There were, incidentally, according to my brother,
five Negro policemen in Atlanta at this time, who,
though they were not allowed to arrest whites, would,
of course, be willing, indeed, in their position, anxious,
to arrest any Negro who seemed to need it.
James Baldwin ‘Journey to Atlanta’
Two people are heading home. They’ve had a nice night. They are in love. Messiah Young is driving, his partner, Taniyah Pilgrim sits beside him in the passenger seat. They are holding hands. They are both niggas.
They are stuck in traffic created by the protestation of the most recent lynching of Negro by White Cop. The car in front of them begins to move forward towards the news camera capturing the traffic. The people in the car are white, which means, at least in this instance, they are care-free. The white girl in the passenger seat leans out the window and waves to the camera. What time to be alive, she thinks to herself. Black Lives Matter indeed, she thinks to herself. I’m gonna be on the news! She waves at the camera.
In this same moment, the camera captures an officer in full-tactical gear (helmet, knee-pads, bullet-proof vest, face shield, etc—all the accouterments one needs to beat the shit out of niggas) sprinting to pull open Taniyah’s door. It is locked. In horror and fear, Taniyah lowers her window trying to understand.
The officer on Messiah’s side does not wait for him to lower his window and begins smacking at it with his baton. The baton bounces off the glass as if it is nothing. There is something childish about this action. Futile. Absurd.
The officer manages to open Taniyah’s door. She cannot understand.
Messiah, overwhelmed, releases his foot from the brake. The car rolls forward no more than a foot. He corrects his mistake and places his foot back on the brake. The officers read this mistake as violence. They will later claim Messiah was trying to flee. They will claim Messiah was trying to run them over.
Suddenly the car is surrounded by ten, twenty officers. One, in camo, slashes the car’s tires—lest Messiah think of making such a mistake again. An officer tases Taniyah. She is screaming. Officers have drawn their pistols. An officer has entered the vehicle where Taniyah once was and is yanking on Messiah’s arm. Messiah does not fight back. He seems resigned. He has seen this movie before. He cannot move. His seat belt restricts him. The officer manages to smash open the window. They tase Messiah. Messiah convulses. They pull at him. An officer on the driver side rips open the door and rag dolls him to the ground. The twenty other officers run around to the drivers side thinking, hoping perhaps, the officer will need assistance with the nigga who is not resisting.
The body-cam footage released will be from the vest of the officer who tased Messiah. In it you can hear multiple officers screaming for Messiah to get his hands out of his pockets. In that moment, Messiah is in the throes of electric shocks and has little control over his bodily movements. He is convulsing, he cannot move his hands—yet he is still a threat. He is a nigga with braids who did not resist arrest but must have a gun.
He must have a gun, the officer thinks. We have come so far. We have done so much in these thirty seconds. Please, he begs, let him have a gun.
Listen to the hatred in their voices. The anger. It is as if Messiah and Taniyah have made some personal transgression against these officers—and perhaps they have. For the officers are Black and choked with double-consciousness, thinking to themselves, We could ascend, we could be safe, if it wasn’t for you no-good niggers. They would let us in, you see. We could indeed be like them, sit and break bread at their tables, laugh along with their merriment, don’t you see? We are not the villains. We are the ones, who have pulled ourselves from the muck and morass; have shown ourselves to be responsible even reliable American citizens. We have gone slow, been industrial; we have compromised; our time, our energies, our relationships in order to serve and protect you. Don’t you understand? We have done this for you—to show you what you can become with responsibility. This indeed is for you.
Art by Kate DeCiccio
Intentions in Hennepin County
From George Kelling to George Floyd, Hennepin County, Minnesota will forever be a crucial battleground in the story of Power versus People
Hennepin County, 1963
George Kelling believed that his intentions were good. Before he co-authored the now-notorious 1982 The Atlantic article Broken Windows, he was a former seminary student with a strong desire to “contribute to the public welfare.” After leaving the seminary and studying philosophy at St. Olaf College, he first worked as a probation officer and then in residential care with troubled youth in Hennepin County. That experience, attempting to modify behavior, would shape his view of human nature and provide a partial framework for experiments he would conduct years later.
