Thoughts on Anaheim
Last Saturday, police in Anaheim, California murdered a young man in cold blood. While gathering to protest in response, local Anaheim residents were attacked by police who used rubber bullets and a K-9 attack dog, which, when released, immediately attacked a woman who was holding her baby. The people subsequently blocked a street and set a dumpster on fire. The very next day, another young man was handcuffed and executed by Anaheim police. The day after, a protest took place in front of Anaheim City Hall. Police responded by emerging from the building armed to the teeth, firing pepper pellets and bean bag rounds at the crowd, protester and journalist alike, a familiar pattern that recently emerged on the national stage during the Occupy encampment evictions. At least five people were arrested during the attack on Anaheim City Hall protesters.
Liberal reactions to the Anaheim police terrorist attacks have been telling, as usual. One notable meme circulating on social media is this image:
Meaningful change will never happen as long as the final conclusion of dissenters is, “Demand reform.” This sentiment may come from a good place, but it assumes that we are dealing with a reasonable, charitable oppressor possessing a conscience. However, the reality is the opposite. Government and the police do not respond to rational requests like, “We believe that uniformed thugs with guns should be held accountable,” which is why police continue to shoot people on a regular basis. How can we reform a broken institution?
More accurately, how can we reform an institution that is far from broken–that is in fact designed from the outset to oppress the poor in general and communities of color in particular? Police reform takes the view of capitalist white supremacy–essentially grounded in the notion that the system is functional and worth keeping, that it works for “us.” But who is “us?” How has this played out historically? See, for example, Haymarket Massacre, Ludlow Massacre, Night of Terror, and Policing Slaves; the history of policing in this country has always been one of oppressing one group of people for the benefit of another, so it is no surprise to find so many people who still support the police ideologically and materially.
It is therefore clear that the killings won’t stop simply because friends and families of the victims ask the police to stop shooting. That has been happening for years with no effect whatsoever. The only way to stop police is through collective resistance, through understanding that the people in Anaheim are connected to one another as well as to the people in Atlanta, New York, Seattle, Oakland and New Orleans–connected, in this case at least, by oppression. Even then, “Demand reform” is not a message that will be heard. In fact it is likely to be met with police intimidation.
Active, material resistance is the only way to stop the killings, which is perhaps one reason why Anaheim residents have taken to the streets. Still, many people refuse to resist: even more than guns and body armor, the ideology of non-violence protects the police (and all of the forces of production and executive power that stand behind them). It enshrines them, placing them beyond civilian reach. We are second-class citizens to them. They carry a license to kill (imprinted with Glock’s ubiquitous logo, no doubt).
Propaganda in a dozen varieties.
Imagine, for a moment, that a miscellaneous group of people–just regular civilian thugs with no uniform–kills your friends and family with impunity, then attacks you when you try to stick up for yourself, unleashing K-9′s and rubber bullets on mothers with their children. There is a single reaction that most people will have when faced with this kind of situation: self-defense. Why do officers in uniform get a pass? For that matter, why are Americans so quick to demonize the police states of the world, but so loathe to even recognize the one right here at home? The answer is simple: ideology. There are at least three modes or facets of ideology that are at play in liberal approaches to police violence in general and to the Anaheim situation in particular:
- The ideology of the nation–an abiding faith in the system of property, work, laws, government, schools, and police, which always comes from either white privilege or from the white-valued mindset of the colonial subject. The nation is sacrosanct, albeit imperfect. Anarchy (the abolition of the nation) becomes taboo. The prospect of a completely different way of life, so imminent in the world of the 19th century, rocked as it was by revolutions across the globe, is repressed. The result is that capitalist, nationalist dogma is taught in schools with no radical alternative whatsoever. The people do not decide between capitalism and communism, between the nation and anarchy; they are presented with a world that they cannot change and an ideology that justifies it ex post facto.
- The ideology of the police–the image of the noble, self-sacrificing protector, so much like the image of the soldier. Police no doubt serve utilitarian functions, functions which become specialized through the division of labor. Yet, they also commit barbarous acts in the service of tyrants; they become tyrants themselves. For that matter, the “social contract” that is alleged to exist between the oppressed and the oppressors is non-negotiable; we do not agree to it, and we certainly cannot withdraw from it. Once authority is given over to the police, it cannot be taken away again.
- The ideology of non-violence–that causing harm, even in self-defense, is an aberration; there is still no word from non-violence cultists on how they plan to reconcile the contradiction inherent in promoting non-violence even as police execute handcuffed civilians in the streets. Such executions raise the question of what life is like for communities that endure this kind of police terror on a regular basis. The dystopic police state has already arrived. Stop-and-frisk policies and the drug war are only two examples of police terrorism (with widespread consequences); meanwhile, “non-violence” continues to act as a prophylactic for the state, which safely lays waste to our lives and our freedoms (whatever we determine those to be) without fear of reprisal or secession.
Within this ideological framework, justice issues from a stale, centuries-old document written by white, misogynist slave-owners who thought that “democracy” meant giving the vote only to white, property-owning men! Like white property owners, only by facing down police in the streets and soldiers on the battlefield did women, black people, and the poorest among us guarantee their right to vote. If freedom is only guaranteed by the will and capacity to engage in self-defense, then the best way to guarantee the absence of freedom (oppression) is to make self-defense undesirable or physically impossible (the warden’s strategy). For this reason, the naive, utopian approach of militantly non-violent activists is essential to sustaining the imbalance of power that enables the police to kill civilians, especially those who are poor, black, or brown.
A utopian mindset sustains the police state not only because it circulates the castrating ideology of non-violence but also because non-violent protest simulates freedom through expression (but not through action). This act of simulation, which is so much like a religious ritual (in which the state perversely stands in for the divine) is why we possess many abstract freedoms (the freedom of speech first among them) but few concrete freedoms, most of which are criminalized–like self-defense against the police, taking over workplaces from the bosses, moving into abandoned buildings, farming unused land, and other potentially revolutionary acts that are sure to be met with police violence. If we believe that we can at least complain, believing further that complaint is action, then what does it matter if we cannot change material conditions, if we cannot abolish the police and other oppressive institutions? Freedom exists in a kind of simulated reality, what Baudrillard called a hyperreality, but it does not exist in the real world; “It looks good on paper,” so the saying goes.
When the police don’t respond to rational requests like, “Please don’t kill us and please hold your people to the same legal standard to which you hold us,” then reasoning with them is no longer even reasonable, which should be obvious in their immediate, violent responses to Anaheim protesters. Until this view is generalized to some degree, the police will continue their brazen killings. Stopping police violence, in other words, requires the willingness to say, “Enough is enough!” The police no longer function as we think that they ought to. Why not abolish the police and take initiative to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods without handing over our power to uniformed thugs with guns?
As the situation in Anaheim develops, we will have to wait and see whether resistance to police violence takes new and exciting forms. In the meantime, across the country it is probable that the trend of solidarity actions–a trend that was reignited with the Arab Spring and intensified during Occupy–will continue.
How Non-Violence Protects the State. (ready for printing)