US, Baltimore: continuing protests against killer cops “Baltimore police were out in large numbers, and the department said it had canceled time off for its officers.” …videos here...”I would hope that the crowd there will settle down and give this investigation an opportunity to come forth…” – President of the National Organisation of Black Law Enforcement Executives. “In a typical mob scene-type situation you do often see just an escalation and the group behaviour and group think take on a mind of its own and in this case it’s getting uglier…and you just can’t have anarchy on the street for a long period of time” – CNN Law Enforcement Analyst…Los Angeles: graffiti now a capital crime…California: dockers announce May 1st port shutdown in protest against cop brutality
US, Baltimore: 5th day of protests against killer cops gets angrier “Multiple police cars were damaged and the protests bled into neighborhood businesses, with windows of bars and restaurants broken from thrown objects. Fights inside bars near Camden Yards between baseball fans and protestors also occurred” More here “…there were several cars with broken windows. Police are calling for officers scheduled on later shifts to report for duty immediately. One protester broke out the window of a police cruiser, grabbed a police hat inside and wore it while standing on top of the cruiser with several other protesters.” More here “Soon, demonstrators began smashing police cruisers’ windows. “We have isolated pockets of people from out of town causing disturbances downtown,” a tweet from the Baltimore Police Department stated….Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweeted a brief statement. “… Concerned about the violence and those who want to destroy our city,” she said.”
Another video here .
Some minor looting.
loot now while shocks last
Right-wingers complain about the Mayor’s softly softly approach. In fact, when she said “It was a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on — um — we also gave those who wished to destroy, space to do that, as well,” she expressed a more intelligent strategy for the dominant forces than the “zero tolerance” ideology of the more dogmatic right. Often, if you don’t bend you break. “Softly softly catchy monkey” is the ideology of the more subtle sections of ruling policy which will undoubtedly come to the fore the more social contestation there is. It of course doesn’t rule out brutal repression, but combines it in a “a very delicate balancing act” involving allowing people to let off steam, arresting them later on the basis of CCTV and other evidence and at the same time giving an image of taking up the concerns of the – rightly angry – blacks so as to hold out some hope of reform and pull the rug out from under their fury. “Softly Softly” was also the title of a 70s cop show in the UK which was propaganda aimed at the gullible intended to make them believe in this tough but fair and often soft police force, which nevertheless was also very nasty behind the facade. For those who haven’t read it, see the section “Good Cop Bad Cop” (in particular the subsection “Far from the madding crowd controllers” onwards) in “Cop-Out…” which looks at soft cop policing and it’s worthwhile seeing how such strategies develop, in tandem with brute force, over the next months and years, and how such state strategies could be subverted .
US, Baltimore: cop cars and buildings burned, windows smashed after funeral of Freddie Gray “The rioters set police cars and buildings on fire, looted a mall and liquor stores and hurled rocks, bottles and cinderblocks at police in riot gear. Police responded occasionally with pepper spray or cleared the streets by moving in tight formation, shoulder to shoulder. At least 15 officers were hurt, including six who were hospitalized. There were 144 vehicle fires, 15 structure fires and nearly 200 arrests.” Also this “…police understood the Bloods, Crips and Black Guerilla Family gangs had met and each pledged to kill a police officer.” If you look back at the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the truce between gangs was an essential part of the uprising; check out section 5 of this Aufheben text (this is not to endorse the constant use of Mike Davis, the proletarian-turned-academic, by Aufheben which, in retrospect, could be seen as in some way an endorsement of their own fence-sitting balancing act between academia and revolt which lead to the absurdity of John Drury’s schizophrenia)
Another video here.
The mayor of Baltimore called Monday night “one of our darkest days as a city”. No surprise that a politician gets everything the wrong way round – confusing day and night and dark and bright. “We cannot allow our city to devolve into chaos”, she said.When they refer to it as “our city” they show they have nothing in common with those who live there but who in no way can say it’s their’s, those whose lives are normally chaotic but who create clarity when they create chaos for those who possess the city.
US, Baltimore: National Guard enforce week-long curfew Also here for live updates. Looks like the Crips and Bloods have backtracked on their original resolve: “In amazing scenes in the run-up to the curfew at 10PM, the Crips and the Bloods, the US’s two most famous gangs, held what appeared to be an impromptu press conference and appealed for calm.” See also this.