In 1981 he published an experiment, conducted for the Police Foundation, on Newark Foot Patrols, to determine if foot patrols in urban areas were worth the expense. Although the study did not provide a conclusive answer, it didn’t matter. Kelling, along with political scientist James Q. Wilson was able to change the course of American policing by asking a provocative question: “How can a neighborhood be ‘safer’ when the crime rate has not gone down—in fact, may have gone up?”
The answer, Kelling concluded, lies in fear. Fear of what he identified as “disorderly people”, which he described as (emphasis added): “Not violent people, nor, necessarily, criminals, but disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed”. Tellingly, these are symptoms of a hollowed-out social safety net and an abandoned community.
George Kelling’s “Broken Windows” theory centered on the premise that if a building had even one broken window, that the rest would follow. A window left broken was a sign for any potential “vandal,” that no one cares and they would suffer no consequence for breaking more. This theory was used as a pretext to update vagrancy laws under the assumption that eliminating the visual manifestations of disorder, as prescribed by the state, would make people “feel” safer. Regardless of intentions, the outcome was a police crackdown on aesthetic violations that turned into a crackdown on minorities. Capitalism depends on the existence of an oppressed underclass. An oppressed underclass is a product of systems that reinforce a social hierarchy and promote a sense of fear of the people that comprise its lowest rungs. Modern policing is one such system. Unwittingly, Kelling had created a potent model for calcifying centuries old racial hierarchies borne out of capitalism. To quote Kelling himself, in 2005: “Good intentions do not result in good policies”.
Hennepin County, 1998
Amy Klobuchar believed that her intentions were good. In 1998 she won the election for Hennepin County Attorney by a paper thin margin. During a debate with her opponent she remarked: “when you see the dramatic reductions in crime in other parts of the country we can learn a lot from what they’re doing”. She was correct. Klobuchar’s tenure in Hennepin was an ode to Broken Windows Policing. She had run her campaign under the slogans “safe streets, real consequences” and “more trials, more convictions.” She frequently pursued harsh sentences for non-violent offenses and was rewarded with stout support from the Minneapolis police union for both of her county attorney elections. Police unions continue to give her more support than they do for most others in the Senate.
The Minneapolis Police benefitted from Klobuchar’s reliable habit of putting decisions about police abuse before secretive grand juries. In 2004, she was called out for this practice in a letter from Tahisha Williams Brewer, the mother of Courtney Williams. Courtney was a young black teenager who was shot to death by an MPD officer, Scott Mars, in October of 2004. Mars insisted that Courtney had brandished a BB gun, but the forensic evidence was very dubious, and the police accounts had significant holes. Courtney’s family rightfully wanted answers. Klobuchar’s decision to put the case to a grand jury ensured that those questions would never be answered: the new normal in Hennepin county.
In October of 2006, an MPD officer, Derek Chauvin, shot and killed Wayne Reyes. The case went to a grand jury; Chauvin got off and went on to receive almost 20 more complaints before he murdered George Floyd. Klobuchar has deflected responsibility for this decision by insisting that her transition to the Senate prevented her from getting involved in the case, even though she was still Hennepin County attorney for three months after the shooting. It doesn’t matter. In fact, Klobuchar chose not to charge any of the 29 officers who fatally shot civilians during her tenure. The union got its money’s worth. She set a precedent in Hennepin County that lasted until 2016.
Through Broken Windows style policing and an increasing dependence on turning data into profits, police departments have become grotesque behemoths developing a parasitic relationship with communities defined by violence. Local, state, and national politicians fear police unions with inveterate cowardice. It’s a feature of the system, not a bug. Prosecutors that embrace this power balance like Klobuchar and Kamala Harris get elevated to presidential consideration. Why has protecting sociopathic brutality become a right of passage to power? How can we acquire justice and change? It is perverse that the American political system largely disincentivizes seeking justice for those who it oppresses.
Hennepin County 2020
In the wake of the public execution of George Floyd in broad daylight, no one can say that Derek Chauvin had good intentions. His intentions were not to create order or to make the community feel safer. His intentions were to desecrate and decimate a precious human life. His intentions were to humiliate and intimidate the community he purportedly served. That community has since shown that they have their own intentions: They intend on seeing justice for George Floyd. They intend on changing the American mainstream view of policing.
Groups like the Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block have been advocating for defunding the police in Minneapolis for years. MPD150 articulates the vision of what happens beyond defunding the police and what transformative justice looks like. Now, with millions around the world protesting police violence and the carceral state, the vision shared by these groups and others long in this fight is being presented to the whole world. However this turns out, the intentions of the people are good. The intentions of the people are to imagine what justice looks like that is universal, not exclusive. Now is the time to see the people’s intentions meet reality.
