Listen to the Episode — 61 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker:
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara: a twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: for everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Welcome to episode number five of the Ex-Worker. Following our discussion last time of prisons and prison society, this time we’ll take a look at the police⎯and why we hate them, too.
Clara: We’ll also hear more accounts of rebellion in Turkey, a review of “To the Indomitable Hearts: The Prison Letters of Luciano ‘Tortuga’ Pitronello”, an interview with a participant in Copwatch from Atlanta, Georgia, and so much more.
Both: Our name is Clara…
Clara: and we’ll be your hosts. Don’t forget to let us know what you think: gushing praise, brutal critiques, ideas for future episodes, and pictures of cops on fire can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clara: You can also leave us a voice mail: our number is 202–59-NOWRK⎯that’s 202–596–6975. And don’t forget to rate us on iTunes, too!
Clara: Let’s roll.
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: Let’s get started with the Hot Wire, news and updates from struggles around the world. Clara, what’s the latest from the rebellions in Turkey?
Clara: As demonstrations subsided in much of Istanbul and Ankara, the working class district of Dikmen continued to build barricades and set fires after a cop who murdered a protester was released pending trial. At least four people have been killed during the state’s repression of dissent, with more than 7,500 injured.
Clara: Reports of the protests were initially suppressed in a media blackout, with information disseminated via Facebook and Twitter. Turkish officials have begun gathering information about social media users involved in the uprising and have taken steps to ensure social media sites are accountable to their authority in the future.
Clara: Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan proclaimed that unnamed foreign entities and terrorists were responsible for the unrest both in Turkey and in Brazil.
Alanis: Hey, Clara! It’s Alanis. A comrade reporting from Istanbul spoke with a member of Carşi, a group of football fans who two weeks ago hijacked a bulldozer left outside of their beloved Beşiktaş’ Stadium and used it to pummel the police’s water cannon trucks.
Çarşı Member: (non-english) Çarşı is a football-ultra group formed in the eighties. This year it has reached its thirtieth year.
Çarşı Voiceover: Aside from football, we are also involved in social activities and run many social projects, so clashing with the police is not all that we do. We are involved in all aspects of life. In the first days, we showed support with our banners. At the beginning, there was support during the night⎯we wouldn’t stay at night, we’d go in the mornings. Afterwards, when the police started attacking the innocent resisters and burning down their tents, this triggered a great reaction from us. When the police closed down Gezi Park –I think it was on Friday⎯we began to rally towards here from Harbiye. We couldn’t enter in but we resisted for about 22 to 23 hours. Nine hours of this resistance was uninterrupted on-going against the police gas and pressurized water tanks. We kept at a distance of 50–100 metres while we resisted actively for 9 hours. Aside from those 9 hours, the resistance was generally passive – we resisted for 23 hours. The second day, around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, again we gathered in Beşiktaş and came here. This time we managed to enter into the park. After that, the park was occupied so the Taksim area was open to everyone. Other groups also entered from different points and the Taksim area got closed with barricades. We then retreated back to Beşiktaş as we thought that Taksim had now been entered into and reclaimed. After we moved back to Beşiktaş, the police started to attack us in Beşiktaş with gas and things.
Here, the Beşiktaş resistance began. The people resisting in Beşiktaş, the workers, the ordinary people living there: for three days, they demonstrated a great level of resistance towards the police. At times it was active resistance, and at other times it was passive. After that we ended the resistance in Besiktas by demanding that the police leave our neighbourhood. We told them to get out of our neighbourhood and they did. After that we started to make our way back here. Now we are here. Until this area is taken under protection by the government, we are going to continue to stay here. We don’t want any kind of structures built here. We want this area to stay as it is, as a park. We want it to stay like this forever and we are going to take this all the way despite all the provocations. Now the Çarşı group has had a great level of influence over the Gezi Park resistance and changed it.
How do you think the Gezi Park resistance will affect the Çarşı group’s character and future? Well, the thing is, we are an apolitical group anyway. We do not lean towards any political party or any left/right ideology.