Not everyone completely acquiesced with the gang leaders’ backwards “lead”- see here: “Police in Baltimore fired smoke bombs and pepper pellets at hundreds of protesters who defied a night-time curfew that took effect across the city late on Tuesday, police and US media said, a day after the worst rioting in the United States in years. …“The curfew violators are refusing to follow lawful orders by officers to leave the area,” police said on Twitter, adding that “criminals” had started a fire outside a city library. Armoured vehicles were moving into the area of the standoff between police and protesters, television images showed.”
US, Philadelphia: light clashes with cops on Freddie Gray solidarity rally…“Several times, the clash of protesters and police officers at Broad and Vine Street resulted in heavy pushing and shoving. In one photograph, a protester sitting on the shoulders of another wore a police cap that had been tossed into the air….About an hour later, the demonstrators rallied at the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Chestnut Street. Once there, they blocked the doors of the building. Prisoners inside the building could be heard banging on the windows and flashing their lights….A crowd eventually gathered at a statue of Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner and mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1980. …someone spray-painted “FTP” on the back of the Rizzo statue”… Baltimore: tragic story of injured police officers only doing their job
Sadly, there’s always a dark cloud in front of every silver lining: “We’ve seen officers dressed in riot gear show their uniforms to little children and share laughs with teenagers and that’s encouraging” …hopefully laughs of derision…
“He said “I must arrest you!”
He didn’t know what for.
And then he started laughing
Until he cracked his jaw.
Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”
Right-winger inadvertently reveals uncomfortable (if partial) truth amongst distorting lies “…support for rioters comes from a particular kind of thinking. This thinking sees oppression not as something that individuals do, but as a systemic process…In this view, Person A does not oppress Person B. Rather, “society” is structured in such a way as to make any action by Person A oppressive by definition to Person B. Person B is not oppressed by a man, but by The Man. This is a very dangerous kind of thinking. …Support for mass violence is the logical conclusion of this type of thinking. Once you believe that oppression is part of The System, the only way to stop oppression is by destroying The System…and there’s no way to do that without mass violence. The oppressors are not just going to let you change things peacefully, are they? There’s no effective way to argue against this, in my experience.”
US, Seattle : clashes with cops “Anti-capitalist protesters hurled wrenches and rocks at officers … Footage on social media showed protesters smashing shop windows in Seattle and crowds scattering as police in riot gear threw in “flashbang” grenades. Demonstrators set fire to garbage and damaged at least two dozen vehicles”….(Critique of Seattle media)…Oakland “More than 100 windows at businesses, restaurants and banks along the route were smashed, and several people were taken into custody overnight. At least one vehicle was burned and others damaged on the lot of a local car dealership.” More here …Portland “Pepper spray and flashbangs were also used in Portland after some protesters threw objects at officers and tried to force their way onto a bridge, the city police department said on its Twitter account. One officer was injured, it said.”….New York: Guggenheim Museum occupied by traditional labour activists…Minneapolis: high school students walk out to join anti-cop brutality demo….Baltimore: unintentionally funny video of CNN journalist moaning about hearing anti-cop speech…Atlanta, Georgia: cops pelted with stones, road blocked…
Brief notes from someone in Baltimore:
” The situation remains quite fluid. In the “good” neighborhoods, life pretty much is going on as before. In the rest of the city, there’s been an effective militarization of the streets. The National Guard and police have a heavy presence. Last night, on my job, which borders one of the riot areas, I saw over 100 police cars silently stream up the street, sirens flashing, followed by rows of National Guard trucks. This stepped up military presence of course is intended to send a message.
This weekend I think will determine how far events go. Several rallies are scheduled in support of the rioters. There’s still a lot of palpable anger in the poor areas, an anger that will continue to simmer, especially if a whitewash of the police actions in Freddie Gray’s death is issued, which looks likely. Already, the Mayor and police department are attempting to downplay the results of the investigation and may even try to hold off releasing the information. New information is regularly coming out, such as news of a highly unusual and unplanned stop made by the police van carrying Gray on its way to the station. Small groups of protestors have tried to defy the curfew and this weekend, the numbers might grow. Another wildcard is if the nation wide demonstrations in solidarity expand. Contrary to what the authorities are trying to say, that the worst is behind, I think there’s a strong possibility of new eruptions.
It’s impossible to summarize anything now. However, I don’t think the standard left response about poverty, unemployment, the need for jobs, captures the full dynamics of what’s going on. In some ways, the unrest reminds me of what happens in the French suburbs. The young people in the streets Monday night are still unheard; most of the “spokespeople” for the demonstrators are Black college students who don’t always have the raw contact with the street. In contrast to Ferguson, where you had a rebellion against a white-dominated political establishment, in Baltimore, there’s been an entrenched and self-serving Black political leadership ruling the city for decades. In some ways, it can be said the riots have been the first significant rebellion against this type of leadership and it’s been a welcome sign that many protesters see through the hollowness of this establishment.