Police Violence Is India’s Problem, Too
In India and the United States, the police have operated as violent defenders of elite interests. Going forward, privileged Hindus must join the fight to dismantle their colonizers’ oppressive vision.
In December 2019, a wave of protests began in India against the government’s new Citizenship Amendment Bill (now the Citizen Amendment Act, or CAA), which, in conjunction with increased spending for the National Register of Citizens, set the conditions for revoking the citizenship of millions of Indian Muslims. Students at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university were among the first to organize protests against the bill. Police responded by deploying tear gas and beating students with batons, including in areas where they were studying. Sound familiar, US residents?
Then in March, the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world. With a lockdown announced, millions of migrant laborers in Indian cities found themselves without income, and without a clear government plan to keep them from starving. In the absence of buses and trains, they began to walk hundreds of miles home. The police responded violently, ostensibly defending the lockdown by beating people on the sides of highways and detaining them in overcrowded make-shift camps. On the other side of the world, in New York City, residents of white, gentrified neighborhoods were given masks when they went out for a stroll, while residents of black and brown working-class neighborhoods were arrested for not having one.
These parallels are no coincidence. If US police originated from Slave Patrols, racist night watches, and Northern merchants’ efforts to suppress wage workers, their equivalent in the Indian subcontinent also originated from white-supremacist colonial control. After the 1857 uprising against the British, the Police Act of 1860 created a newly defined police, which became a key institution in suppressing the Indian independence movement. Popular actions against the owner class (namely, the East India Company, then the British Crown) were countered via intelligence, arrests, and violent repression. In addition, any threat to “civilized society,” in other words, the idealized expression of British domination—i.e. anyone not involved in settled agriculture or wage labor, including Adivasi tribes, nomadic groups, hijras, the poor, low-caste, and landless—were systematically targeted under the Criminal Tribes Act.
In India, the Police Act is largely still in place, providing meager accountability measures and perpetuating the use of police as a political tool by the ruling party. So is the legacy of the Criminal Tribes Act. Meanwhile, the oppressive mantle of supremacy and civilization, previously inhabited by the British, has been claimed by right-wing Hindu ideologues. The current ruling party, the BJP, has expressed the goal of re-making India—a historically multi-faith, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic part of the world—as a Hindu Raj.
And the police seems only too happy to assist in this goal, displaying a consistent pattern of anti-Muslim prejudice. After a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims in 2002 in Gujarat, over 2000 Muslims were murdered in retaliatory riots that followed; police allowed the violence to continue unabated for days. According to contemporaneous statements by party insiders and police higher-ups, instructions not to act were received straight from Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and has since gone on to become Prime Minister. This February, unidentified police officers were filmed beating five Muslim men in Delhi, forcing them to sing the national anthem while they lay on the ground and pleaded for their lives. One of the men, twenty-three year old Faizan, died of his injuries a few days later. It should not be a surprise, then, that a 2019 study conducted in 21 states showed that half of Indian police personnel believe Muslims are “naturally prone towards committing crimes.”
While the Indian police have smaller budgets and less military equipment than their US equivalent, they seem to be heading in a no-less frightening direction. There has been direct contact between the two countries’ police forces—an account published by the US Department of State chronicles a 2018 “Antiterrorism Assistance Program,” where Indian officers received training in such matters as “border security” and “violence impacting communities.” This year, Indian police are enforcing the use of surveillance technology as part of the COVID-19 response, even publicly releasing the addresses of those testing positive in order for neighbors to assist in keeping an eye on them. This is already a shocking infringement of civil liberties, but given the state’s growing propensity for labeling dissenters as terrorist threats, the future possibilities for such technologies are truly frightening.
Given relatively low police spending, there is still the opportunity to shape India’s future towards wise investments in universally accessible education and health sectors, rather than simply following the American line of increasingly militarized, racist national budgets. To help realize such visions, a significant proportion of Hindu elites must join global justice movements.
Elite Hindus have benefitted from the work of Dalit, Muslim, Indigenous, and Black activists against imperial, racist, or environmentally destructive regimes, while simultaneously leveraging their caste-privilege to attain (incomplete and toxic) proximity to whiteness. Given the similarities in policing, the key difference between the US and India today—and an unfortunate one—is that, unlike other privileged groups in the US, elite Hindus have not yet vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement, nor, in India, added their presence significantly to anti-CAA protests. This must change.
