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Stop Police Abuse - Build Community Self-Defense

by Michael Novick Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2010 at 8:52 PM 310-495-0299 POB 1055, Culver City 90232

Police killings and abuse with impunity are systemic. We can't rely on the courts for justice, but must build inter-communal solidarity and resistance and the capacity for community self-defense.

Stop Police Abuse Now!

Build Inter-Communal Resistance and Community Self-Defense

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

One year ago, in a particularly blatant and unusually well-documented police killing, Oscar Grant was shot and killed while restrained on a metro station, by Bay Area Rapid Transit cop Johannes Mehserle. Even though Grant was unarmed, posed no threat and was shot point blank, Mehserle was initially not even questioned, and was allowed to resign and leave the state until Oakland residents and others outraged by the killing and the injustice rose up in righteous anger. More than 100 people were arrested by Oakland cops, often brutally, but the forceful community resistance forced the Alameda County District Attorney to file murder charges against Mehserle, the first time a California cop has ever been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. Fearing further uprisings in Oakland, particularly after another shooting incident in the city left Lovelle Mixon and two Oakland cops dead, the courts approved a change of venue to Los Angeles. The initial L.A. proceedings were scheduled, as we went to press, for January 8, 2010, and local activists (including ARA-LA) are organizing to seek justice for Oscar Grant. A demonstration is scheduled Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center (commonly referred to as the Criminal Courts Building), 210 West Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Proceedings in Dept. 104 - Judge Perry's courtroom are scheduled for 8:30 AM. People will rally outside starting at 7:00 AM, with several people on line early to get inside the courtroom.

But as unprecedented as a murder prosecution of a cop may be in California, we should not imagine that justice can be found in the courts. Police killings and shootings, almost all carried out with impunity, are epidemic in the U.S. And despite a few highly publicized cases of officers being shot, the number of police fatalities and line-of-duty shootings, never very high, actually registered historic lows over the past year. Meanwhile, militarization of the police, as well as consolidation of local police forces into joint anti-terrorist task forces with the FBI and into federally-organized immigration-enforcement campaigns, continue. Moreover, the killings, typically of Black and indigenous/Mexicano youth by cops of European descent, are the tip of the iceberg, resting atop more numerous beatings, abuse, traffic stops and searches and stop-and-frisk operations on the streets. "Driving while Black (or Brown)" has become a cliché. Nor are the police alone involved in such racism and injustice. The entire criminal "justice" system is a colonial operation, in which, for example, a higher percentage of Black drug-users and sellers are arrested than of white drug users and dealers. Of those arrested, a progressively higher percentage of Blacks are charged, tried, convicted and sentenced, and they are sentenced to longer terms. The vast increase in incarceration over the past 3 decades under the so-called "war on drugs," and the regime of harsh sentencing and restricted parole, has come overwhelmingly at the expense of young people of color. The police and the courts serve as a transmission belt for such youth from under-funded schools to well-endowed prisons.

Thirty years ago, a book produced by the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional (MLN), then a joint Puerto Rican-Mexicano organization, put forward an analysis of and solution to this problem in its very title: "Disarm the Police or Arm the People." The MLN outlined the development of organized police forces in the U.S. to the class relations of colonialism and capitalism, beginning after the US war of aggression and conquest against Mexico. Then, vigilante forces of settlers were organized into the Texas and Arizona Rangers to subdue the resistance of the indigenous Mexicano population. After the Civil War, when slavery and private slave patrols were ended, the state assumed responsibility for control of the African population, and plantations were converted into (still-existing) prisons so that slavery could continue under the constitutionally authorized condition of "penal servitude." Later still, after the Indian Wars, settlement of the interior, building of the transcontinental railroads and development of the industrial corporate capitalist system, urbanization and the importation of large numbers of Asian and eastern and southern European proletarians led to the development of city police forces. They augmented the private goon squads and Pinkertons hired by the robber barons to discipline their work force.

With the emergence of world-wide communist and anarchist labor movements in the early 20th Century, federal police forces (such as the FBI) were created. Mass white supremacist forces like the reborn Ku Klux Klan were deputized to police anti-war dissidents and labor organizers, and to "Americanize" the immigrant population. Later US victory in World War II, along with the victories of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist forces throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, initiated the construction of a national security state apparatus both domestically and internationally. Despite this, the global upsurge in wars of national liberation sparked revolutionary anti-colonial liberation struggles inside the US and its own direct colonies, such as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and other Black liberation organizations, the Brown Berets and other Chicano/Mexicano nationalists, the Puerto Rican independence struggle, the American Indian Movement and Asian-American resistance forces. Mass urban rebellions and militant anti-war resistance overwhelmed local police forces and required the use of the National Guard and regular army forces inside US cities. In response, the US launched COINTELPRO - a domestic war strategy for counter-insurgency that incorporated local police with the FBI in concerted military and psychological operations (psyops) against the Panthers and others. This was matched by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), which began the process of transferring military technology and operational principles to local cops under federal supervision. The success of those efforts at assassination, incarceration and destabilization of revolutionary organizers led to the on-going current mass incarceration known as the "prison-industrial complex" as a means of social control. As the MLN explained in "Disarm the Police or Arm the People," the Trilateral Commission identified an "excess of democracy" and the unacceptable demands of communities of color as the main threat to the Empire. Samuel Huntington, a chief theoretician of the Trilateral, prescribed "spatial deconcentration" to alleviate the threat of rebellion by the "inner city" by dispersing residents to the outskirts (as they are in Latin American, African and Asian cities). That approach is known more commonly as ethnic cleansing; more euphemistically as gentrification. Police carry out this strategy as an occupying army in communities of color and an internal border patrol in more privileged areas. When COINTELPRO killed and framed up Panthers like Bunchy Carter and Geronimo ji Jaga, prisons held fewer than 200,000 - today, over 2,200,000.