These are just some quick thoughts.”
US, Nebraska: prison riot as 2 prisoners are found dead“Several disruptions followed in various housing units, resulting in small fires and property damage, prison officials said. … “The inmates have taken over the prison.” More here“We’ve pretty much taken the whole prison,” Frank told the newspaper. He said that no prison employees were inside the housing unit and described the scene, saying: “The ceilings are fallen. There’s drywall on fire. There’s cameras torn down,” according to the Journal Star.Foster told the Omaha World-Herald that inmates had gained access to an office with a phone. At some point during the disturbance, a second inmate was injured by a rubber projectile”
US, California: 200 prisoners riot (not at all clear what this was about or what happened)
US, Oakland: cops crack down on night time protests “…the city began implementing a law that requires that protest marches be permitted and that they be limited to sidewalks and take place before dark. The group then headed towards Oakland Police Department, but officers turned them back. Some of the marchers— and the police who followed— blocked a portion of Broadway.”
US, Baltimore: report of how much damage was done to shops in the riots last month “More than 380 businesses were struck, a mix of national chains and local vendors. The toll included dozens of shops selling phones and other electronics, more than 30 liquor stores, pharmacies and at least seven jewelers, according to a list compiled by the Baltimore Development Corp. Family Dollar saw damage at eight locations, Boost Mobile at 14.”
US, Florida: riot in teenage girls’ detention centre “One of the girls managed to steal keys from a member of the detention staff, enabling them to open doors inside the facility and allowing the other defendants to engage in multiple counts of battery”
US, New Jersey: hip hop on a cop “The annual New York City hip-hop festival Summer Jam devolved into a tense and scary situation as police fired tear gas at a group of attendees. According to reports, a small riot broke out as fans waited in long lines to enter MetLife Stadium. Several people were seen throwing bottles at New Jersey State Police, injuring one officer. Police responded by using tear gas grenades. Several people were also arrested. In a statement, New Jersey State Police said, “This evening, security personnel at one of the entrance gates to MetLife Stadium were confronted by crowds attempting to illegally enter the sold out Summer Jam concert by climbing over fences and forcing their way through security personnel…”
“They’re all these rich white people gawking at us like we’re ornaments on a tree. They see all these black and brown faces and they get a little bit intimidated, they get a little bit antsy. The mayor went out of his way to go through the back [of his house], so that says our presence actually made him uncomfortable, that’s the point of this”
US, Charleston: Confederate flags burnt, memorial graffitied, in protests against mass murder More here “A second Charleston statue memorializing 19th-century South Carolina statesman John Calhoun was defaced in recent days as well… Initially, the monument to the secessionist and defender of slavery read “Truth Justice and the Constitution.” But the words “AND SLAVERY” were tacked on the end.”
US, Arizona: 2nd night of riot in prison “In Wednesday’s incident, a small group of minimum security inmates were chasing down an inmate when prison staff intervened to stop the assault, Wilder said. The inmates assaulted the officers, and six officers suffered minor injuries.,.. it took a couple of hours to get the prisoners back to their housing units…Thursday’s incident involved many more inmates and turned into a full-blown riot involving an unknown number of inmates…. It took many hours for prison staff and Department of Corrections officers to bring the situation under control, and the prison wasn’t secured until early Friday morning, Wilder said. Three guards were hurt.”
US, Arizona: July 4th celebrations prison-style “Problems began July 2 in the medium-security Hualapai Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex-Kingman when inmates were “non-compliant and caused significant damage” in two housing areas”
US: various demos against the cop murder of Sandra Bland Sandra Bland had stated during her arrest, ” “Don’t it make you feel good officer Encinia? You’re a real man now.”. After her death her mother said : ” Sandra Bland’s mother stated: “I have a baby to put in the ground. She wasn’t my convict, she wasn’t my suspect – she was my baby. Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready. … This means war.”
US, Ferguson: the rulers’ protectors and servers shoot someone after coming under fire; commodities liberated “You know the police and this racist system value stuff, their property, more than our lives, like we’re disposable. If our lives are so disposable, we oughta gladly dispose of their stuff.” – here
“A few lootings were reported through the night and windows to some store fronts were smashed. Paul Hampel, a reporter for the St Louis Post-Dispatch, was assaulted and robbed by looters minutes after reporting on their actions on Twitter.”