It’s hard to know how to impel a relatively privileged group to show up for those who are oppressed; this meme comes to mind. But perhaps change lies in connecting the dots between police brutality in the United States and back home; seeing injustice somewhere could lead to hating injustice everywhere. Caste-privileged Hindus are beginning to add their voices to calls to abolish police departments. Some may have felt the direct reach of police violence in 2015, when an Alabama cop partially paralyzed 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel. Was not the same prejudiced brutality inflicted on Faizan by the Delhi Police? Now is the time to expand our empathy, and feel called to do something.
We must join our Muslim sisters at the next Shaheen Bagh protest, and our black brothers and sisters at every action demanding defunding of the police. We must advocate for universal healthcare and a secure livelihood for workers. We must pay our own domestic workers a fair wage and provide fair working conditions. We must financially support the cause for justice by donating to BLM bail funds and organizers on the ground. Going forward, South Asian elites must forgo the bitter and partial inheritance of supremacy from our colonizers, in favor of solidarity and a vision of a collective future.
What Comes after Displacement?
In an interview with Democracy NOW’s Nermeen Shaikh last Thursday, historian Robin D.G. Kelley called out the media’s attention to looting for “displacing [the issue of] violence of the police against protesters” and, more broadly, “displacing the looting that is the history of the United States.” Displacement is the redirection of an emotion or impulse from its original object to another target. While in psychology it's described as a defence mechanism, sociologists like Göran Therborn have used it to describe the tactic of the ruling class to suppress the types of uprisings that it cannot suppress solely with violence. In fact, as far back as 1978, Therborn identified the following forms of displacement: “isolating grievances and conflicts to specific targets” (blaming bad cops or police unions), “extroversion of aggressive frustration” (outside agitators), “pre-emptive canalization” (fast-tracked legislation “granting” rights), providing intra-systemic alternatives (a slightly more diverse ruling class) and channels for the presentation of grievances (a request to protest on the terms of the ruling class).
Kelley’s comments are an obvious call to reject the path of police reform and the attempts to distort the uprising in the media. But for people like me, who urgently want to aid the struggle to abolish carceral capitalism but have not, until recently, studied the intellectual origins of Black Lives Matter and other members of the Movement for Black Lives, these comments offer a window to resolving genuine confusion about how the statement “black lives matter” connects to overthrowing capitalism. First, theorists of abolition, like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, have made clear that the struggle for black lives is not just a struggle against police brutality, but a struggle against all of the different determinants—economic, historical, cultural, environmental, and global—that make black lives especially vulnerable to police brutality. Second, we should consider that the contemporary language and imagery of the struggle for black liberation is a culmination of its history and past attempts to repress and displace it.
It's important to remember that when the term displacement was first applied to the revolutionary context, by Louis Althuser (who borrowed it from Freud’s study of dream analysis), it was paired with another term: condensation. Condensation is when the combination of multiple displacements produce an even more intense reaction. For Freud, this was the explanation for why some of our most intense dreams are so hard to interpret, but for Althsuser condensation is a moment of real crisis for the ruling class and a prelude to revolutionary rupture.
After a brief lull, we saw a renewed intensity this past weekend after Atlanta police murdered Rayshard Brooks. Perhaps the intensity of the present moment is also a condensation of the displacement of the BLM uprisings in the wake of the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. And as Robin D.G. Kelley pointed out, this current moment goes “back well before Trayvon Martin.” When the dream of liberation is displaced, its intensity doesn’t evaporate into thin air, instead it stays and grows and feeds on itself. The reaction to current displacements, including by those who do not share our anger or ideals, can condense perhaps more powerfully yet again.
Brand Hypocrisy in responding to Black Lives Matter
Abby Horton & Devin Thompson
Many well-known corporate behemoths have come out with statements and/or monetary donations in support of Black Lives Matter. Don’t take these multi-million dollar marketing gestures at face value. Look at what the corporation does day-to-day to uphold systems of white supremacy and loot Black communities!
Racism and capitalism hold one another in a twisted embrace. Racism allows capitalism to flourish, dividing us by skin color to fight for the smallest scraps, instead of seeing us band together to fight against oppression. So, under that umbrella, it’s been hard to pick just a few corporations to highlight here. But here is a sampling of some of our favorites from the past two weeks.