This is the social and historical context for the ongoing plague of racial profiling, police killings, militarization of 'law enforcement,' and mass criminalization and incarceration that is exemplified in the killing of Oscar Grant. It is vital to establish this context because despite decades of struggles for justice for particular victims and their families, despite lawsuits, civilian review boards, marches and street protests, this plague continues. That means we must understand more deeply the causes of the problem and the nature of the inadequacies of our existing strategies and tactics.

The roots of the problem in colonialism and capitalism mean that only revolutionary principles can guide us to a successful counter-strategy. It establishes a certain minimum tactical unity for effective action in any particular case and a direction for building strategically long term. First, we must understand that the problem is not simply 'police misconduct,' but the conduct of policing under policies set by civilian administrations and political authorities to enforce colonial and capitalist exploitation. "Good cops" and "bad cops" are simply roles played (often alternately by the same cops) to intimidate and control suspects. Community-oriented policing, far from being a solution, is in fact part of the same militarization, described by its advocates in police journals as "the domestic equivalent of psychological operations in the military, to control the thinking of the population and the enemy."

Second, while demanding effective prosecution of killer cops and financial penalties for abusive and brutal cops, we must recognize that the criminal and civil courts have always been part of the problem. They rely on police "testilying" in their day to day operations, and serve to let both the individual cops and the system behind them off the hook. Cities count multi-million dollar settlements for police killings and abuse as the cost of doing business. Only concerted and unrelenting mass action and resistance can wring occasional victories and concessions from the prosecutors and judges, as the Oakland uprising forced the D.A. to file charges against Mehserle.

Third, we must take direct action on two fronts simultaneously. We need to organize the community to defend and protect itself against parasitism, domestic abuse and other ills that the police falsely claim to deal with, and to organize the community to defend and protect itself against police violence and abuse of power. Projects such as the Watch-a-Pig program of the Black Riders Liberation Party, and the various CopWatch projects that help the community lose their fear of the police, point the way. But they must be combined with resistance to gentrification, with gang peace truce efforts that engage youth in constructive social uplift and community building, with opposition to gang injunctions that criminalize the simple association of youth of color. The prison abolition movement must connect up with the opponents of police abuse. On the basis of self-determination and respect for sovereignty, we must build intercommunal solidarity and resistance. People of European descent have a particular responsibility to take up that struggle, recognizing the leading role of colonized communities. But all oppressed people must come together whenever anyone is violated by the cops, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The link must be made between the militarization of local police forces and of the border with the larger military focus of the Empire globally, and the use of coercive power to maintain domination and economic exploitation of land, labor and resources.

Finally, we must recognize that power concedes nothing without a struggle. The long and debilitating string of failures that have created a crippling sense of defeatism among many oppressed and colonized people inside the US dates from the defeats inflicted by COINTELPRO and the resulting on-going absence of any fighting capacity on the people's side of the ledger. All our actions in confronting police abuse and other social, economic and even environmental ills, must be oriented at rebuilding the fighting capacity of the people. The persistence of police abuse means it is systemic, and the whole society must be changed. We must strengthen our resistance and our resolve to see the struggle through to the final overthrow of a criminal, destructive system and its replacement with a cooperative, sustainable, decolonized social system. This will initiate a dynamic process that will begin to shift the balance of power between the forces of repression arrayed against us and the force of resistance, solidarity, unity and creativity that we marshal.

Based on these perspectives, ARA-LA is participating in the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, whose killer will be tried right here in L.A. Such an effort must include defending those facing repression for resisting police abuse, such as JR Varney, Minster of Information of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC), who is still facing felony charges in Oakland for demanding justice for Oscar Grant. The ARA Network internationally has made organizing against police abuse, for justice for Oscar Grant and support for righteous resisters one of its top priorities for the year. We must use the process of educating potential jurors here in L.A. about what is at stake in this case, and why Mehserle must be held accountable, as a means to a deeper, more committed organizing effort centered on alliance building and sinking roots into communities of resistance. Further court dates for Mehserle will be set following the initial January 8 appearance, and we must pack the courtroom (as well as for cases of political repression, where the people's freedom fighters are facing charges). To comment on this perspective or to join in the efforts, contact Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART) at 310-495-0299 or by email at You can also check out the Stop Police Abuse Now! email list we moderate, with searchable archives of over a decade of cases of police killings, brutality and corruption and the fight-back against them. The list is available as a resource for sharing strategies and analyses as well: to subscribe or check the archives.

The above is the featured editorial in the latest issue of "Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education." A free sample copy is available upon request from ARA, PO Box 1055, Culver City 90232. One-year subs are payable to "Anti-Racist Action" at that address.

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 3 posted about this article.
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Great Work Michael M.T. Karthik Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 at 1:35 PM
Police brutality Mercedes Kersey Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2011 at 11:07 AM
Police brutality Mercedes Kersey Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2011 at 11:08 AM

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