It never fails. Every time there is critical resistance, an uprising and continued unrest people get dragged back to compliance (with permits) under the rhetoric of being peaceful or nonviolent. The movement gets dragged out of the street to sit attentively at the feet of the oppressors with speakers that tell us change will come if we are calm (and peaceful). Nevermind the normalized police escort, or the “security team”. We are just following the rules, nothing to see here.
Rhetoric about resistance and direct action becomes meaningless, lost in the symbolism of marching for civic change, not structure change. Movement managers try to make the movement mainstream-popular, inviting celebrities and business leaders to come forward, while at the same time pushing out radical elements that released pressure valves to begin with. If not directly, through terrible tactical choices that alienate people (like working with the police who are critically engaged in counter insurgency and developing profiles on agitators to undermine the movement).
Never mind that working with the city and police legitimizes them, while making it easier for the police to knowingly divide and attack groups that take nonpermitted action or respond to their conditions without the permission of the state. Is this what solidarity looks like?
Instead of hearing about what groups are doing to sustain themselves or strategies for community support or autonomy during these uprisings, we hear more and more about making demands and appealing to city representatives. For reforms that always come at a cost, like so-marketed police reforms with dangerous baggage like more technology and funding for the police. The movement becomes so pressured by popular media and civic leaders to clarify its goals, policy change becomes a priority before much needed tensions and discussions are addressed. Before policy change can be challenged not as the goal, but a short sighted tactic that gains concessions in the larger fight to abolish the infrastructure that makes racial oppression and hierarchy/abuse relations profitable.
But once the movement is focused on policy change, containment is practically complete. Uprisings get neutralized within 3-4 days on average (in LA), tactics are pacified and organizations absorb people and energy through that process. All the agitators who were able to explore what it means to act autonomously for liberation, who were harassed and attacked by the police, are cast aside as unreasonable. Ungovernable.
Unity becomes language to gather behind and solidarity is reserved for those who will declare their nonviolence or tolerance for police collaboration. Never mind that nonviolence never actually was not violent- it just tolerates violence in the hopes of receiving change. It accepts (the hierarchy of) violence as a means of determining justice- because if someone is constantly violated don’t they deserve to be saved?
The cops and US state are killing people, but pacifism will kill the movement every time. We say “first do no harm” but liberalism does harm to the movement every time. Debate turns to protest, but often doesn’t amount to more than symbolism and an outlet as most folks are quick to comply. People pull permits in the name of pacifism, but invite the police. People fund and support figure heads and institutions instead of building projects and efforts that provide direct support on our own terms. How does this make sense?
What is liberalism? There are many ways people might define or apply it. But for now i’ll start with, peace for the sake of appearing peaceful regardless of whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Appealing to and supporting state violence (the government) to restore “peace” whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Working with the enemy to minimize the affects of oppression, while never supporting those looking to prevent or abolish it.
Redirecting the outrage and energy of people away from their own communities and into organizations that work with and support the state (and it’s violence). Taking real anger and pain, and neutralizing it so that it does not actually threaten the economic and social conditions that produced it. Believing that the state is the only way we will be free. Controlling how other actors behave so that the state will make you free. And finally, using peace as a reason to dismiss and silence people seeking critical movement building dialogue to prevent the co-optation of the movement. Demanding peace without first acknowledging the conflict is dismissive and heartbreaking. Same with #notallcops rhetoric.
The popular media finds it much easier to latch onto movement building for reform, because the hierarchical political structure wants people to resign power over to representatives and allow those representatives to determine “clear” goals. And just like that the movement becomes less about supporting action, solidarity, creative resistance and more about appealing to the dominant white (and liberal) gaze for approval.
But what if the goals aren’t clear? The imagining of otherways and oldways needs space to breathe and thrive. What if supporting abolitionist struggle, autonomy, and insurrection means that all of it will have to fall? Especially the privileges and comforts gained by whites and non-black POC under the capitalist system built on genocide and enslavement. And can’t folks consider that their trust in the system that exists is misplaced and comes at too high a cost?
Liberalism is reliance on the state to manage all social, political, economic relations. This includes the economy of wage exploitation and hierarchy that makes people poor, upholds racism and deprives folks of resources. The system of governance and gender violence that pits community against each other based on sexuality, gender and patriarchy power. The lack of empowerment and shared decision making attacking our autonomy. The lack of access to resources for those who are disabled by society.
The political system itself which carries on war after war here and abroad without our consent, and for profit. The way problems are handled, policed and result in mass imprisonment and violence for poor and particularly non-white communities. Yes, all of it must fall.
It’s not simple. But to build this movement we cannot oversimplify it. We cannot ignore that liberalism benefits from seeing movements silenced, neutralized and absorbed into dominant politics. And we can’t pretend that it doesn’t make white (and non white) liberals uncomfortable to think about revolution and liberation. This might be a large reason why people in the movement fall back on learned liberalism. Because people, and particularly people of color, have been taught that to assimilate in Amerikan culture means to behave, which has become synonymous with being “reasonable” or deferring to white models of power.