US, Ferguson: frozen water bottles and rocks thrown at cops…on 50th anniversary of Watts riot See also STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED IN FERGUSON AS OATH KEEPERS ARRIVE…discussion between eyewitnesses/participants of last 2 days of events: “On the anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder: 48 hours in Ferguson”
US, California: riot follows prisoner’s killing of Hugo Pinell, one of the San Quentin 6 politicised prisoners of 1971, a man who’d killed a screw Though this is pure speculation – maybe this was manipulated by screws…? And this seems to confirm something like that…Oakland: roads blocked, stores attacked, anti-cop graffiti painted after 4th black guy since June is killed by cops
US, St.Louis: weird report about Oathkeepers arming black groups in order to affirm right to carry arms openly (presumably to claim to be non-racist)
US, St.Louis: protesters block roads, start fires, as another black guy is shot dead by cops “The protests escalated, with demonstrators throwing bricks and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas in an attempt to clear the streets…Late Wednesday, images on social media showed at least one car and one building set on fire, and demonstrators piling burning furniture into the street.” More here ” In the wake of the killing, crowds poured into the street, where they were met with military police tanks and tear-gas. People cursed the police, burned American flags, erected barricades, and chanted “Black Lives Matter.” Some first-hand accounts here.
cop guards burning abandoned property, St.Louis
US, Baltimore: fairly minor clashes with filth at Freddie Gray hearing…whilst professional activists of “Occupy Baltimore” try to possess these protests, insisting they’ll remain “peaceful”…Texas: horror shock graffiti outrage shock outrage horror
US, Washington: black block anti-cop mini-riot after cop not prosecuted for shooting & paralysing would-be shoplifter (anarchist report here)…New Orleans: cop car window broken…Missouri: 2 women arrested for anti-cop graffiti…New York state: more graffiti
Whilst basic proletarian graffiti like this gets horror shock reactions from cop-lovers exaggeratedly fearful of any results, this safely sweet “middle class graffiti” elsewhere gets results and praise:
end of chronology
“That’s one of things about the limitations of the riot. There’s this disconnect between people being in the streets together and larger or more nuanced social struggle. How does rioting lead to bigger occupations or general strikes or occupied neighborhoods or completely autonomous zones or neighborhoods where the cops can never go?Because there are these other entities now. To answer the question of how the social terrain in St. Louis has changed, there are more activists now, these politicized people, and they’re still trying to find their way, and there’s more socialists and more Black Power nationalists or people involved in trying to get “police oversight.”
It seems like there’s always going to be a disconnect between those people and those who are not organizers.
There’s no inside I can join or a vanguard that meets who are the realest of the real. There’s just people, some who are organized in sketchy ways that I can probably never be a part of, some who just show up and fight.”
The following was written in September 2014 and obviously things have changed since then:
Since the social explosion in August (and even whilst it was going on) there have been quite a few killings by the cops, most notably this one in Chicago. On 26/8/14 there was a mini-riot at a vigil for this murdered teenager “…some pelted police with candles and bricks, authorities said. People threw branches, bottles and other debris from the street while yelling “CPDK,” which stands for “Chicago Police Department Killer,” officials said. At some point, a woman drove a Ford Escape into an officer, sending him to the hospital with a fractured leg. Two other officers also were hospitalized after they crashed their squad car heading to the melee… police intentionally provoked family members who were devastated by Desean’s death. “The police officer kicked over a candle and said ‘Awww, too bad he’s dead,'” White claimed outside of the courtroom Wednesday. “Why would he do that?”…Other family members said the officer laughed, tore down memorial posters and stomped on more candles.”.
But for the most part, the only thing following these murders have been peaceful marches. Why haven’t these broken through the fear barrier and confronted these protectors and servers of the dominant misery with the fury such brutality merits? Perhaps one of the reasons (there are undoubtedly others) is the absence of a living libertarian tendency in the areas where these cop kilings have taken place, which is not so much the case in St.Louis. Which is not to say that “revolutionaries” are indispensible for revolt, but certainly practical ideas can help create a culture and community of opposition to challenge the mere image of it.
” What the image of revolt does do is to modify the conditions of social alienation – and thus the struggle against it. It is integrated into the mainstream of social life, and is produced, consumed and reproduced by millions of proletarians as modified spectacle of their dispossession, whether as tranquilizer or as justification for cynicism and resignation.”
