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Anarchist Reportback from Ferguson
by chris irwin
Email: christopherscottirwin (nospam) yahoo.com
31 Aug 2014
Went to Ferguson last week, here is what I saw.
Several people have asked me to write about what I found in Ferguson today. Here is my brief dehydrated tired scribble before bed. Do not judge me I literally just typed this out.
Grief, pride and anger is the short answer.
Click on image for a larger version
This is a community grieving. Not just over the murder of a single unarmed young man, though that was terrible enough. What I learned painting stencils with the children of that neighborhood today was this did not occur in some back alley. Where they shot him 6 times was right in the middle of a street, surrounded by multi level apartment complexes filled with children. If the shots did not get their attention the 4 hours they left the body in the middle of the street did. Several of those children did not have parents home. They had a clear line of sight straight down on the dying body of a young man bleeding on the street. Kids 7,8 and older, and younger. I have no doubt some of them watched uninterrupted.
As an afterthought I had brought a stencil I had cut for another rally that was considered to radical at the time. Its of a cop with a club that says “to many cops, to little justice.” I had a couple of cans of spray paint and was painting signs for anyone who wanted them. It made me very popular. Adults wanted me to paint shirts, so I did. They also wanted me to do posters, so I did. But then the kids who lived in the surrounding building wanted some art therapy and dug the idea of spray painting apparently. So we hung out in the sun and I taught them to wear mask and how to do it, I explained many those old school Brooklyn graf artist died of lung cancer and if they were going to use spray paint always mask up. They listened to me like I was a prophet of spray paint. We hung out and I could tell these kids were in shock.
But not from the reality that they were hunted cause they were black and poor. They had already gotten that message in the neighborhood from the state loud and clear. Just watching someone die bleeding after hearing 6 loud shots outside your door is a little louder than normal.
Watching their faces and how people acted around the altar that had been built, I could see that these people were grieving. Speaking to them I saw that they were not just grieving just over the loss of this one young man, but for decades of being black, being poor, being hunted—knowing that cause of their economic position and color that their kids face this same bitter reality. The loss of potential, the loss of life and the loss of the innocence of their children. I saw grief and mourning today.
But also pride. And a high level of political consciousness. Some guys on the main street saw my stencil and asked if they paid me if I would spray their shirts. I refused the money and began cranking them out—they kept wanting to tip me. They offered to buy me more paint, give me money—they could not believe I was doing it for free. I just kept telling them it was the least I could do, and this was my contribution.
Finally I heard someone mention beer. “Oh, beer sounds good.” They asked me what kind I would like “the kind with alcohol.” which made them all smile.
They invited me into the barber shop, a big deal apparently. We began talking about what was happening, there were about 8 or so folks there. I mentioned that some had tried to talk me out of coming—and the entire shop went quiet. “Why?” one asked. They told me that was terrible advice.
They KNOW the world is watching and talking. They were proud that they were the ones that had finally taken a stand. They saw all the people who had come to their neighborhood, the media, everyone—and it told them they were important, they mattered, they had done something that mattered. That they had made a stand for everyone in the nation.
I mentioned Aristotle to one of the guys and it was on. There was such lively community and companionship in that black barbershop it made me feel poor that I never had had that sort of... community. Everyone was cutting up and joking. I ended up just giving them the stencil and told them to make good use of it. They told me that the allegations of molitovs were complete bullshit. They had been there from day 1. In all of the conversations I had I heard a high level of political consciousness about the state, the militarization of the police forces, all of it. They knew they had finally made a stand that was heard across the world, and were proud of themselves and their community.
As to the anger, that is self explanatory. Anger over the harassment, anger over what the future holds for their children, anger for the police coming in and creating the problems of violence and rioting. And that community, that barbershop—placed the blame squarely on the state for that. The violence was purely a product of the states actions from beginning to end. Coming into this grieving community like an occupying force was so blindingly stupid with predictable results that I am boggled that anyone thought it was a good idea.
And of course in the cracks of all this, hope. I got a contact hope just watching how people absent state interference took care of each other.
