Tag Archives: Protest

Whose Violence Matters?

There is unrest in Baltimore, and police violence is the root of it. After Freddie Gray’s spine was inexplicably severed while in the back of a police van, protests in Baltimore – which began peacefully – have boiled over. As police deployed themselves out to Gray’s funeral and armed themselves in riot gear in the face of a student walk-out protest, things have escalated rapidly. You all know where I stand on this, and after dozens of dead black bodies and dozens of free police officers, I don’t know what else to say. Read these instead.

In September of last year the Baltimore Sun published “Undue Force,” the product of a long investigation into the Baltimore Police Department’s misuse of force and the consequent fallout as the city was forced to pay out millions of dollars and the relationship between residents and their city was further frayed. The investigation found that:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

The department didn’t track the lawsuits leveled against officers – leading to one officer still having his job despite being the target of five different lawsuits. The list of violent abuse of power goes on and on. The Violent Crimes Impact Unit alone has been subject to numerous charges, in addition to such horrific anecdotes as “Three other members were charged in 2010 with kidnapping two city teens and leaving one in a Howard County state park without shoes, socks or his cellphone,” and “a detective threw Anthony Anderson, 46, to the ground during a drug arrest. Anderson’s spleen ruptured, and he died a short time later.” The article is filled with in-depth, personal accounts of victims of police violence. As Conor Friedersdorf said of the report, in an article that includes numerous other instances of BPD abuse: “There are so many good reasons for locals to be outraged.”

If that is who the BPD is, then what about Freddie Gray and the other people of color in his community? If we can hypothesize that the answer to “why did the police arrest and murder him?” is that they are part of a militarized force bent on abuse and built on state violence, then we can also guess as to why Freddie Gray ran from them in the first place. Because he had nothing to gain by staying put. People run from cops because they are scared of them.

In a Baltimore Sun editorial, Gray’s predicament in Baltimore is described as “all too typical in a neighborhood where generations of crushing poverty and the war on drugs combine to rob countless young people like him of meaningful opportunities.” The neighborhood that he lived in is emblematic of the type of circumstances many are finding themselves in. Even just compared to the rest of Baltimore, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood had twice the unemployment and poverty and higher levels of crime. The neighborhood is home to more inmates than any other part of the state, and 1 in 4 juveniles was arrested between 2005 and 2009. This level of mass incarceration and poverty has eviscerated the livelihoods of people like Gray. With no money and no jobs, facing police bent on abusing and arresting you and a system in which the odds are forever stacked against you, how should one respond when the police claim yet another youth?

And so they protested. And those protests achieved little. And there was property damage. And suddenly everyone came to denounce protesters for lashing out in rage. But, as said in a poignant post in defense of Baltimore protester’s actions:

As a nation, we fail to comprehend Black political strategy in much the same way we fail to recognize the value of Black life.

We see ghettos and crime and absent parents where we should see communities actively struggling against mental health crises and premeditated economic exploitation. And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.

And on the narrative of non-violence as the only acceptable form of protest belies the fact that the forces many face are far beyond “respectable” protest, and instead demand resistance against such forces:

When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.

And on the subject of property damage and looting, a reminder to read Ta-Nehisi Coates back when liberals decried looting in Ferguson. At that time, Coates noted that “property damage and looting have been the most effective tools of social progress for white people in America. They describe everything from enslavement to Jim Crow laws to lynching to red-lining. ‘Property damage and looting’—perhaps more than nonviolence—has also been a significant tool in black ‘social progress.'”

In the shadow of more property damage and looting in Baltimore, Coates doubled down against those who demand non-violence from protesters but make no such demand of an inherently violent state:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

Today the police deployed in riot gear to face off with demonstrators at Freddie Gray’s funeral and a student walk-out. And violence erupted as those who have been under the thumb of a broken system tried to fight back. In light of these actions, and looking back and past confrontations:

Tuesday update: As Baltimore continues to struggle and parts of the city smolder, it’s becoming more clear that – regardless of how long it lasts – there’s an uprising in Baltimore. Why?

Partially because of rampant inequality.

Partially because property is seen as more valuable than black bodies:

At the corner of Pratt and Light Street a few dozen people held up traffic and staged a spontaneous die-in, sprawling themselves on the asphalt in poses straight from crime-scene photos. There was a comparatively light police presence along the route, but dozens of officers in riot gear blocked the crowd from getting near the stadium, which seemed to confirm the protesters’ most damning suspicions. A man near the front shouted, “They only care about the Orioles!”

