Monday, January 30, 2012
occupy oakland and opposition to the police
i have not been a participant in occupy, but i am tired of hearing people saying things like "occupy, after saturday, you must earn back my trust by becoming nonviolent again" and "occupy has morphed into something foreign from its roots." what did these people think a movement of "the 99 percent" was? what roots does an ostensibly "leaderless" movement have? when have the police ever let occupy be nonviolent? where is the outrage toward the police for their ongoing abuses of the poor and black and brown people, not to mention of the occupy movement? why expunge the long record that the police have? why apologize for the state?
the police do NOT get a blank slate for all the dirt they've done and systematically continue to do. if you are judging the way occupy responds to the police according to the things that you see from the corporate news media-- or even from your own window-- you aren't serious about opposing the racism that the police practice and enforce. that's insufficient information to formulate a judgment. that would be like saying, "from my perspective in beverly hills, the police are friendly and have fast response times. what are those people in compton talking about when they say 'fuck the police?'"
after seeing the cases of abner louima, omar edwards, amadou diallo, sean bell, julian alexander, and oscar grant (and i'm not even mentioning cointelpro or ICE raids or the government introduction of crack cocaine), i have a different perspective on what the real job of the police is. if you don't know those names, you should look them up. these cases are just the most famous of the few that reach daylight. they are black men killed by racist cops--every one of them. if the middle-class respectability narrative is your thing, one of these men actually WAS a cop who was off duty and trying to help out his comrades on a chase. shot dead. another was a young newlywed college student who thought he heard burglars in his yard and was trying to protect his family. shot dead. just like that. just as if they were any other black, brown, or poor person who undergo this all the time. these two were actually performing functions within a community that can be thought of as intra-community police functions. it didn't matter. they were shot down for LOOKING LIKE THE TYPE OF PEOPLE THAT POLICE SHOULD BE SHOOTING. even according to the most conservative standard of ethics, do you think that's right? and if not, shouldn't that shape your judgment of the police as an institution, of how to respond when the police start shooting projectiles at you just for marching? that is absolutely essential information to have BEFORE one starts making judgments about the ethical orientation of the occupy movement in relation to the police.
in lots of areas of oakland (to say nothing of ghettoes, slums, barrios, and favelas across the globe), the police are looked upon as an occupying force who do not merely fail "to protect and to serve" but actually make things worse and more deadly for poor people, and especially in neighborhoods populated largely by poor black and brown people. what does one do with such knowledge of the police that is widely held in these spaces? do you just ignore it and write off the people who would swear to its truth? it is worth listening to and considering, even if it has not (thus far) been part of one's own realm of experience. and the critique of the police that a lot of people in the occupy movement are making is what emerges from that listening-- and responding.
from everything i have seen of what happened on saturday, the police were the first to attack, as they generally have been. people trying to march in the streets and trying to peacefully enter an empty building do not require rubber bullets, tear gas projectiles, and stress-and-duress positions (to say nothing of inhumane jailing conditions and denial of counsel, as reported by the national lawyer's guild of san francisco).
but even if people in occupy began throwing tear gas canisters back at the police, i'm not prepared to say that they were wrong.
we cannot judge the conduct of the police on an incident-by-incident basis-- because, where would we begin? when does an "incident" start? did it start when the first group of dissidents began marching on saturday? or did it begin before that? how about almost 50 years ago, when they were doing the same thing in places like watts and detroit? 500 years ago? where to start? moreover, if the police have largely abused with impunity up to now, is there any reason to think they will be different now? and if not-- if police position themselves in solidarity with one another (via "mutual aid" arrangements--in which police from outside jurisdictions come to oakland to overwhelm protestors--as well as the thin blue line solidarity they show each other through organizations like the fraternal order of police) and continue to engage in coordinated actions across the country, can we not critique them as a structural apparatus of the state, and not just as an assemblage of individuals? aren't they doing the same to those who participate in the occupy movement?
the critiques of racism and corporate greed are not disparate. and no serious critique of racism can avoid being critical of the police (whose job it is to maintain an oppressive order premised on racism). their patterns of abuse and disproportionate focus on black and brown people and poor people have to be part of any informed thinking about how occupy should relate to them. the police have almost always struck first in these occupy protests (unless you believe in this ridiculous legal theory propounded by the police that says that merely sitting peaceably with locked arms in a public place constitutes "violence").
surprisingly, some liberals seem to think occupy started as a critique on corporations and that they should stick to that instead of being critical of the police. it is as though these things are separated by a bright line, or ever could be. even if one thinks occupy began as an anticorporate movement, that doesn't mean that occupy's tendencies that are against corporate america somehow trump those of antiracism (or those of antisexism, anti heterosexism, etc) as the "true" intent of occupy. lots of people i know who are involved in occupy see the connections of various forms of oppression and consider themselves accountable to communities of color, especially those under the boot of the prison-industrial complex. a lot of participants in occupy have a fundamental critique of capitalism that includes the ongoing ways that genocide and slavery enabled the great recession to fall out as it did. many of them were anti-capitalism prior to the recession.
how a movement that is supposed to represent "the 99 percent" responds to the police when the police shoot tear gas and rubber bullets seems central to its ability to critique corporate america. after all, how radically can a movement change the status quo if it is accountable to a fascist arm of the state that works on behalf of the rich?
Posted by omar ricks at 7:19 PM