But we don’t need to defer, we need to defect from these models of power which are not reasonable. Co-optation will fail and hierarchical models of power must fall.
[Edited but originally published on nowaronthepoor.tumblr.com]
There is a part of the conflict where the sparks turn to fire after a few days and the outrage cannot be contained. People retaliate, maybe property is destroyed and appeasement doesn’t work. The media heads and city reps are at a loss (for control) and the national guard gets called in. Propaganda about the national guard, a subset of the federal government and localized domestic military force, presents it as a favorable alternative when things get out of control on the ground in our cities. Nothing could be further than the truth.
In the pursuit of riots, or bursts of collective action both destructive and creative, we can recognize that the next step by the state when the police alone have been outmaneuvered or “lost control” is to bring in other layers in the hierarchy of state violence.
It should be noted that police purposefully provoke crowds of people compounding the effect of their already obscene, targeted racist police executions. It should also be noted that oppressed people repeatedly targeted by social and state violence have the autonomy to defend themselves and create consequences to change this society as needed. This means we have to be willing to undo and defy the structures built by colonization and institutionalized anti-black racism, the state itself.
But we have been produced under this social order, many believing that order, rather than oppression, is kept through state violence. So many do support the national guard or ‘federal oversight’ because folks believe order, through state violence, needs to be restored. And yet the national guard has proven to be an added force of oppression and attack in situations when people were suffering.
In New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina the national guard killed black folks trying to survive the hurricane and floods. The orders came from the Governor, and the official reason given was “looting”. As an arm of authoritarian violence they intervened in an “emergency” situation and increased the death toll while people were trying to survive. Because it was a natural disaster there was little to no questioning of their decisions or use of force. Like most government agencies, use of force is dismissed because of some mythical “protection” that is being provided selectively (based on hierarchy, not to people criminalized or targeted by the guard).
In 1961 Bull Connor, a racist police commissioner and Democrat in Birmingham, allowed mobs of KKK to assault Freedom Riders who were de-segregating Greyhound bus travel. At that time, it was seen as favorable for the national guard to intervene since police repeatedly allowed white racists to assault black people because police shared racist sentiment or were supporters of/KKK themselves. This was a political move on behalf of the federal government at the time, not because of the harm coming to Freedom Riders on the ground, but to restore authority and faith in the state process, who at the time saw a benefit to distancing themselves from the actions of the police. The national guard intervening during unrest and uprisings nowadays is similar, they intervene not against police terror but against a breakdown in authority.
During the Ferguson Uprising in 2014 when the national guard was called in, even some movement folks were looking at it as if it was a good alternative to the police running the show. However even Highway Patrol’s field operations commander, Maj. Bret Johnson, admitted that had the Guard tried to stop the arson and looting on Nov. 24, “the only way to stop that, with the amount of people there, would have been with deadly force.”
When an “emergency” is declared by these state leaders it is not over the consistent execution of folks, particularly black folks, by the state (which is the white supremacist/ legal norm) but the assessed threat to white power and established capitalism. They do not see police executions as an emergency, but collective resistance as a threat.
With the national guard, as any force or formation of government violence, oppression is order. The national guard being called in is an escalation in containment strategy by the state. It reminds the public that the government will continue to kill people to regain control, and signals to local groups they have to regain control and repress uprisings themselves or the state will increase force and do so more brutally.
There is no benevolent arm of this violent governing apparatus that will intervene in conflict without smashing resistance and autonomy to the ground.
What does it mean to account for the national guard? In my opinion, it means first knowing the difference when the state shifts repression tactics. When cooptation and containment aren’t enough, what role do these federal agencies play? In the eyes of others, in terms of flow of resources and chain of command, and how can we approach these situations strategically.
The truth is, riots are here to stay. As they increase in frequency and tactics change, the propaganda and strategy of the state will too. Bouts of collective rage and autonomy, attacks against the flow of capital (highways, windows, burning corporations), empower and release too many people best left purposefully individualized and in despair. These are the throes of conflict, beyond time for resistance in all its forms and this “Order” which is really a racialized poverty based gender policed hierarchy deserves opposition.
There are many creative means of organizing and caring for ourselves in spite of this system, though resources, time, and energy is depressed. However, all of the most effective autonomous efforts- from food networks to direct action collectives are repeatedly surveilled, targeted and attacked. This is why building our capacity to strike (together) and often is important, it has the potential to bring us together without requiring any uniform theory or action. In the meantime, we practice.