– Chris Shutes, “On the Poverty of Berkeley Life”, 1983
This very interesting text – “New Ghettoes Burning” (from August 17th) – gives more verifiable reasons why the revolt in Ferguson has been so constantly ongoing: “Police killings have sparked outrage and limited riots in many cities in the US in recent memory. But none of these events have been able to take on this same character, and none have been this difficult to suppress. An urban counterpart to events in Ferguson was the 2013 Flatbush riots in New York. These riots, similarly sparked by a police murder, were crushed much faster than the riots in Ferguson, despite the fact that they seem to have attracted larger protests and garnered greater immediate and active support from the surrounding neighborhood. So what accounts for the difference? Why did Flatbush not create the type of national atmosphere that Ferguson has? The difference between the two is primarily one of terrain. Flatbush is in a central inner-city zone, monitored and occupied by the world’s seventh largest standing army, the NYPD. The uprising took place in a city that, after the ghetto riots of the late ‘60s, was completely redesigned for riot suppression—avenues were widened, housing projects were dispersed, movable objects were chained to the sidewalk, etc. When the riot broke out, it was deftly suppressed by well-trained tactical squads operating on an urban battlefield that had literally been built for them….. In Ferguson, by contrast, the rioting erupted in a region with so many micro-municipalities that some local police departments have as few as five officers. The county and city government, pumped full of military-grade equipment but lacking in people trained to use it, found itself wielding a police force that was both inept and heavy-handed. These suburban police were well-armed but also ill-trained in riot suppression. They fired teargas almost immediately—something that the NYPD hardly ever does, and other large police departments only use when they must clear a space rapidly or force an evacuation of territory that has been occupied for some time (like Oscar Grant Plaza). They then shot a second person. And, for all that, they failed to make significant mass arrests, were unable to corral protestors, and mostly just stood parked in front of big box stores firing tear gas canisters. They were so inept, in fact, that the state stepped in, putting the highway patrol in charge. One reason that the tactics failed, however, is that the suburbs themselves are not designed for the prevention and crushing of riots, as are the major cities. Corralling protestors becomes nearly impossible. The police have few staging areas that are secure, nearby and out of sight. The rioters’ targets are more dispersed and cannot easily be defended—large forces have to be committed to basically sit in front of strip malls and other big targets, spreading the police thin across the terrain.” (excerpt)
It’s been over 50 years since Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” (and James Baldwin’s “The fire next time”). And whilst the movement of the 1960s certainly challenged capitalist social relations in certain ways, the weaknesses and eventual defeat of that partly revolutionary epoch has meant that the only changes that came were those which kept everything the same. That is to say, merely an accumulation of rebellious images of revolt and change (ie cosmetic reforms – eg more black police chiefs, more blacks amongst the exploiters, a black president, etc). Optimism is as much a form of resignation as pessimism.
Whilst it’s very unlikely that the world won’t see some attempts to change things of even greater significance than have erupted over the last 4 years, it’ll require considerable reflection and practical experiment to reduce the possiblity of repeating the same tired old mistakes to the bare minimum. Just hoping that change will come, however, is another useless way of avoiding the immensity of such a task. The immensity of this task involves, amongst other things, recognising that the environmental crisis and the crisis of capital accumulation which vastly limits capitalism’s non-genocidal choices means that there is far less time left to make the leap to such a revolutionary change than there was 50 years ago. Each new generation faced with this frightening future is going to have to seriously apply themselves to unravelling the strengths and weaknesses not just of present movements, but of those past movements searching for some exit from the craziness.
The following was written (by me) for some friends in St. Louis, about a month before Ferguson erupted, and was to be included in a compilation of memories, poems, etc related to the response in St.Louis to the Trayvon Martin case. This compilation has been put back in the metaphorical cupboard, since current events have obviously gone way beyond what happened a year ago.
July 14th 2013:
The Storming of the Bastille
When George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, was found not guilty I expected there to be riots, like there’d been in 1992 after the release of the cops videoed beating Rodney King. But this is a very different epoch, and Barack Obama played a clever game of sympathising with those who were angry at the result of the trial, just as he had known how to tame the anger of the blacks soon after the killing when he’d said something along the lines of “Trayvon Martin could have been my son, he could have been me 35 years ago”. Something no white president could have even begun to do, obviously (which is why significant sections of American capital groomed him for the presidency). When virtually nothing happened the day after Zimmerman was cleared, I had no expectations of anything. But the reality of expressed anger was fortunately a bit better than that – something between massive riots and everyone stuck at home.