The scene seemed like a neat summation of much that animated the protests in Baltimore and beyond. In Ferguson, on the night that the grand-jury decision declining to charge the officer who shot Brown was released, police were deployed largely on the main commercial strips. In the triage logic of municipal governance, it makes perfect sense to protect valuable real estate and businesses. But to people already infuriated by the self-protecting reflexes of bureaucracy, this was an additional insult—not because businesses don’t warrant police protection but because they could scarcely imagine the police deeming their own communities as worthy of protecting that way.

Partially because capital has eaten away at Baltimore’s people:

But of the entire scene [in Baltimore yesterday], the most salient thing wasn’t the destruction wrought by protestors — the cop car demolished, the payday loan store smashed up — but by capital: the decrepit, boarded-up row houses, hovels, and vacants in a city full of them.

These are the streets in which Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has now declared a state of emergency, the same streets that would suffer fromhis austerity. They are the streets that have endured astronomic unemployment rates for decades, even as Democrats have run the city unrivaled. And they are the streets where police folded up Freddie Gray’s body “like origami,” then restrained him with leg irons in the back of a police van and delayed calling for an ambulance.

Partially because of desperation and resistance. Riots are a grasp for control under a state that leaves you impoverished and incarcerated:

If the sustained psychological terror of being reared in an economically disenfranchised neighborhood, babysat by a failing school, and abused by aggressive police didn’t leave you with the tools to effectively organize against state sanctioned terrorism in a way that society finds “respectable”—in other words, voting and being polite enough to say, “Please, suh, don’t kill us no mo’!”—then far be it from me to mourn the loss of Nike socks and Remy bundles and exaggerated reports of violence against police that leave out this week’s violence at the hands of police, and of White counter-protestors who attacked and berated people for the past three days on the city’s streets.

[…]

Continuing to perpetuate the myth of “act good, get treated that way” does nothing to protect us from the reality of police terror and mass incarceration, which work hand-in-hand. This is not a case for riots, but acknowledgment that they aren’t the work of thugs and ne’er-do-wells, but an SOS call. The question is, are we willing to listen? We should, because our people have finally changed their mind.

Partially its that they must be tired of non-violence’s failure to convince the state to back up.

The Right Kind of Victim

Earlier today a friend and colleague argued that, although police violence and race were important issues that deserved a public conversation a la Ferguson, Mike Brown wasn’t the “right” kind of person to be the locus of this conversation. This person cited some stuff about Darren Wilson’s innocence – stuff I disagreed with, but which is not what I want to talk about here. Instead, he referenced the case of Tamir Rice – the boy who was shot for carrying a toy gun literally the moment that police arrived on the scene, and was subsequently refused care by the officers and was later pronounced dead. There is video of the police misconduct. The victim clearly wasn’t charging the officers. This is where to organize protests.

Hours later, I saw news that Eric Garner’s murderer was also cleared by a grand jury. There is video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Garner in an illegal chokehold. There is proof of police misconduct. The coroner ruled it a homicide. And the police officer won’t even stand trial.

Earlier today, I argued that – regardless of what one thought about Mike Brown’s death – the organizing and protests should continue. If you believe that police violence is a problem and black lives matter, you should be in the streets no matter what. Because the problem of police violence is a national crisis.

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When protesters tried to shut down New York City two weeks ago, it was as much about the injustice of the Ferguson grand jury as it was about the impending Staten Island one. It was also about Tamir Rice. And Akai Gurley. And numerous other men of color killed by police who are sworn to protect.

When we look for the right kind of victim, we will always be waiting. The anger at racist police violence has reached its breaking point, and there shouldn’t be any discussion about the right kind of victim. Victims are victims, and we need to organize now – before there are more.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting on a bus, she galvanized a movement against segregated buses. But Claudette Colvin should have galvanized the same movement, but she wasn’t the “right kind of victim.”

When the bus driver told Rosa Parks that he would have to call the police if she didn’t get up, Parks replied, with extraordinary self-possession, “You may do that.” When the police arrived, she went without resistance. When the cops came for Claudette Colvin, she yelled at them that they were violating her rights, and refused to move. They dragged her from the bus. When they kicked her, she kicked them back.

Ever since I was first made aware of Colvin’s story and others like it, I’ve been adamant that these stories are worth remembering – these lives are worth remembering. We shouldn’t only rally around the perfect symbols of resistance and victims of injustice. We should rally around every victim of injustice. Every time there’s injustice.

Waiting for the right kind of victim means ignoring the actual victimization of black bodies across this country. Waiting for Tamir Rice means that Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, and other victims of police violence.

We shouldn’t wait any longer.

Protesters staged a die-in at Grand Central tonight immediately after the announcement of Eric Garner’s grand jury. There is a demonstration planned at Foley Square tomorrow afternoon. If you’re against police violence, find a demonstration near you – or start one.