Alanis: The rest of this interview and footage of it can be found in documentary chronicling the Turkish uprising at Gezi Park, available online for free at globaluprisings.org. Global Uprisings is an independent news site and video series dedicated to showing responses to the economic crisis from around the world.
Clara: In Brazil, protests against a 10-cent transport hike quickly escalated into millions of people pouring into the streets across the country, expressing a generalized dissatisfaction with the ruling class. Brazil’s president Dilma Rouseff, a former Marxist urban guerilla, has attempted to pacify the country with reforms that have largely failed to quell the unrest. From Turkey to Brazil, goverments, conservative religious parties and leftist workers parties alike have struggled to control the demonstrations, but the streets resound with a powerful collective NO!
Clara: The Canadian legislature passed Bill C–309, implementing a maxim of 10 years in prison for wearing a mask during a riot or an unlawful assembly, in response to increasingly militant protests in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto that included property destruction by black blocs and other masked militants.
Clara: A Utah woman became the first target of a so-called “ag-gag” bill, which criminalizes filming animal industries. Although her charges were quickly dropped, similar legislation that makes it illegal to expose animal cruelty or industrial whistle-blowing is on the books or pending in several states.
Clara: Meanwhile, animal rights activists in Sweden are suspected in the arson of a garage, vehicles, and machinery of a man who had announced plans to open a mink farm, while a self-described “Veganarchist Wolf” threw Molotov cocktails at a Burger King in Chicago.
Clara: And 40 tons of genetically modified sugar beets were destroyed by an unknown group of persons in Oregon on land owned by biotech giant Syngenta.
Clara: Greek anarchist prisoner Kostas Sakkas began a hunger strike on June 4th demanding his immediate release. Sakkas’ pretrial detention was just extended 6 months, past the maximum 30 months allowed by Greek law, which he has already served. Solidarity actions have occurred all over Greece, including banners, demos and attacks, as well as numerous acts of refusal by fellow prisoners including hunger strikes, statements of solidarity, and noncompliance in court proceedings. International gestures of solidarity have included propaganda during a demonstration in Lisbon, Portugal, as well as an arson at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Clara: Now it’s time for a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Broken Window Theory and Getaway.
Clara: For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
FEATURE: POLICE AND POLICING
Introduction to the Ex-Workers’ Conversation on Policing
Alanis: Hey, Alanis!
Alanis: Oh hey, Alanis! I didn’t know you were going to be in this episode.
Alanis: Yeah, I was just in this part of the time-space continuum, so I thought I’d warp over and see what y’all were up to.
Alanis: well, we’re about to get into it with the police⎯I mean, get into talking about the police.
Alanis: Cool. Have you read Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams?
Historical Roots of Modern Policing and the Contemporary Police Strategy
Kristian: Hi, this is Kristian Williams, and I’m the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America and more recently Hurt: Notes on Torture in a Modern Democracy.
Alanis: In Our Enemies in Blue, Kristian reigns in the myth that police misconduct is just a matter of “bad apples,” and demonstrates that instead so-called misconduct is a function of the very nature of policing in the US. Kristian examines populations most often subjected to police abuse and the forms that that abuse takes, delving into the role of police brutality in repressing political dissent and in preserving existing structures of inequality.
Kristian, let’s begin by tracing the evolution of the modern police force back to the slave patrols.
Kristian: My argument in the book is that the police originally grew out of a previous sort of social control mechanism called the slave patrols. And the slave patrols were a militia-based arrangement where white men were conscripted into patrolling plantation area in the evening and enforcing pass laws and keeping the slaves on plantations and also making sure that they didn’t have certain prohibited items like, depending on the location, firearms, alcohol, etc. From that process of adaptation, we get the first examples of what we can recognize as the modern police force. The earliest one that I’ve found was in Charleston, South Carolina at the very end of the 18th century.
So we find that at the beginning of the 21st century, [the police are] still acting in ways which disproportionately affect people of color, still acting in ways that maintain patterns of existing segregation, still acting in ways that reduce the possibility of members of oppressed groups exercising any sort of self-determination. And so, again, the argument of the book is that the changes in the law are to some degree cosmetic, that there are these deeper structures of inequality that structure our society and that the role of the police really is to preserve those, white supremacy being one of the most important.