Thousands of bottles of water, bread, food, medical attention—all free, all provided spontaneously from the community everywhere I went. I have never felt so cared for just walking down the street. People constantly offered me food, water, everything.
Now for the anarchist analysis of what has gone wrong. Its not the violence—if some cops shot an unarmed man in my neighborhood and my kids saw it I would be furious. If it was combined with decades of abuse and racist behavior—I am just surprised hundreds of molitovs weren't made and thrown. That its taken so long and that the people showed so much restraint in the face of overwhelming state provocation is stunning to me.
No, what went wrong was the church and the civil rights leaders who flooded in and pacified people, cut BAD deals with cops they had no right to make—and generally pacified and controlled people more effectively than the national guard ever could.
I have seen it before. The NAACP fighting our organizing efforts confronting the Klan telling people not to show up for our wildly successful counter rallies, then showing up to hijack the media at an event they did their best to kill.
Neo-liberals screaming at direct action being used at the start of the Mountain Justice campaign. All the effort to keep action from happening, to pacify people, its not a new trend. Those in the radical activist community have dealt with it like a disease for decades where the shrill voices of “you can't do that” have done their best to justify their own fear and inaction by attacking others who dare to act.
No, I have seen it before. Just the sheer determination of those voices to gain control this time was a lesson.
At the rally a reporter from Peru saw my sign and took me aside an interview me for a South American newspaper. She started by asking me what I thought about how the preachers were acting shouting about Jesus from the stage they had built. A few words out of my mouth and she smiled.
“Yes, that exactly what I was hoping you would say. I have been here for a week and watched this go from a revolutionary voice to being nearly killed by the civil rights leadership and religious folks who bent over backward to pacify people. They have nearly train wrecked the movement this has spawned.”
She interviewed me and I told her the truth. That we call them peace cops in various movements. They are always the ones who take it on themselves to order people to stay on the sidewalks, to yell at people if they show any righteous anger. To in effect take on the role of the state to pacify people and make them behave like sheep.
She pointed out it was ironic that in the week she had been here that a direct observable correlation was clearly evident between their involvement and the numbers dropping. As we spoke most people were literally as far from the preachers and their stage as possible as they shouted they were fighting Satan by telling people to submit to authority and be passive safe little sheep. They did not realize their proselytizing was both offensive and counter productive.
Or in their righteous certainty they did not care.
They wore shirts that said “clergy” as if it were some badge which gave them authority to walk hand in hand with the state in pacifying people. They were proud at what they had done. They were in control, they were “leaders” and took every opportunity possible to tell the media so. They proved their leadership by pacifying people and ordering people as if they were in charge.
Of course this was not all the religious folks, and its not just the Christians. There were Nation folks who had been just as officiously controlling. This need to be the boss, to be the leadership, and to be media whores is almost overwhelming and crosses religious boundaries. Even professed atheist can catch it.
But there were religious people, Christians, who apparently took a deeper reading of the gospels and were more in line with the radical spirit of the people in the streets. They just had not done everything they could to seize control and thereby drive the momentum into the dirt.
Anarchist and other radical organizers in the future, as they have in the past, can help combat this by forming affinity groups. But how to treat this illness is another essay.
As far as myself, I walked away inspired. Despite the obstacle of the states military action against their community. Despite generations of abuse at the hands of the state. Despite the sheer cruel brutality of what they had witnessed, what their children had witnessed...these people were awesome.
With no bosses and no state telling them what to do I saw a community inspired today. I saw water provided, food given out, medical attention available—all with with resistance of both the state and interference of disorganized religion.
It left me feeling people are fundamentally decent, even in the face of horror and oppression.
I am really glad I was here today. Not just to experience the community and kindness. Not just cause I think something historic has happened today. But because it has renewed my faith in humans to a degree I did not come thinking possible.
Its been a good trip.
This work is in the public domain.