Preparation is continuously needed, but in the moment when people flood the streets, what is strategic changes. Food networks are great, but looting is more immediate in crisis. Blockades are effective, but looting attacks the power of capitalism to withhold resources and enforce that divide. It makes sense that in a capitalist system that values property and profit over life that folks would attack property. Especially folks in poverty, which is a purposeful part of racialized capitalism. In a policed racial hierarchy people will retaliate against a system that relies on their incarceration or death, this has to be affirmed. As a comrade said, “We demand something other than this necropolitical death world. A world where Black, Brown, poor, sick, disabled, queer, femmes can live and love” (Trishia Andrea).
We will not attack uprisers for knowing what is immediate and strategic even if long term professional activists feel it harms the image of whatever movement they are trying to carve out of peoples rage. However we prepare for what is coming, uprising energy is different and can keep its own flavor based on its conditions and should not be co-opted to energize local organizations.
Just before midnight in Watts on July 25th, Southwest division sent an extra patrol into the Nickerson Gardens public housing project. This led to a deadly confrontation by police and the execution of an 18 yr old named Richard Risher by an officer. Following the murder, community and neighbors gathered and the police responded by mobilizing riot police and putting the area under lockdown amplifying their terror and repression.
The extra patrols that led to this execution are part of a recent escalation ordered by the head of police Charlie Beck who deployed more helicopters and 500 more police to reinforce regular patrols. This move is directly responsible for the policing that led to the murder of this Black youth, Richard Risher Jr. who was in the area visiting friends.
Beck sent a video to his officers about a week ago, saying he wanted to make sure that officers were “as safe as we can be.” “Watch your back,” he said. “Watch each other.” LAT
Does “Watch Your Back” and “Watch Each Other” refer to an extra patrol going into a predominantly black and brown community and dispersing a group, by chasing and killing one of the people? We don’t know who or what happened, who fired the first shot, but we do know a black youth is killed. The culture of militarized police occupying a neighborhood does not bring safety.
The LAPD used organized violence to disperse residents of Nickerson Gardens in defense of their shooting. They did this because they do not exist to protect the majority of black and brown folks generally, and in public housing particularly. The Chief of police has been talking about a “change of approach” toward “community” policing, but from policing and police executions, to the way they beef up patrols, violently disperse crowds and repress grieving family and neighbors after executing a youth, the police continue using escalation as a primary strategy.
Despite hot air about “police reform” or “retraining”, police continue increasing their enforcement with deadly consequences. Use of force and use of police is not changing on their end. And so use of force/defense and enabling of the police must change on ours.
Initial reports were undetailed, yet focused on a minor police officer injury rather than the death of an 18 yr old son, cousin, nephew and loved one. Police media relations did not provide information whether body cam footage exists or will be released. LAPD media relations indicated a press release would be issued and that the story continues changing. They said the press release would be issued around 7pm July 26th and one has not been issued yet.
We do not trust the state to investigate it’s own acts of execution
There are narratives counter to the police, people in the neighborhood said he was running away when he was shot. Even the LA Times reported conflicting accounts between his mother and the police.There were over 30 shots with several shots in the back. And there are so many questions not being asked, left unanswered that I feel raised.
Why did police escalate against a crowd of people intending them to “disperse”?
Why did they then pursue anyone, escalating the situation further?
The police chose to disperse a crowd by provoking a “gun battle”?
Did the police roll up and decide to detain the group?
Why are the police using deadly force to detain people?
To the people who justify police terrorism, why do you expect people to be attacked by the police without fighting back? Why is it that you only mourn unarmed victims, especially when one cannot trust the police for the truth (and the police are always armed)? The police have killed over 600 people so far in 2016 and the estimation is that they kill at least 1,000 people that we know of per year. This is more than mass shootings combined. But when you think of gun violence, you aren’t always taught to think of the police, or the enforcement of mass incarceration, poverty and systematic racism.
LAPD Southwest division killed him. The organization of the police continues killing people routinely. And it needs to stop. Love to the family in mourning.
If anyone would like to add comments or expand on what happened here, please reach out email@example.com Support for the families who have lost their loved ones to state terror, to all those fighting state terror.
Fight the police for murdering people. Abolish the organization of the police, as an act against institutional racism. Alternatives for police and support to areas/ & communities now. Alternatives to prison now. Cops out of our unions, and out of our schools. Strike against police terror and for general autonomy and collective pwr to change this world. All love to those grieving, and to those with resistance in their hearts.