Occupy Phoenix Finally Occupies

Earlier this week I posted some photos of the pre-occupation march and initial occupation at Cesar Chavez Plaza. On Wednesday I returned in between classes for a few minutes and then again in the evening for a few hours. It turned out to be a pretty big night for the occupation.

The water and food station near its height.

After the initial confrontation on Saturday, the occupation has been constantly in flux, shifting from plaza to sidewalk. The plaza closes at 6.00 in the evening, and around 5 or 5.30 occupiers pick up and move everything. Cars pull over to load up countless coolers of water and boxes of chips and bread, the first aid station is packed up, everything is taken off site. Protesters remain, but they remain within four feet of the road, on the periphery of the plaza – and they can’t sleep.

In a show of support, several businesses have tried to lend a hand. The Five Guys around the corner has offered its restrooms to occupiers, and those who can patronize there to return the favor. After Wednesday night’s General Assembly a large group walked there to buy dinner, and there was even a proposal to buy cleaning supplies and send crews to clean the bathroom for them as a sign of thanks. A cafe called Conspire has been a hub since the beginning, gathering food there even before the occupation began. On Wednesday there were rumors of the cafe extending its hours to allow occupiers to use the internet and get some rest.

Small emergency GA discusses staying in Cesar Chavez Plaza

On Wednesday, as it got closer to closing time, we began to pack things up. As we loaded water into a truck there was a sudden call for a time-sensitive GA. The police had decided to stop enforcing the plaza closure. It’s hard to say whether it was pressure of the City Manager (who had been somewhat shamed at a city council meeting earlier that morning when occupiers stated that he could have prevented the mass arrests Saturday night by giving an earlier warning) or from police department worries about putting sleep-deprived people on the edge of the road in the middle of the night, but either way they made their decision. We discussed the caveats as a group – sleeping would still be prohibited and no-camping rules were still in effect, and we were trying to figure out where that line fell.

That night, someone brought a kettle of warm pasta, which was a well-received change from the peanut butter sandwiches and chips that we had been eating. More and more people flowed in as we prepared for the general assembly. The number of occupiers has big spikes and lulls, like I’m sure many occupations have. Compared to what I’ve heard from people in New York and Oakland, the occupation in Phoenix doesn’t have the community feel just yet. It might be because there had been so much back-and-forth in the first few days. Last Saturday there was a market place and a library, but both seem to have been shelved during the move. Despite having lasted six days now, when I was in the plaza it felt temporary. During most of the day the plaza had one gazebo, a bench, a computer, and a collection of coolers – the rest was people and food. The authorities must be happy with this – it looks more like a birthday party at a park than a politically engaged and self-sustaining community, if not for the countless signs. But with the plaza opened indefinitely, I hope to see the occupation grow.

General Aseembly on Wednesday Night

It seems that the authorities are already trying to stymie the growth. As the police presence dwindled on Wednesday, the sergeant on the scene discussed with a couple of us some of the finer points of what would be allowed and what wouldn’t be. Right as he left, he told me that the media center – a desktop computer under a tree running the livestream – was borderline and might have to go.

This afternoon, the power to the plaza was cut, shutting down the media center and anything else the occupiers had plugged in. There are a handful of car batteries and two solar panel chargers, but the occupiers don’t have enough to provide power to the whole plaza. In addition (and maybe only because the power is out) the city WiFi network usually available at the plaza is also gone. The occupiers are currently marching, and there is a campaign going to call the mayor to convince him to turn the power back on. Meanwhile, it seems that while the plaza may be open to the occupiers to stay in, they won’t be able to sleep, camp, cook, record, connect, or organize. The city gives, but the city also takes away.

Photos from Occupy Phoenix

Occupy Phoenix has begun this week, although it’s had a rough time. I was only there for the very beginning, but plan on returning tomorrow and give you all another post. Here are some photos from days 0 and 1, followed by a short run-down of what I’ve missed.

Last Friday, there was a pre-occupation march through downtown Phoenix. It lasted a few hours, replete with lots of chanting at numerous locations before ending at Cesar Chavez Plaza, where a group of Arabs were demonstrating against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two groups joined up pretty seamlessly before an occupier read the Occupy Wall Street declaration and a band played some anarchist acoustics.

Pre-Occupation March snakes through downtown

Outside Chase Tower, chanting "Chase got bailed out! We got sold out!"

Crowding the Channel 12 studio

Protesting outside the BofA at Collier Center

Angry suit looks angry.

This is only about half the crowd (I was in the middle) headed towards Cesar Chavez Plaza.

