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by Rafael Renteria
Friday, Aug. 11, 2000 at 3:09 AM
Distancing ourselves other activists as they are being attacked by the state is not only immoral, it's political and tactical suicide.
There are divisions among us when it comes to the question of tactics, but there is one group whose tactics we need to pay special attention to, and whose tactics we need to be very conscious about condemning in the press. That group is the police and the power structure behind them, and their tactic is to divide and conquer us. They're using the myth of "violence" to do it.
For those of us who have never been hit by a cop, who've never been in the midst of a police charge on horseback into a crowd, who've never seen a cop hit a woman behind the knees with a baton to drop her to the ground, or seen blood on a friend or comrade's shirt....
For those who haven't felt survivor's guilt for being one of the few not to get busted, still on the streets wondering who to call and what to do, for those of you who've not known these things, or who've not been in jail or faced felonies or thousand bails or been busted on political charges, its hard to describe to you fully just how deeply we need one another and will need one another during and after the DNC.
The other side, the powers that be, need something, too. They need to divide us and isolate us, they need to use us one against another. They know that no one can discredit us better than we can discredit each other.
Now the terrain is getting tougher. In Seattle it was "broken windows". Today, after the events in Philly, its "assault against a cop". How will we deal with this? By chiming in on the system's attacks on our fellow protesters? (Not that whether or not one even touches a cop is relevant to these kinds of charges. In Houston at the RNC 8 years ago assault on a cop was the standard charge against large numbers of targetted activists in situations where there was no "violence" at all except by police. )
Recently I had the misfortune to see leading activsts from from CORE and another group that led an illegal march earlier in the week on a FOX national news program, and they were both busy condemning other Philly protesters.
The fellow from CORE was vicious, saying the radical protests on August 1st were an effort to gain media attention by a group too small to warrant attention by the press.
But in a way, the other person was worse. When asked specifically about the arrest of John Sellars of Ruckus and his one million dollar bail- she acted as though she knew nothing about the circumstances of the arrest, made no effort to support the leaders set up for pre-emptive arrest, said not a word about the brutal treatment of protesters in jail in Philly, and replied only that her group believed in "peaceful" protest. She did take the time , however, to condemn the "violent" protesters. She left the impression of trying to distance herself from "non-violent" direct activists - in just the same way some of the "non-violent" protesters try to isolate others for a broken window.
This woman was probably not a "bad person" or any kind of intentional "traitor". My guess is she was immobilized in the face of having to respond to the charges of violence, and had to fall back on the only thing she knew - rote defenses about "peace."
At one point in the discussion the hosts rolled some video showing a protester apparently spraying pepper spray in the face of a cop in a car, supposedly an "innocent" cop doing nothing. The cop leaps out of the car and starts chasing some people. A protester takes a swing at the cop, connects, and the cop goes down. He gets up pulling his gun. Some protesters are taken down and that's that.
So here they have incontrovertible "proof" of protester "violence" against a cop.
And if they rolled that video and you were there, what would you say?
Well let's look at it. Here you are on national TV. They run this footage, expecting you to be cornered into condeming other protesters.
The first thing you could say is this. "Why don't you role the footage of the helicopter shot of the Philly cops surrounding, kicking and beating a suspect Rodney King style side by side with this footage and let's talk about what it means and whether the protester taking swing at a cop armed with a gun and a baton even compares for "violence" with the other footage. Why didn't you bring me on the air to talk about and condemn THAT? Come on, run them side by side and then ask me your question again, if you have any interest in "balance and objectivity."
"And while you're at it, roll some footage of pepper spray guns in Seattle, then roll the film of one cop sprayed with one jet of something- apparently it wasn't pepper spray or it didn't hit the cop cause he sure wasn't impaired. It didn't stop him from running fighting or grabbing his gun."
The same kind of answers are possible here in LA, where there will be abundant police violence, and where the "outrage" of the media toward protesters will bear no resemblance to the calm they display about Rampart or other police crimes like the murders of Margaret Mitchell or Tyisha Miller.
A good example of this is a recent Daily News editorial that calls Tuesday's protesters a "vicious few." It also calls those being held on million bail (including apparently John Sellars of Ruckus) the "worst of the mobsters" and condemns D2KLA for opposing police use of rubber bullets and tear gas, calling it an "outragous request that casts shadows over the organization's motives."
The media would never say such things about the Rampart scandal, calling Rampart CRASH cops the "worst of the mobsters" or the "vicious few." They would never think to say that police spying and pre-emptive arrests of protest leaders are "outrageous" or that such activities "cast a shadow over police agencies motives."
And all we have to do to defeat these kinds of spins is think in opposites and call out the questioner's hypocrisy. There is no need to defend ourselves or to attack other protesters, especially given that the LAPD is a sitting media duck with an international reputation for racism, brutality and corruption. We don't have to answer questions on their terms, we can answer instead with the truth about who the real criminals are.
The state is trying to sieze the high ground on the question of violence, and it is absolutely foolish to let them have it. Are we really going to let the government that bombs Iraq, that killed two million Viet Namese, that has 2 million of us locked up in prison, that sponsors death squads, torture, assasination, starvation and genocide throughout the world - are we really going to let them claim a few people breaking windows are "Violent" ???
But here's the icing on the cake. If we let the state paint some protesters as "violent" and beyond the pale, and we let them get by with it, if we chime in with our own condemnation, if we do not stand in solidarity against the state, then the government will get the message all right.
They will know that all they will have to do is arrest anyone of us on phony charges of engaging in some kind of "violence," and sheep-like, the rest of us will "distance" ourselves and the targetted activists will be on their way to prison, hell, or both, completely without respect to innocence or "guilt". And today's distancers will become tomorrow's victims, charged with the same "crimes" and doing the same time as the activists they distanced themselves from yesterday.
In a word, not standing with other activists as they are being attacked by the state is not only immoral, it' s political and tactical suicide.
Whatever we do, let's not do the cops job for them. Let's NOT help create a media atmosphere that helps the system send our brothers and sisters to jail or prison, no matter if we disagree over tactics- we are STILL on the same side, and the tale will still be told on the streets - we dearly need one another.
The powers that be can only divide and conquer us if we allow ourselves to be divided.
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