The ones you love
Like sister and heartache
Only leave when wound
Is a deep ache
A sore spot where pulse beats
Never draw to a close
A few thousand minutes pass
and you are left wondering
Always, never, whenever
The only shift
Is a window breaking in your room
The release still does not come
And you are left with the pieces
Each a thought
Together- a sadness
A vision of what to learn from
Tomorrow it will be too hot
Your dreams too narrow
Too indifferent to your pain
But again with breath
And shaky laughter
at the end of this day
i lean/ in/ on/around
what it is to live on this rock
in the midst of this war
you say- war is blood
invasion and troops, all flagged up
the pentagon and military
there and not here
some say- freedom and violence go hand in hand
but i’ll return to that
since freedom is an overused word
in an underfree world
this war is wave after wave
of pain, uncertainty, confusion
many of us seeking out reasons
relief, healing ourselves in our search for
answers for the pain and oppression laid at our feet
scrolled in our newsfeed
boiling in blood
scratching at our throats
do we speak, as we learn, as we unlearn
do we destroy as we deconstruct
can we support ourselves and each other
while we tear those behaviors-
the ones inherited, absorbed, internalized
out of ourselves?
these are the questions that keep me up at night
nearly every night
for the next day will be more or less, war
and the day after that will be more or less, war
comrades preparing themselves for the loss of themselves
if i hear another friend tell me to burn the world down if they die….
repression is what happens when you resist
oppression is what happens when you don’t
both to be dragged or laid at our feet
either way, this pain can bloom
and bruise in the most paintful of ways
on a canvas based white when it blotted out this land
framed states with borders
called some- person, subject, citizen
gave you- rights
just so they can take them away
called itself- the law
held together with blood
and that is not metaphor
but still we compete for affection under a societies misdirection
want it to reform itself, value our health
give it the allegiance it so violently demands of us
but does not deserve
there is no consent here
the state will never educate you on alternatives to itself
this hierarchy will never tell you there are other ways to organize ourselves
this government will never tell you it needs fear, racism, violence, poverty and war
to justify itself
some say- liberation and violence go hand in hand
i think they are correct
i am not a pacifist
because this system is violent
not because i think we can spread so called democracy
with the barrel of a gun
not because i think “guns” are revolutionary
because like most tools, no one thing is
but because we have to look at what is known about resistance
there are alternatives to this system
they are vibrant, all lifeblood and shiny
but not new
some of them so old we can barely remember
but each time we thrive together
making joy under the rubble of this hierarchy
we get just a taste of the remembering
even though the waves come crashing again
to remind us
they will come, again and again
we can rise with the moon each night
to meet the tide
if you look inside you will see that you know this
Since i’ve become involved in movement spaces, i’ve been frustrated by the still looming threats of sexism and rape culture, within and without activism, radicalism and society and the way that culture shows up differently depending.
As i’ve grown older and more aware of the hierarchy in which we live, i’ve revisited this awareness of sexism and gendered violence, with a commitment to searching out and confronting distorted accusations toward men of color produced by popularized white supremacist patriarchal culture. This production has likely served to insulate white men from being held to account for their responsibility in creating a hierarchy of violence and patriarchy that other nonwhite masculine of center and menfolk have adapted and enforced against womn in our communities.
But I digress, because i mostly want to talk about womn and femme of center lovelies in this world. I only hope that men too will revisit their behaviors and methodologies of interaction, of navigating the white supremacist patriarchy, with a commitment to confronting the learned usability of womn and femininity.
As with everything within a racialized rigid gendered hierarchy that still favors cis white womnn, the fetishization of radical womn can disproportionately become weaponized against women of color, particularly black and indigenous womn. It shows up in so many ways, first and foremost in the interpersonal, but also the structural way in which our movements are organized. There are so many amazing critical articles sharing perspective on sexism, misogynoir (specific racialized sexism against black womn, yes, even by other non-black womn), transmisogyny, over sexualization, fetishization of womn of color, all working together to categorize, amplify, restrict and attack how we express femininity.
I want to talk about how these sexisms and misogyny changes forms in self declared radical spaces, with participants who learn the language of anti sexism and “feminism”, who stand beside us and call us radical womn and say they mean it as a compliment, recognition, but it ends up being another category to be exploited. Where men call themselves feminists as proclamation rather than through actions that confront themselves and other men in non dominating ego flexing ways. Even while we have done extensive work on how patri-hierarchy oppresses and frames masculinity, men and all children, or how assigned/enforced gender and the contingent development of masculinity limits the development and recognition of duality, fluidity and femininity in gender identity. Womn continue doing work for men, even for their liberation. This has been true in so many ways, through emotional labor, material labor, in our homes, on the streets, in the workplace, in our movements, all of our relationships. Even if we preclude cis men from spaces to work on our own experiences of misogyny and breathe, they often need help coping with de-centering or processing exclusion, processing our resistance.
They are afraid we are angry. Under patriarchy our resistance, which is not the same (amongst each other), serves as another barrier to the men around us. Sure, they benefit from it. They even affirm it, they have to! But a lot of the times they just don’t know how to “deal with us”. Womn and femmes break barriers every day all day long, smashing silence, interrupting power, spreading resilience. But checking MANpower tends to not be enough, structurally. So in spaces where men or masc of center folks know they can’t be mainstream sexist, how does it show up?