We went along to what I somehow thought was the town courthouse and there was a smallish demonstration (perhaps 250 at first, but maybe it grew a bit). The speeches were being addressed from the stairs to the rest of us. Everyone could use the mic if they wanted (apparently this had very rarely been the case for demos in the past). The speakers were almost exclusively black. They spoke like it was a revivalist church meeting – and many in the crowd responded as if they were shouting “Amen”. I found most of it a performance of anger, not authentically embodied or felt, not passionately put over in any genuine way, a role that people in the States seem to put on almost habitually, like they’ve been raised on Jeremy Kyle or Oprah Winfrey and think this manner is “natural”. Anyway, it seems a more crude internalisation of “correct” forms of social behaviour than the subtler role-playing you get in France (where I live) or the UK (where I come from), but maybe others from outside French or UK culture would find different forms of method acting phoniness in the way the French or Brits express themselves than someone, like me, more immersed in the culture. Personally, being white, with a British accent, having shortly before arrived in the States, I didn’t feel confident enough to speak, particularly as what I would have tried to say would have been a little more incendiary and provocative than the standard speeches about democracy and changing things through a change in governing personnel.
There were a couple of black teenage girls with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Obama carrying a packet of Skittles (what Trayvon Martin had gone out to buy when he was shot). I approached them saying something to the effect that Obama was no better than George Bush, that he was a mass murderer like all capitalist leaders. They told me I was being “totally negative”, the standard response used to avoid dealing with what and how one says something. As if one could be anything but negative towards someone one had called a mass murderer. A bit later, as the demo moved off round the centre of town, a black guy, considerably older than the teenagers, came up to me and said he agreed with what I’d said about capitalism and we chatted for a couple of minutes, making me feel a bit better about the whole situation. The demonstrators were chanting “No justice – no peace” (without the follow-up: “…fuck the police!”), and I pointed out to a couple of women that unfortunately all we’ve got is no justice and far too much peace. They laughed. Then suddenly a contingent of the demonstration ran off – about 100 or so – and I rushed off with them, making sure I caught up with my (at that time) 19 year-old daughter. Somebody had got nicked. The cops had their batons out, but they’d clearly been told to soft pedal the response to the verdict, and weren’t overtly very aggressive. Someone tagged “fuck the police” on the back of a bus whilst there was a lot of running around. Then a really sudden extraordinarily heavy downpour. Within 5 seconds we were drenched like we’d been chucked into a pool with our clothes on. The cops and media disappear with that torrential rain (we know, from the Wizard of Oz, what happens if evil sorcerers get covered in water).
So it’s pissing down and we all loudly head back toward what I somehow thought was the town courthouse, and I go first into the little vestibule banging a saucepan very noisily. Everybody else seemed a little hesitant, like I’d stepped over an invisible barrier that everybody normally respected. But then this was the vestibule of the city jail, and not merely a courthouse as I’d assumed. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The noise we were making was deafening, and seemed to echo into the area beyond the glass doors we were not going through. I suggested going further than the vestibule. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, urging others to join them. Ignorance is bliss. A masked guy (Zorro? the Lone Ranger? Billy the Kid?) ran in and chucked the only thing that moved – a floor mat. When he returned a bit later, and threw in some flowers that he’d just picked from outside the jail, a black woman got upset – “This is meant to be a peaceful demonstration – Trayvon Martin’s family insisted it should be peaceful”. What sad/mad times these are when throwing flowers is somehow thought of as not peaceful enough.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
Angels never go to war – they masturbate instead”
We then retreat from the jail as we get pushed out by armed guards. A few minutes later the courthouse is surrounded by heavily armoured riot cops with their sticks at the ready, the TV cameras reappearing for the first time since the downpour. We all go off back to our cars, and then off to a birthday party of a woman friend of my friends. She was born on July 14th, famous in France for what happened in 1789 – Bastille Day – appropriate, since we’d “stormed” the city jail. Well, almost – the vestibule…still, it sounds good – “WE STORMED THE CITY JAIL!!! – ON BASTILLE DAY!!!!!”
This wasn’t great, of course – but it was good because it made people feel good. Something considerably better is needed and even then, it won’t be enough. The days when such incidents are a dime a dozen is still a long way off – maybe so long that they won’t happen in my lifetime.
Or – who knows? – maybe sooner than I or you think. The optimist in me and the perception of a very deep anger increasingly reverberating almost everywhere, makes me think sooner, much sooner than I dare to hope. But either way, it won’t depend on us, but we can certainly have an influence. And we should aim to influence ourselves and others to a point that satisfies us, that makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something significant. Which means persistently experimenting, constantly keeping abreast of reality, and always trying to extend our humanity and lucidity.