Ferguson - For Labor/Black/Immigrant Mobilization Now!
by Internationalist Group
(No verified email address)
31 Aug 2014
Click on image for a larger version
Click on image for a larger version
Stand with Protests Against Military / Police Occupation - Drop Charges Against All Arrested Protesters - All Cops and Troops Out of Ferguson, Mo.!
AUGUST 19 – When a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri shot down an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, and cops left his body lying in the street for hours, it set off an explosion of mass anger that hasn’t stopped. Young and old, the population of this more than two-thirds black town had had it with the almost entirely white cops and their racist bosses who lord it over the place like it was a plantation. No matter what the rulers tried, they couldn’t squelch the protests. Right from the start St. Louis County police deployed the military arsenal they had been building up to put down black unrest: armored cars, snipers with high-powered rifles, tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, the works. Didn’t work.
In fact, it backfired. There was nationwide shock as the images resembled upheavals against bloody dictators in the Middle East, Palestinians rising up against Israeli occupation or mass protests in the black Soweto township in apartheid South Africa. The snarling dogs recalled Birmingham, Alabama in the most violent phase of repression against the civil rights struggle. Militarized policing drew particular attention, with liberal Democrats and even right-wing Republicans lamenting it (after lavishly funding it). All the firepower didn’t stop nightly protests by angry youth fed up with police harassment, and now murder of a young black man as he held up his hands saying, “Don’t shoot!” So under pressure from Washington, Democratic governor Jay Nixon brought in a black state highway patrol official to take command.
Captain Ronald Johnson did the Officer Friendly routine, walking with protesters, promising to pull heavy armor off the streets, speaking to church congregations about his own teenage black son (“who wears his pants saggy”). Simultaneously, black Democrats Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson came to town to cool things out. Thinking that those in power were finally listening, the mood shifted, people celebrated. The euphoria lasted barely a day. When local police finally released the name of the killer cop, Darren Wilson, after days of stonewalling, they also tried to smear Michael Brown as a “suspect” of shoplifting. First they murder him, then they assassinate the victim’s character. Furious protests broke out again, and the armored cars were back.
Next came the curfew. While Democratic president Barack Obama made hypocritical speeches about protecting the right to protest, Democratic governor Nixon ordered protesters off the streets at midnight Saturday, supposedly to stop looting. The protesters defiantly stood their ground for an hour in the rain until the barrages of gas and gunfire finally drove them away. Then on Sunday the results of the independent autopsy by Dr. Michael Baden came out: Michael Brown was shot six times, all from the front, twice in the head. Militant protests broke out again. This time the cops didn’t wait and attacked demonstrators hours before the curfew went into effect. On Monday morning the governor ordered in the National Guard.
Now mass arrests have begun, with 78 protesters booked in the last two days. In line with local politicians’ denunciation of “outside agitators,” a number of people from New York and California have been yanked out of crowds by the cops. Among them was Carl Dix, a leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who said, rightly, “There are no ‘outsiders’ in the struggle for justice and liberation.” Meanwhile, President Obama piously appealed for “justice,” “healing” and “coming together going forward” – along with calls to maintain “public safety.” The first thing to be done for the safety of the public in Ferguson is to get the cops and military out of town, and drop all charges against everyone arrested since August 9.
The Internationalist Group stands with the embattled people of Ferguson, Mo. We hail the courageous youth who have refused to be intimidated by everything the racist rulers have thrown at them. The fact that they have fought back against the police has thrown the ruling class into crisis nationally. The police murder of Michael Brown reverberated around the country because this is no local issue. It came only a few weeks after Eric Garner was chokeholded to death on Staten Island by New York City police. Across the U.S., cops kill well over 400 people a year, and they won’t be stopped by calls to limit their hardware.
Because racist police brutality and cop terror is endemic in American capitalism, it can’t be stopped by a few modest reforms. Killer cop Darren Wilson definitely belongs behind bars for a long time. Many are calling for him to be arrested, indicted and tried, and vow to keep up the pressure, chanting “No justice, no peace.” But as Marxists we know that there is no justice for the oppressed in the capitalist courts. The ruling class stands by its guard dogs – the police “serve and protect” the interests of capital. The cops’ job is to keep the poor and working people down, which is exactly what they are doing in Ferguson.