Have you noticed that being branded a radical, while being femme, means you will be watched more closely, not just for information, but to catch you when you slip? While at the same time men or masc. of center people named radical seems to enjoy a type of buffer that shields them from the same hyper-critical visibility, it actually buys them space. If femininity isn’t taken as invitation enough to be constantly evaluated for our worth, being considered a radical and femme of center person seems to be a special kind of license for hyper vigilance and pressure. This visibility comes with our own hyper awareness of the ways in which others respond, verbally, emotionally, visually to us. We attract attention, the sizing up of womn in rad spaces like we are either opponents, which results in our actions and ideas being constantly measured, or as objects to be watched or tokenized. And with attention comes increased demands on our time, energy, labor, and our bodies. In liberal spaces this brings with it expectations- our “radical” participation is demanded, not respected, but used and wielded as leverage to win gains for more “reasonable” goals. Meanwhile, we take the risk.
On social media, it results in people watching us, piecing together our posts, constructing versions of us that fit narratives others construct for us- rather than what we construct for ourselves. Sometimes made targets based on the wholeness and multiplicity of our femmexperience and how attraction manifests in our spaces, the hierarchy of desirability (inclusion), the ways in which we are approached. For trans and non binary folks this attraction or attention can be dangerous or turn to violence.
We learn to navigate oppression and develop tactics and discussion to combat and confront misogyny in resistance for our fucking survival. This shit is not cute, even if we feel it. It is not meant to be sexualized, or an invitation for your attention or MACtivism or machismo. If you are at attention, you can be listening and learning while recognizing the unpaid, devalued labor we are doing for ourselves that you are piecing apart and benefiting from for yourself. So many of us become “go to” people to validate or explain analysis and provide information, even though half the time it results in needling and provocation with people who just wanted to argue in the first place. Online this results in harassment, trolling, death threats and if we speak out against it usually we have to deal not just with one abuser, but a network of apologists for the abuse.
Oftentimes femme resistance ends up attracting observers in a way that further objectifies us and divorces us, in their eyes, from the real struggle of our survival. The worst form of this is people who think that our resistance is attractive and while they are fascinated, they really want to tame us. They want to tell us we are overreacting, demanding too much, capture our attention just to show us that #NotAllMen. They invite us out or to an event, but don’t really want us to show up in all our fullness. They position themselves next to us for social credibility, but stay out of the kitchen when it gets too hot.
This is a reflection on informal hierarchies that develop in our relationships and mentorship relationships including with elders / re: intergenerational ageism in our communities.
As womn, femmes and youth, together there are so many barriers to participating in social movements and critical spaces that one of the solutions to this seems to be informal or formal mentorship. In my opinion, consent is the most important part of all our relations, including mentorship relationships. The issue with these relationships is they tend to look like- people who carry more social capital determining how younger femmes and womn can get access to enough social power to be able to participate authentically. Some spaces (less so these days) are dominated by men, and by fitting in under someone’s “wing” you can avoid the seemingly expected ritual of navigating a new space or movement without social capital. It should be noted that I’ve been in enough situations where older (white) womn have put me in positions where I am supporting them, but if i don’t follow predetermined expectations, they will withdraw emotional social material support. We all need a support structure, but how that support is structured is key.
Mentorship gone bad can have consequences. When (if, but when) issues that need to be addressed arise in the space, whether bullying or physical and sexual abuse, it tends to be a trend that men will call forward their comrades to confront folks on their behalf. I hate writing about this, because womn /femmes mediating patriarchy or abuse is common both as exhaustion and solution. If someone is also under the authorship of a mentor, and the person being called in is their mentor, there is that much more pressure on womn to act as apologist OR mediator or both for their mentor. This is partially a reflection on the dynamics and exchanges of social capital, a type of currency present in all our interactions but magnified within social movements. It’s that much harder to call to account a person who is highly regarded in the community, who has social capital, or provides particular skills or labor to the community, especially if they are positioned with privilege.
Masc of center peoples will shield themselves in the relationships they build with womn and femmes. Abusers will shield themselves in the relationships they build with others. This is because it is that much easier to isolate and alienate womn and femmes, or targets of abuse generally, from movement spaces than it is to have constructive accountability processes with abusers about their behavior and its consequences.
Non-binary & Transfemme Erasure
We can’t exclude examining the specific ways in which trans femmes and nonbinary folks have their existence, labor and resistance both erased and fetishized at the same time. Gender policing and fetishization of gender itself creates barriers in movement spaces, especially spaces that lack facilitators who are themselves non binary or trans. This often results in non binary or trans femmes being ignored or not warmly approached or appreciated for their brilliance or contributions.
Trans women of color particularly have spent much of their lives fighting for their survival only to have that struggle slurped up by the mainstream LGBTQ movement, distorted and whitewashed. With hyper visibility (including resistance) comes increased violence for trans womn of color. Still now, our transfemme comrades seem to be appreciated for their disruption only when it doesn’t effect the agenda setters and gate keepers of mainstream movement organizing. Fetishization disproportionately affects trans women of color and non binary or gnc femme of center peoples. Probably in all the ways previously outlined, but also in more ways that I myself can define, and with an increased threat of violence.