The Syrian demonstration is joined by Occupy Phoenix.

Saturday, protesters returned to Cesar Chavez Plaza to begin the occupation. I arrived about an hour and a half after it began, and missed the armed presence of a local militia, which caused some controversy. What I saw was a small but thriving community. I didn’t get photos of everything, but there was a main circle of speakers outside City Hall, surrounded by smaller circles, a book store, a “free” market, a food table with bagels and pizza, a water station, and people signing petitions for an open primary. The whole plaza was well over 1,000 when I was there, I heard 2,000 quite often.

Speaking outside of Phoenix City Hall

My favorite sign.

Speaking about nonviolence in a smaller circle.

Everything else I know is from Twitter, the Downtown Devil’s Saturday coverage, and the livestream. Saturday night the crowd marched from the Plaza to Margaret T. Hance Park to set up camp. Phoenix Police warned that anybody in the park when it closed would be arrested. After initially claiming to be leaderless, the Occupy Phoenix crew eventually designated representatives to meet with city officials to negotiate a lawful occupation. It was around this time that a rumor circulated that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said that if the police arrested the protesters, he would come out to get arrested. In the end, the negotiations collapsed and the mayor never showed (later stating that his support was behind civil rights groups and anti-SB1070 groups). Police gave four warnings before marching in and arresting about 30 protesters, leading to this epic photograph.

A photo circulating on Twitter: Police close in on protesters on Saturday night.

Sunday morning, the occupation reconvened at Cesar Chavez Plaza early in the morning. A group of protesters marched to the 4th Ave. jail to demonstrate in solidarity with protesters inside, but left after finding out that their presence had put the jail on lock down, restricting visitation rights to the protesters inside. The occupation returned to Cesar Chavez Plaza until the park closed, at which time a Marine veteran and protester sat down and was arrested. Two more protesters were arrested while demonstrating in the middle of a street. The occupation slept on the sidewalks.

Monday’s protest was generally subdued. The occupation moved back into Cesar Chavez Plaza during the day, and was prohibited from sleeping on the ground at night. Protesters were mobile on the sidewalks of downtown, with live music and lots of coffee.

So far, today has seen a lot like yesterday from Twitter and livestream. For this evening’s general assembly, the protesters moved to a county island a block away from Cesar Chavez Plaza. This way they were able to conduct the assembly without worrying about Phoenix PD getting involved, although there were worries that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies might make an appearance to enforce loitering laws. I heard something about the Phoenix City Council meeting tomorrow regarding urban camping ordinance, and some plans to take part in that, although I’m not sure if it’s a protest or actual involvement in speaking at the meeting.

That’s all for now. More tomorrow!

The Right to Walk

In case you haven’t heard, protests rocked Uganda this week, leading to lots of arrests, police violence, and several deaths. The Daily Monitor has a decent live feed, but I’ll summarize bits. It all began with the opposition protesting the Museveni government’s economic policies. With fuel prices rising, opposition leader Kizza Besigye explained that “we are just asking people to walk to work two times a week and we want to do so to show solidarity with the already tens of thousands of people who are walking to work every day because they can no longer afford the cost of public transport.”

Apparently, walking to work is illegal.

Specifically, the Assistant Inspector General of Police stated that by announcing a campaign to walk to work in solidarity with others, opposition leaders were in effect leading a procession, which requires a permit and all sorts of other limitations. The police went out in force to oppose such illegal processions.

Riot police kept Besigye from leaving his home town, a Kampala suburb, because they believed his walk would incite violence. Amid the scuffle, Besigye was shot with a rubber bullet and suffered a wound to the hand. In Masaka some 300 youth, presumably boda drivers, fought with police when their march was interrupted. News outlets were ordered not to provide live feed updates about the campaigns and protests, under penalty of losing licenses. In addition, the Daily Monitor’s internet connection was cut. Several opposition MPs were arrested, and a reporter in Masaka was attacked by police.

Masaka’s actions seem to have been started by young boda drivers walking their motorcycles across town in protest, but the protest grew in size and resulted in the army taking over the town. These young kids are bearing the brunt of Museveni’s economic policies, and it’s interesting to see just how the security forces responded to their protests.

Meanwhile, when police arrested opposition figure Norbert Mao, they incited violence. After Mao was arrested, Gulu erupted. Eventually the police called in the army, who showed up in armored cars with guns firing. With the town suffering a blackout, citizens burned tires and threw stones at the army. Three people were killed and Mao has called for a prayer and fast in protest.

Some have been saying that the army was able to restore calm and stability. I’d have to say, restricting the rights of the press and of protesters, even the rights of people to work peacefully to work, is hardly a status quo worth staying in.