In this fight to rip racist oppression out by its roots – in this country born from chattel slavery – the struggle for black liberation is and has always been central. To put a stop to racist police brutality and murder, we must fight for revolution, a socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism.
Nationwide Militarization of the Police
August 13: St. Louis County Police confront demonstrators in Ferguson, Misssouri with armored vehicle, body armor, assault rifles and sniper aiming at the crowd. Equipment supplied by federal government under the guise of fighting “terrorism.” The terrorists are the police. (Photo: Whitney Curtis for The New York Times)
What has happened in this white-ruled black Missouri suburb is not just the result of local racism (see box), it is a direct reflection of the rampant militarization of police forces throughout the U.S. Those Bearcat and MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles, the LRAD (long-range acoustic device) sound cannons and heavy-duty weaponry that suddenly showed up on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, along with the police helicopters circling overhead, are part of a national program in which the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are pumping billions of dollars of equipment into beefing up local police forces in the name of fighting “terrorism.”
Some of this is disposing of surplus war materiel: the Pentagon’s “1033” program has provided over $4 billion in left-over armor, ammo and weapons from Iraq and Afghanistan to domestic police agencies. The Homeland Security Department supplied $34 billion in “terrorism grants.” So now police in Fargo, North Dakota (average homicide rate, 2 per year) have assault rifles in every squad car, Kevlar helmets to withstand battlefield-grade ammunition, and a $250,000 armored truck (with rotating turret) “just in case.” St. Louis County got a $360,000 Bearcat, night vision goggles, body armor and three helicopters (New York Times, 15 August). And of course, if they have it, they’re going to use it, as they are now doing in Ferguson.
Residents of Ferguson are well aware that their city has been turned into a war zone. A Los Angeles Times reporter recorded a protester shouting at a line of police in fatigues, “You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” In fact, high-level police officials from the area have traveled to Israel to receive how-to lessons on occupation. This included St. Louis County police chief Timothy Fitch, who attended an Anti-Defamation League-sponsored “National Counter-Terrorism Seminar” in 2011 to “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” (Rania Khalek, “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth,” Electronic Intifada, 15 August). The NYPD is so tight with Israel that it has an office in Tel Aviv.
The result of these programs is that run-of-the-mill police actions across the country increasingly resemble military operations, with the general population as the “enemy.” While this has been intensified by the “war on terror” since 2001, it dates back to the “war on drugs” starting in the 1980s, and to the original creation of SWAT teams in the late 1960s. And from the beginning, it has been a bipartisan effort.
A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union (“War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing” [June 2014]) reports that 90 percent of all large U.S. cities have SWAT (special weapons and tactics) assault teams, as do 80 percent of small towns. Moreover, 80% of the hundreds of SWAT raids it investigated in 2011-12 were in order to serve search warrants: terrorizing people on the basis of mere suspicion. A New York Times (9 June) article by Matt Apuzzo reported:
“Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of ‘barbering without a license’.”
In the shock wave set off by events in Ferguson, liberals have criticized militarized policing focusing on the absurdity of supplying armored cars to townships in rural Maine. Ruling-class critics were mainly concerned that the heavy-handed paramilitary tactics weren’t working. Note that the ACLU study only objects to “excessive” militarization, i.e., “overkill.” If protesters had been shocked-and-awed into submission, there wouldn’t have been a peep from Washington. As soon as the National Guard was brought in, the complaints stopped.
However, the greatest threat is not that this is a boondoggle but that the authorities are gearing up for internal war. They publish studies on it, formed a military North American Command to prepare for it, and used the 2013 Boston Marathon attack as a practice run for locking down an entire metropolitan area. Internal war against whom? Forget about Al Qaeda, the target is us, the poor, black, Latino, immigrant and working people who dare to resist.