To some degree, despite the variability of our skills and struggles, womn are positioned outside the labor models that wage us (unpaid labor), but still within hierarchical relationships that exploit us (home care, house work, domestic violence). For womn of color there is not just one career, a trade, a routine that fits neatly into capitalism, both because of adaptability but also because of lack of stability (particularly affecting TWOC). Our intuition cannot be neatly categorized within the economy. Similarly, neither can our resistance, and womn have been burned for this (literally). We are givers- this is often both burden and strength which seems to characterize most of our resisting life, and we are still resented for it. And because we already do a lot of “voluntary” situational labor, we fit right into the self organizing labor that comes with practicing/coordinating/sharing in collective resistance and movement spaces.
I recently saw a meme that reminded me about how we treat femininity without transformation of social racial political economic proportions. Resistance does not mean less labor for womn, and really it might mean more for everyone. Still, we can create towards a restructuring of how we approach our relationships and the spaces we inhabit with ableism and accessibility in mind- going beyond the idea of ‘equal’ mandatory labor and toward a vision of ‘shared’ labor. Really challenging the usability of each other, going beyond the value systems of worth we’ve internalized via hierarchist misogynist models of power.
But the meme reads: lover, sister, healer, housekeeper, cook, coach, doctor, therapist, storyteller, taxi driver, nanny, mother, teacher, organizer, friend… none of which can be reduced just to an individual job, but an entire care economy that demands womn and fem of center folx to do all of the above at any time, at the same time, upon request, or even without request, to fill in, pull the slack, even read minds. How exhausting! As a recovering workaholic myself, I have to be extremely aware of how my propensity to take on more and more responsibility reproduces itself in resistance. This practice can be extremely alienating to people who are already made to feel marginalized and excluded by the work models of capitalist white supremacist patriarchy. But often the people fielding the most pain and trauma are also the ones made responsible for the labor of healing not just themselves, but others. Of mediating not just their own conflicts, but those of the people they care about and so on.
Care work seems to be even multiplied almost exponentially in spaces where worth is measured in radical vulnerability. The care we share is for our survival, within and in spite of capitalist white supremacist hetero-patriarchy. And often we want to do this care work because we desire it to be mutual, interwoven into our collective struggle, as a model of liberation. We might even want it to cease to be work- but that’s just not the case now. The challenge is that because care work is so feminized, it has been undervalued and unrecognized and others have yet to recognize it and adopt it themselves.
All people benefit from care work, including the emotional labor required to process our environment and conditions. Deconstruction is a practice that can be just as much internal as it is communal. But sometimes people transpose that responsibility into labor required of others in movement spaces. Especially since men are being demanded to decenter masculinity in movement spaces and to center the voices and perspectives of womn, particularly queer and trans womnn of color, there is a significant amount of effort needed to process and apply these constantly repeated principles into practice. This labor time and time again gets displaced onto femme of center people.
At the same time I have seen and known men friends who have worked really hard to give lip service and at times, actually practice, solidarity with femmes and womn while also working on themselves. I’ve done emotional labor listening and offering perspective to these men- almost as a form of mutual aid. As with all situations and dynamics of structural power, regarding masculinity, recognizing and undermining how those power dynamics show up in our interpersonal dynamics and spaces needs to be constant vigilance- emotional labor. For masculine folx who are committed to this practice, I have found that even if they are good at it, if they go through some shit, or a multiplicity of challenges come up in their life that shake them, this commitment will falter and the power to float by on misogyny (resistance is supplemental, misogyny is default) will slip through. Know this.
Take the time to care for yourself, so it’s not all on us. So we don’t have to do both- care for ourselves in your wake, and care for you. We have our own deconstruction to do too. Entire networks of womn and femmes should not form in order to support each other in coping with your ish.
Just remember it isn’t just the state responding to our resistance that makes targets of us, but the way established power dynamics and hierarchies reproduced keep femme of center movers, shakers and agitators on the outs, tokenized, or our resistance harvested for relevance and social capital while we stay fetishized ourselves.
Many thanks to the compa who read over this and has both gone through some of this stuff with me and talked with me about it repeatedly. Also please listen to this audio discussion via On Resistance on the Fetishization of Radical Womn.
In Los Angeles the police are publicizing their new body camera program rolling out what will amount to 7,000 police body cams in the next coming years. Those of us who have been around cops with body cameras the last few years are not only not impressed, but critical of fanfare over the measure even though we haven’t seen any evidence it prevents police harassment real time. In 2015 alone “1138 people were killed by police in the US. That’s every 7hrs and 48 minutes someone was killed by cops. LAPD led the country. Here’s the link to these stats as published by Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-map-us-police-killings
Instead of much demanded police accountability, the quick to band-aid body camera “reform” actually works to expand the power of the police and further alienates and objectifies the people they police.