It’s absurd to see this message from the NFL after it colluded against Colin Kaepernick and other players for taking a knee in protest of police brutality against black people in America. What was a peaceful demonstration by multiple players was met with harsh criticism and effective expulsion from the NFL, and harassment by fans. The commissioner has since come out with a statement saying they were wrong in the past for not listening to their Black players earlier...we’re watching!
L’Oreal Paris came out with this statement in support of speaking out against racism. However, in 2017 Loreal dropped their new spokesperson Munroe Bergdorf, a Black, queer, trans woman, after she spoke out on Facebook against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. (Facebook also deleted her post, saying it violated community standards.) Btw, Loreal’s success was built on Nazi-sympathizing, if you are interested in learning more.
Seriously? Chevron, what about your racist business practices in the rest of the globe? As with most corporations who will eventually kill us all with the centuries-old dead goo they pump out of the ground, Chevron has had plenty of devastating affects which disproportionately affect communities of color in the United States. Environmental racism has been harming Black and Brown people for decades, and as a destroyer of the environment, Chevron is very guilty. A group who is SO familiar with human rights abuses might know the ins and outs of these particular topics.
The self-serious minimalist composition may be hard to read, but this page greets players when they start Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). In the game, tight shooting controls and bright flashing graphics give players bumps of dopamine for getting kills without requiring much skill. The game fashions itself as a hyper-serious recreation of actual warfare that claims to remain apolitical. Call of Duty’s pursuit of realism sees it drawing off of actual military conflicts that the US and UK are currently embroiled in. In this regard, it consistently takes a decidedly pro-US position. The original Modern Warfare (2007) was basically a recreation of the War on Terror. It’s propaganda.
The franchise is constructed around going around the globe and murdering people living in the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, any obstacle to US imperialism. They have profited off a jingoistic power fantasy that grinds digital enemies into experience points to upgrade your weapons. How can they care about Black Lives when racism is baked into their bread?
Amazon: an egregious perpetrator of exploitative global capitalism and a proud destructor of local economies everywhere!™ They paid 1.2% in federal taxes in 2019, up from 0% in 2018. During the pandemic, warehouse workers went on strike because they were not being provided with PPE, warehouse sanitizing, or hazard pay, while CEO Jeff Bezos increased his wealth by $26 billion. “Wtf?,” we ask.
Their video-doorbell service, Ring, and it’s app Neighbors, has partnerships with hundreds of law enforcement agencies all over the country and allows police access to its video recordings. They work with police departments to market their video-surveillance systems and encourage citizens to share their videos with local police and each other. Investigations have shown that the platform actively enforces racism. Ring even plans to use their surveillance cameras to create neighborhood “watch lists” where people are encouraged to report “suspicious behaviors.” What is “suspicious”? Due to racial bias, that often means simply being Black.
Pair that with Amazon’s A.I. facial recognition tool, Rekognition. The federal and local governments have been using Rekognition to match “suspects” with surveillance footage. Five days ago (obviously due to the current protests) they put a one-year moratorium on police using the software, due to proven racial biases. We will watch if Amazon goes back to selling highly invasive, discriminatory tools to the police allowing them to surveil and target whomever they please. Amazon does not stand with communities of any kind, let alone Black communities.
Unveiled as an oppressive force, capitalists are sweating! Don’t think that the capitalists have failed to recognize their own role in the oppression of Black people. When they own every facet of the economy and that economy oppresses minority groups, these companies are doing their best to preempt any real examination of their character through performative activism. They’ve essentially thrown up a big sign that reads: “Don’t hurt me I’m on your side!” while they turn a massive profit off of the suffering of others.
What do the police protect during the riots? (Other than white supremacists, of course.) The businesses, the material wealth, the lifeblood of capitalism. We’ve heard the argument that when protesters burn down a single Target it’s destroying the community they live in. But that Target depressed wages and destroyed a thriving mom and pop shop economy.
And is it not justified to fight against your oppressor? To burn down a Target is to delegitimize a made-up system whose arcane rules and ad hoc philosophies were designed to hurt us and benefit the rich. That’s what scares these corporations, that’s why the image of a progressive leader is so coveted by [BRAND] because they think it will divert our anger. Nice try!
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