Though perhaps the best critique of the cops came from a cop himself, shortly before July 14th:
Short discussion between Y, a black guy from South Africa and X, a white guy from St.Louis
” Have you any sense that blacks in the US are coming together to ask questions about the way they live and maybe searching for solutions in between the explosions that have erupted once a decade for the past 30 years (LA, Cincinati, St Louis)? Your site says interesting things about the distance between the young and the old leftist organisations: does this disdain for senile leftism translate into any new activity other than a few riots? “
“People are definitely talking about racialized poverty, exclusion from the economy, targeted policing. I don’t have a sense that people are talking about a solution to those problems outside the evolving movement against the police/police killings that has been coalescing across the country for the past 6+ years (Oakland, LA, Seattle, Oakland again, North Carolina, New York, Atlanta…). A peak of which was the national mobilizations in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin. What’s changing is not so much police policy or economic benefits (social democracy) or even some sort of community organized relief but rather the way people respond to the violence of the police and the structural inequalities of society. It’s shifted from individual and suicidal acts of vengeance to collective protest, mass rebellion, armed yet chaotic and uncoordinated uprising.
“The problem is not that people do not understand connections among various moments of rebellion, but that there really seems no material basis for solidarity being developed. This is certainly the case in SA. The rebels of the 70s/80s are still among us, the experience of one of the most significant revolutionary movements of the past century remains well within living memory, but almost none of them have anything to do with the struggles going on now, nor do those in the present struggle show any interest in learning from these past experiences, nor are any material links being made among participants in even the present struggles so that a sustained movement capable of withstanding the inevitable counter-attacks and setbacks can begin to emerge. The old organisations such as the Panthers had that going for them. The new relations established during moments of heightened struggle all too often take on a mythological or symbolic function during the daily grind. Activists imagine that somehow, some way, they will have some sort of lasting effect, whose existence, without any concrete basis in observable facts, remains speculation. Everybody else tends to simply refer to similarities in situation, in cause and effect — Watts: Ferguson, Sharpeville: Marikana — without even bothering to impute imaginary continuities regarding the respective social relations. The latter tendency, while practically useless, seems at least less delusional than the former. Which is not to say that the past is ‘lost’ to us; I am well aware of the ‘return of the repressed’ and so on. The point is that this return, the memory of exceptional moments, remains limited to new exceptional moments, while what is needed, it seems to me, is the ability to make the exceptional habitable. Are people starting to develop the basis for such an ability? Not in South Africa, not that I can see. There seems much more movement in this direction in places like Brazil and Portugal, but maybe that’s just a defect of my own perception…”
“I agree that something more, something different would have to develop in order for this cycle of struggles to become … well more than it currently is: concrete material gains taken in the course of struggle (land, housing, useful infrastructure, lasting relationships, anything else?), expanding beyond the limits currently in place (geography, race, protest/rioting that is distinct from one’s daily routine). But the context in this case is everything if we’re talking about the relative importance of this moment. Is this a revolutionary break? No, at least not yet, but it is a huge change from the recent past. From isolated individuals who just want to die while taking a few police or politicians with them to a collective yet often divided force that is not afraid of death but has a sense that there could be a future worth fighting for and living to see. Maybe its difficult to understand the power and importance of that shift from a different context, but it’s something akin to going from almost nothing to a flawed but real and sustained something.
To clarify a few things: by ‘material basis for solidarity’ I mean precisely what you call ‘material gains taken in the course of struggle(land, housing, useful infrastructure, lasting relationships…)’. The miserable lived experience of the world we share is overwhelmingly determined by our common dispossession of these…
My question was not directed towards ‘the relative importance of this moment’, which I don’t dispute. What I’m wondering is precisely how does this ‘flawed but real something’ get sustained? What happened in the five years between ’08 and ’13 that was different than what happened in the five years prior? In what concrete ways did ’13 change things again, once the dust settled, so that the year which followed was lived differently? And for whom was it different? And why just for them, and not the millions of others who share the same lived-experience but have never felt compelled to get onto the streets or do anything else to change their condition? What new things have been done to draw these significant others into the conversation, the convivium, the collective struggles and re-inventions of an era in which recycled and pre-cycled fear of the unknown continues to rule supreme? How have these measures fared? What else might have been done, in this direction? What might still be done? What new things will be done after the appearance of order has successfully been imposed on the streets? Where exactly have new concrete possibilities opened up, and what practical steps are being taken (by whom?) in order to take advantage of them?