1. Where did the idea for body cams come from?
You might be familiar with the term and the tactic of Copwatch. It is most likely that body cams have been adapted in order to neutralize the tactics of copwatch, people deliberately observing, filming and documenting police harassment in their neighborhoods. This has been done for years with roots in the black panther struggle, through purposeful counter patrols from LA to NY, and by decentralizing the tactic and encouraging everyone to FILM THE POLICE.
Filming the police has been helpful for numerous reasons, but still falls short from providing accountability or preventing police violence as most copwatchers will tell you. Some of the reasons it is helpful are 1) it can provide evidence in case of a trial to exonerate someone wrongfully charged or 2) can demonstrate evidence of police brutality or 3) immediately challenges the power dynamics of the police. But the reasoning remains, people film the police because they can’t trust what the police will do. The police are the watchers, so who watches the watchers? Not the body cams, that’s for sure.
2. When did it become branded “reform”?
The police began to wear body cams and eyeglass cams on a widespread scale after the suppression of the reactive middle class leaning “occupy” movement in 2011, though recording has always been a method of infiltration. In some cases footage has helped center public outrage on an officer involved murder. Calls for body cams became popularized as reform after the Mike Brown uprising in Ferguson, MO. City representatives were quick to roll with the idea because in many places police were already using body cams to better surveill the public, gather intelligence and profile political agitators.
It’s important to remember that body cams were a repression tactic before they were branded “reform”.
3. More Funding and Tech for Cops, a For-Profit “Reform”
“The LAPD’s first wave of 800 cameras – costing $1.5 million – has been financed by 22 private donors, including director Steven Spielberg and the LA Dodgers organization, Tech Dirt reported. While traditional public funding would likely have been available, this one-time fundraiser has allowed the process to move much faster than it would have running through the usual city channels. ”
When the city, private investors and law enforcement want something done it always seems to happen quickly. Despite about a hundred suggestions to get to the root cause of over-policing, over-incarcerations, and profiling or harassment of black and brown people that can result in death or execution-by-cop, somehow community sourced solutions don’t get the support that for-profit reforms do.
Who is funding the police is important, it shows who is interested in helping the police maintain their position in society as enforcers despite the death toll against black and poor communities. The police are losing legitimacy as an institution that uses violence under the guise of “keeping order”. An “order” that has shown itself to be at the expense or incarceration of people from resource deprived communities, even to the point of arbitrarily enforced death penalties by the police.
I guess there just isn’t a market for preventing policing, or making communities healthy, resourced and safe(r) without incubating racism through violent intervention and prisons. Predictive policing? Yeah there are security firms for that. Private prisons? There’s a market for that too, with customers like Whole Foods and Victoria’s Secret.
Don’t believe me? Check out New York where NYPD wanted to require a $36,000 copy fee for access to body cam footage.
Body cameras for officers to film the communities they police is a venture in capitalism. An investment in policing, to make sure policing can regain legitimacy, with more tech to suppress community revolt long term. What better surveillance technology than the one communities think will bring them police accountability?
4. Not Accountability
The police as an organization are unaccountable to the public for their behavior as an intentional group of armed enforcers. If you’ve studied the organization of the police, they have a very firm hierarchy and control the region we live in through districting and injunctions more directly than any other governing agency. Sure, they have a Police Commission but everyone knows the commission is there to provide an outlet and quell the outrage to keep people from disrupting capital in more direct ways.
Simply put, body cams do not bring accountability. Who controls them? Who reviews the footage? Is it the same organization that is in need of the accountability to begin with? Next.
5. What is the problem? Racism, Policing and Executions.
The body cam debate mis-frames the concern that people have with the police, racism and the government in general.
Instead of addressing the uprising in LA after officer Darren Wilson was not charged for the murder of Mike Brown late 2014 and thousands of people took streets days in a row, ultimately with over 400 arrests, to show solidarity and demonstrate that racism and deadly policing are a problem from LA to Ferguson, Garcetti quickly got on the loud and in-public police body cam bandwagon. He wasn’t the only one and it was a very clear evasive tactic.
The problem is absolutely not whether we have enough police brutality caught on film of deadly executions by police. The problem is the actual, practical effects of policing as it has been constructed rooted in legacies of colonialism, racism and property protection at the expense of black and non white lives. No matter how many reforms are made, and body cams are not a reform, if this is ignored, then policing stays in tact.
Instead of recognizing structural racism in policing and social structural white supremacy as deeply rooted concerns that resonate with many black people in many different ways, representatives like to hone in on one thing they can quite literally sell to the public at large and deflect. And that’s what body cams did, they deflected from a deeper conversation on racism and the logic and effects of policing.