Alanis: During the heyday of Occupy, some protesters rushed to the defense of the police, insisting that they are a part of the 99 percent. How does this obscure the role of police in a capitalist society?
Kristian: The notion that the police are part of the 99 percent partly relies on a misunderstanding of how capitalism is structured. It makes capitalism simply a matter of income inequality and not a matter of power, not a matter of labor, not a matter of ownership.
It isn’t simply a matter of percentages; it’s a matter of classes. At its most basic, there’s a class that owns things, and that owns things and meets it needs and perpetuates itself simply by owning things. And, then there’s a class that owns more or less nothing, and in order to individually meet their needs and also perpetuate itself as a class, it has to sell its labor. Which really means that people rent themselves to people who own things for the sake of getting their means met.
Now the tricky part is that in the middle there is a group that takes on some of the character of both of these two main classes. And that’s the class that manages things. So most of us, we go to work and the person who is our boss is not the person who owns the establishment, or not even a member of the group that owns the establishment. He’s a manager. He also rents himself out, and so in that sense he’s part of the working class⎯but the thing is that he rents himself out to do is represent the owners. And therefore he identifies with them, the interests that he preserves are theirs; his whole job is keeping the working class doing the things that keep this cycle of extortion going.
So if we apply that very basic analysis to the broader social system and we look at the police in terms of preserving inequality and we look at their actions historically in terms of disciplining the workforce and also suppressing any sort of union activity or any sort of other class-based political efforts, then it’s pretty clear that their role within the society is a part of the managerial apparatus of capitalism. That even though at times their working conditions are abhorrent, and even though they are not themselves capitalists and do have to rent themselves out, and even though they often come from blue collar, working class backgrounds; despite all of that, their position in the class society is that they are there to keep the working class working for the benefit of capitalism. And so for that reason it makes more sense to treat them as a part of the boss class rather than as workers. And therefore the efforts to bring them over to the side of the 99 percent are misguided.
Alanis: So, dovetailing that thought, Occupy Hashtag brought the issue of police brutality to the mainstream. I think the militarization of the police was something that many Americans thought would be reserved for foreign terrorists, and the media made a solid effort to explain away why city governments were unleashing a military-trained local law enforcement on their rambunctious children⎯oh yeah and poor people. How does this fit into the history of protest police strategy?
Kristian: There is a deep connection between protest policing and the way that has developed and the militarization. And to understand how these things are connecting. It’s really important to look back toward the last major societal crisis that threatened the police altogether, which was during the late 60s and early 70s, really culminating around 1968. During that period the police were using a form of crowd control called escalated force. And the notion was that it was the job of the police to maintain control and suppress public protest and to do that they would use force at a level one step higher than the resistance they met, and that they would begin at the lowest level of force and then escalate as resistance escalated. This was a disaster for them. And it went wrong in several ways. One of the ways that it went wrong was that as police escalated their force, crowds tended to escalate their resistance. So the things that probably would have been peaceful rallies or polite picketing became major occasions of disorder because the police were antagonizing the crowd.
And other ways that it went wrong was that the police attacked peaceful groups. And most famously. Bull Connor attacked Martin Luther King in Birmingham, and the television showed this all over the world, which was hugely discrediting to the cops themselves and to the city government and to the entire system of segregation that they were trying to preserve. So they sort of won tactically but then failed politically.
And so there was a shift within policing at the beginning of the 1970s. There were two shifts, and both of them are representative of the negotiated management strategy. One was the shift toward militarization, which people mostly think of in terms of SWAT teams and helicopters and weaponry and all of that kind of stuff. But I think the organizational aspect, though, is actually much more important.
The other main shift was toward what’s called community policing, which is the softer policing approach where police form partnerships with community, and are very invested in building relationships with people in the community and especially leaders within the community, and try to put a friendly face on the way law enforcement is done.
Alanis: You put those two things together in a crowd control setting and you get negotiated management.