The military equipment was always intended to be used to quell “domestic disturbances” (by which they don’t mean family quarrels) and “racial unrest” (what they used to call “race riots,” meaning when black people fight back against racial oppression and racist attacks). And in fact the police recipients of the Pentagon largesse are contractually required to use all that stuff within a year of receiving it. So what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo. is no one-shot deal, we’ll see those images again, most likely soon.
Build a Multi-Racial, Revolutionary Workers Party
With the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States there was a lot of happy talk about a “post-racial America.” The reality is very different. In fact, in recent years there has been a rise in racist reaction. This is the core of the rabid rightist opposition to Obama, despite his capitulation to right-wing pressure at every step. And it is accompanied by mounting racist attacks by police, security guards and vigilantes against blacks and immigrants. Last year there was the NYPD murder of Kimani Gray in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and the racist verdict freeing the killer of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. This year it is the NYPD murder of Eric Garner, the Missouri cop killing of black teenager Michael Brown, and an ever-growing list across the country.
What we’re facing is not some cracker cops run amok, “a few bad apples,” an out-of-step police chief – it’s a whole apparatus of racist repression in the service of imperialist capitalism. The increasing virulence of the attacks is a reflects entrenched local racism, certainly, but also the worldwide economic depression since the 2007-08 financial crash, and endless U.S. wars of terror in the Middle East and around the world. Today, as clouds of tear gas and volleys of flash-bang grenades engulf Ferguson, many young people have marched in protest, as they did in 2013 for Trayvon. Whole sectors of the population may be beginning to see, as the Internationalist Group has declared on our placards, that “Imperialist War Abroad Means Racist Repression in the U.S.”
The key question is how to fight this escalating racist-capitalist assault. What’s needed above all is revolutionary leadership. Black Democrats like Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton are only trying to divert and defuse struggle in order to aid the government. In New York, Sharpton called a mass march over the Verrazano Bridge to protest the police killing of Eric Garner, but then backed down under pressure from fellow Democrat, mayor liberal Bill de Blasio, and his police commissioner Bill Bratton. Instead he is now holding an August 23 march on Staten Island calling on Democratic president Obama and his corporate lawyer attorney general Eric Holder to launch a federal civil rights investigation – in order to keep protest under control.
Nevertheless, the August 23 march has become a referendum on racism, as reactionaries attack the United Federation of Teachers for participating in what they call an “anti-police” march. Thus class-conscious teachers, students, immigrants and workers will join in marching while fighting for a program of militant class struggle against cop terror.
On the social-democratic left, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has mainly done reporting, denouncing racism but raising no demands at all. Its main competitor, Socialist Alternative (SAlt), demands that “the whole Ferguson police system be put under scrutiny” – meaning nothing – and calls for “community controlled policing,” supposedly overseen by union and community representatives. This is a sinister call for collaboration with the cops. SAlt would have you believe that cops are workers, a deadly illusion as cops are the armed fist of capital. It is ABC for Marxists that the police are the core of the state, and no matter who supposedly “controls” them, they will uphold racist capitalist “law and order.”
A smaller social-democratic outfit with a local in St. Louis is the Workers International League (WIL), affiliated with Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency. Unlike SAlt, WIL warns against illusions in “community control of the police,” but a statement on the murder of Michael Brown echoes the capitalist media in denouncing “riots,” “looting” and “vandalism”: “while we can sympathize with the reasons for the riots … riots can never bring about fundamental change…. Furthermore, the looting and vandalism will only damage our own neighborhoods and give the powers that be a convenient excuse to dismiss the legitimate issues facing the youth. Riots provide a convenient distraction for the media.” –Socialist Appeal, August 12
Revolutionary Trotskyists urge protesters to direct their anger effectively at the capitalist state, but in contrast to these reformists we defend the youths who raged against the racist cop murder and demand that charges be dropped against all those arrested. The real looters are the giant corporations (including QuikTrip, whose gas station was torched and whose $11 billion a year in revenue comes from soaking communities like Ferguson).