6. Without Input or Feedback from the Public it would Impact
If you are not likely to be policed or harassed I am not interested in your intimate perspective in favor of body cameras for cops. This social structure creates an entire field in “advocacy” work on behalf of impacted people, while neglecting to actually hear from or empower the voices of people that experience oppression directly.
When LAPD was announcing body cams as if they were “new” and not just re-marketed to put down uprising, they were pressured to open up two town halls on the issue. Despite these two town halls, neither was about whether this new technology should or shouldn’t be used on the public. The decision had already been made and the town halls were mostly to answer questions about how the technology worked as a public relations event to make the LAPD appear open to feedback when that wasn’t the case.
“I was there at their call for a “community forum” and regardless of outrage and pushback by well researched organizers and activists, the LAPD had the forum rigged. Police Chief Beck explained that they didn’t call a forum for consent to purchase and acquire these cameras with thousands of dollars of tax payer money, but that they had called this meeting to inform the public of how they would be used!!” said a local community agitator X.
This wasn’t approved by communities in L.A. and no local areas were surveyed for input in the policy.
Despite reports from grassroots community organizations, these body cam policies continue to result in contracts with private manufacturers with new products marketed for policing with everything from data collection to facial recognition tech.
The relationship between public sector organizations like the police and private manufacturers from Taser Inc. to SpaceX continues to be one of accumulation when it comes to weapons and surveillance. One funds the other and drives the market, which in turn reflects and changes the policies that are used on the ground adapting new tech marketed towards policing.
We can see now that these policy changes are not a result of people lobbying their state for changes in policing, they are a response to a growing market of mass surveillance, including domestic drone use. In order to successfully adapt and integrate the tech in a time of heightened criticism of police, the state seems to be marketing these new technologies as “reform” even though no such thing can be proven.
8. Not Reform, but Repression
Even if you want the police to be recording (as opposed to recorded) and trust that their organization can do that responsibly, there is a strong likelihood that footage gathered will be used to increase profiling and criminalization of people of color for even engaging in ‘legal’ behaviors.
The police will be able to choose to store footage they have and decide whether they want to criminalize someone after the fact. They will be able to use footage to justify more surveillance or warrants based on presumptions on someone’s character or how they act in the presence of law enforcement. The footage will likely provide first person shooter video of violent police encounters rather than capture police behavior on camera.
The footage will allow them to scrutinize the behavior of people targeted by police to justify use of force, when originally, use of force is precisely the problem. In cases of police execution this can result in more victim blaming by police organizations and the media who often choose to focus on a person’s last moments rather than the decisions of the police to escalate or use deadly force.
9. Why Give More Tools to Killer Cops?
This is not a world in which we need police to better get their story straight before lying on the witness stand. That is the current reality in which we live, and Hollywood movies glamorize and normalize these cover ups on the regular. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the police will be allowed to review the footage before writing their official reports.
Unfortunately, police obtained footage via body cam is more likely to be used in court against someone arrested by the police than it is to be used against the police in court. This is because police are very rarely charged or put on trial for their misdeeds, which is up to biased prosecutors, so any evidence or body cam footage is still just as unlikely to be used against them in a court of law.
The result? Body cam footage will just be another tool for prosecution in criminal cases while police who often evade any charges or civil suits will be much less likely to have it used against them.
10. No Standards for Body Cam Use
There are little to no policies for footage when it comes to police use of force cases. Will footage be automatically submitted to court? Why do police have access to review the footage before writing their report if it was a measure to ensure checks and balances? Why would we allow that if it can be used as yet another tool for the police to cover up their abuse of power?
Despite major legal activism institutions and civil rights organizations calling for police body cams, there are no measures to minimize bias in reports. In fact large institutions, like the ACLU,
may have just paved the way for police agencies to better manipulate the public while increasing mass surveillance and doing nothing to address police terrorism.
Some people just don’t want to recognize let alone validate that communities do not trust the police for good reason. And those same people tend to auto affirm the measures taken by state legislature and city leaders to validate and re-empower the police despite the cost. Not to mention glamorizing the police while they test out their new BMW and Tesla brand name vehicles, or trailblaze onto the crime scene with a new autonomous vehicle. If you care more about police public relations than the deadly cost of policing you might be exactly who i am talking about.
I don’t have any doubt there will be legislation to seemingly address the movement against police terrorism. What I fear is these new laws regarding the police are likely to say more about regulating our behavior around police than to address over policing, racist criminalization, mass incarceration or police executions of black life. Police reform is unlikely to create any consequences that might prevent police use of force real time on patrol instead focusing minimally on how police behave after someone has been murdered.
I think discrediting police narratives is necessary to the project of creating alternatives to the police and the abolition of modern day policing altogether. Together, communities are more qualified to determine how to keep their neighborhoods and blocks safe without the violent occupying force of police. Policing relies on violence, and without reimagining “public safety” we will continue to have deadly outcomes of police involvement in communities.