As for the Panthers, old and new, I share your critical assessment of them. However I was not holding them up as an example to be followed, but rather an example of a practical attempt at change which, like all others, expresses many contradictions including that between revolutionary and reactionary aspects, practices and relations. They shared with your comrades-in-arms a revolutionary subjectivity in conscious antagonism to the agents of oppression and a gut fury against a system that needs such agents to function. They communised a network of places throughout the ghettos of the US in which people could begin to get organised, to share and develop required techniques and consciousness of their own condition. To learn to handle all that may prove necessary. To co-operate. To this they added a thousand free lunches they distributed everyday, their autonomous press, and arms for self-defense. It seems that their tendency to centralise the latter into the hands of specialised cadres acting under centralised command played a major part in their destruction. Tactically this move, determined by their adherence to a third-worldist ‘armed struggle’ ideology woefully inappropriate to their conditions, was a deadly blunder. It allowed the state to take them out without appearing to assault the black populations in which they operated as a whole. The biggest strength of their specific situation, the fact that the authorities could not resort to the sort of scorched-earth tactics used against rural-based guerillas from the Boer war onwards without extremely grave consequences (when pushed, the US may again resort to the violence seen in the Kent and Jackson state university shootings, but these in turn pushed 100 000 to engage in ‘civil war’ on the streets of the capital and 25 000 onto streets nationwide in the largest and most audacious disruptions the country had ever seen on Mayday 1971 as well as the only nationwide student-strike involving 4 million students [Samotnaf note: this is not accurate and rather confusing ]; had they not rapidly resorted to less lethal repression things would certainly have escalated even further), was thus left unexploited. If, on the other hand, they had made available a cache of arms supplied by residents in surrounding neighborhoods and accessed when residents themselves (including, importantly, women and girls: struggle against racist violence goes hand in hand with struggle against the sexist variety) embarked on self-defence militia/police-the-police patrols, the situation would have been far more difficult for the state. They then would have functioned more as facilitators contributing infrastructure and specialist expertise to the sort of citizen’s militia that predates standing armies and on which the US gun laws are based. Any group acting as specialists of violence in modern states can only compete against an established order which claims a monopoly on such a role. Considering the heavy superiority of the authorities in most cases, such a course of action can only court catastrophe. If the co-ordinated use of arms is to have any sustainable basis in future struggle, it will have to be based on self-defence self-organised by ordinary folks, for ordinary folks. Specialists can at most play a subsidiary role in such a case: contributing experience towards a collective study of strategy and martial arts, target-practice and arms storage, facilitating licencing, manufacture (which is now possible on a decentralised mass basis with 3D printers), and so on. Most of all it is essential that bases for communal self-defense are accessible to the diversity of interests, tactics and struggles to be found throughout the community: the struggles of youth against the imposition of compulsory irrational sex morality by the church, the school and the family, of kids against compulsory brainwashing in classrooms, of women against patriarchal oppression, of the hungry against hunger, of immigrants against immigration laws, of workers against work, of people without homes against homes without people. In this way ‘armed struggle’ could develop as a sustainable, organic expression of people who have begun to constitute themselves as a coherent force in the social war: one necessary front that crosses and is crossed by all the others, a practical tool in the service of everyday human needs (as when Panthers would show up at anti-eviction actions to stare down the marshals, guns in hand — of course such tactics would have to be used extremely judiciously, and certainly never when they would likely lead to avoidable armed conflict) rather than a machismo fetish in the service of a wannabe state bureaucracy.
There are other examples that could have served just as well, I simply thought to use something that was local and thus obvious. The ‘material basis for solidarity’ could also be found in the network of street & area comittees, civics, unions, student and youth groups, autonomous women’s and worker’s groups, religious networks and so on inside and out of the UDF which facilitated sustained mobilisation in South Africa even after the first State of Emergency was imposed in 1984. Unfortunately, these were riven with many deadly contradictions of their own, which contributed towards their vulnerability. Eventually, after the second, more thorough State of Emergency was imposed in 1986, and the campaign of paramilitary terrorism begun in 1989, these networks were (with the notable exception of the unions, necessary to keep blacks from taking up the struggle violently suppressed in the streets on other terrain, which they continue to do, with more or less difficulty) also completely destroyed, surviving at best only in appearance but with no mass base.
Hopefully this helps us understand each other better. As for my questions, they are not necessarily meant to be answered immediately by you or any other individual, though those wanting to document their experiences later might benefit from keeping them in mind. It is more important that we and fellows in Ferguson, Cape Town, Lisbon, Faridabad keep asking these sorts of questions and, in audacious but always concrete steps, try to work out the answers together. “