The most prominent left group that has been active in Ferguson is the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, which mainly promotes the thought of its cult leader Bob Avakian. The RCP also works with liberals like Cornel West in the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, and with the National Lawyers Guild on the Stolen Lives Project, whose banner listing hundreds of names of the more than 2,000 killed by police since 1990 has been prominent in the Ferguson protests. Despite its name, the RCP these days is putting forward a program that doesn’t go beyond liberal/reformist demands – such as calling to “fire the police chief” and for “a full accounting of what happened” – with a little rhetoric about revolution tacked on to spice it up.
The RCP chants “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell!” but doesn’t say that system is capitalism. Nothing about communism either. Strikingly, in several articles on Ferguson the RCP never once mentions racism, which isn’t easy given the blatantly racist repression. Yet the key point for genuine revolutionary communists to stress is that the struggle against racism and for black liberation requires a program for workers revolution against capitalism. We defend the RCP against the red-baiting authorities, and demand charges be dropped against Dix and all those arrested. But in Ferguson as elsewhere what these Maoists put forward is the politics of reformism, as they pitch their message to liberals rather than pointing a road to revolution.
The hard truth that revolutionary Marxists must state plainly to the masses is that all these supposed “reforms” will do nothing to change an unreformable capitalist system that was founded on slavery, and which in one form or another has continued black oppression ever since. A new police chief will do nothing more than placing state highway patrol official Johnson “in charge” did: put a black face on racist repression. Limiting the flood of heavy weaponry from the Pentagon and Homeland Security won’t stop the killer cops. In New York City under liberal mayor de Blasio, who campaigned to “reform” the racist stop-and-frisk tactics, cops murdered Eric Garner with their bare hands.
The fight to put a stop to racist cop terror must mobilize the force that has the power to bring the capitalist system to a grinding halt: the millions-strong multiracial working class. St. Louis labor has a special responsibility to oppose the police/military occupation of Ferguson, but as elsewhere the political program of union officialdom is to elect Democrats. And while the mayor of Ferguson is a Republican, the St. Louis County executive and Missouri governor who control the cops carrying out the repression are Democrats. The key to mobilizing workers power is to oust the bureaucrats and break with the Democrats.
What’s urgently needed is to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party. Not some insipid “mass party of labor” (WIL) or “independent left-wing, anticorporate candidates and coalitions” (SAlt), but a party that can lead all the oppressed in sharp class struggle to bring down capitalism and install a workers government. It would call on workers, blacks and all defenders of democratic rights to mobilize massively in the streets against cop terror, demanding that all police and military get out of Ferguson, now, and initiate integrated labor/black defense guards against racist attacks. It would also call for a massive program of public works under union control, and for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay to provide jobs for all.
The militarized police and National Guard invasion and occupation of black Ferguson, Mo. is the face of racist repression in the U.S. today, as endless imperialist wars abroad “come home.” An effective fight against cop terror here is inseparably connected to the struggle to mobilize workers power to drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq and to defend those fighting against imperialism. It is necessary as well to join with immigrants who face arbitrary seizure by the police and hundreds of thousands of deportations a year. As an Internationalist Group sign noted at an August 18 protest in New York, “Immigrant Workers in NYC Say: Stand With Besieged African Americans in Ferguson.” We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
The way to put an end to the terror of the ruling class against the exploited and oppressed was shown almost a century ago in the revolutionary program of Lenin and Trotsky, who together led the 1917 Russian October Revolution. This means combating all illusions in capitalist “justice,” or appeals to Obama and his top cop Eric Holder, who terrorize the world, from drones in Yemen to prisons in Guantánamo. We emphasize that racist repression is a bedrock of American capitalism, as it has been since slave patrols in South Carolina in the 1830s became the first professional police force in the U.S. To put an end to it, we must replace the dictatorship of capital with the rule of the working class.
From New York to Ferguson: Mobilize workers’ power to smash racist terror! Black liberation through socialist revolution! ■ http://www.internationalist.org/fergusonpoliceterror1408.html
Re: Anarchist Reportback from Ferguson
bbell (nospam) eecs.umich.edu (unverified)
01 Sep 2014
amazing article. It's great! well written, and to the point straight from your heart. I commend you!