Kristian: What negotiated management meant was that instead of just showing up with horses and clubs and crushing demonstrations, the police were instead going to engage with the leadership and make arrangements, make deals, about how demonstrations would proceed, and so the police would be put in this role of managing the demonstration provided that the demonstration stayed within certain lawful parameters. And so that initiated the long and, for many of us, very frustrating period of peaceful and completely ineffectual protest that began roughly in 1980 and ended precisely on November 30, 1999.
Because the police went with the negotiated management kind of plan. Their whole plan was to negotiate with the leaders of the demonstrations. They were going to make very clear arrangements about where demonstrations were allowed and when. They were going to maintain avenues of communication. And instead, the actual protesters were hellbent on actually disrupting the WTO meeting, and they did that. When they did that, whenbarricades went up in the streets when people were refusing orders to move, when people were refusing to not only do what the police said but also to do what the marshals of the demonstrations were telling them to do, the police really had nothing to fall back on, except what they do the rest of the time, which is hurt and arrest people. So they fell back on something like an escalated force model.
We’ve seen a new period of innovation in crowd control and a new period of experimentation The people who have the best theory as to how this is developing are a couple of sociologists named Patrick Gillham and John Noakes. They describe the new system as strategic incapacitation.
Strategic incapacitation borrows from both escalated force and negotiated management. And selectively applies different aspects of it to different kinds of protesters. So protesters who are tagged as troublemakers who are tagged as disruptive, receive escalated force kinds of treatment, while protestors who are tagged as lawful, who are tagged as cooperative receive negotiated management types of treatment.
Added on top of this, there is a new emphasis on controlling the narrative publicly, so that the police are aggressive in terms of their media strategy. Some of that is used to discredit protestors tagged as disruptive, and some of that is to help paint themselves in the best light that they can. And then there’s also a renewed and much more advanced emphasis on intelligence gathering ahead of time, because the police want to know exactly who is coming to a demonstration, and for exactly what purpose, so that they can sort which groups they should accommodate and which groups they should negotiate with, and which groups they should suppress.
Alanis: Thank you of joining us, Kristian. For more on the role of the modern police force, Our Enemies in Blue, published in 2004 is available from South End Press. Kristian is also the author of American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination](http://southendpress.org/2005/items/87530), published in 2006 and also available from South End Press. For links to articles and essays by Kristian Williams, please visit kristianwilliams.com.
Alanis: Later in our episode during the Mugshot, we’ll build on this discussion and take a look at how race and class intersect in the neighborhoods of East Atlanta, and their Copwatch chapter will explain how they deploy various forms of police resistance, including tactics for disengagement, countering community policing and disrupting crowd control.
Crimethinc’s THE POLICE Poster
Alanis: Hey, Alanis? Can I get your opinion? I was just trying to decide whether or not to read the text from this Crimethinc poster.
Alanis: Oh yeah, this one! I have that hanging up in my time machine. I think you should read it, it’s great!
Alanis: Yeah, I like it, but I don’t know if I agree with the whole thing. Would you wanna read it?
Alanis: Sure! Ahem!
“The ones who beat Rodney King, who gunned down Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant, who murdered Fred Hampton in his bed. The ones who broke Víctor Jara’s hands and Steve Biko’s skull, who disappeared dissidents from Argentina to Zaire, who served Josef Stalin. The ones who enforced Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States. The ones who interrogated Black Panthers and Catholic Workers, who maintained records on 16 million people in East Germany, who track us through surveillance cameras and phone taps. The ones firing tear gas and rubber bullets whenever a demonstration gets out of hand, who back the bosses in every strike. The ones who stand between every hungry person and the grocery shelves stocked with food, between every homeless person and the buildings standing empty, between every immigrant and her family. In every nation, in every age, you tell us you’re indispensable, that without you we’d all be killing each other. But we know well enough who the killers are. You won’t fuck with us much longer.”
Alanis: So, what don’t you like about it?
Alanis: "Well, I think listing really bad things done by police is pretty shallow and doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. Many who defend police and policing oppose the things on that list. The problem with police isn’t that they have done ‘bad things’. For example, we could come up with similar lists of ‘bad things’ for a lot of professions: drugs dealers, doctors, social workers, etc. The problem with police is more fundamental than that list. They are armed agents of the state who enforce capitalist social relations with violence.”
[Editor’s Note: The above comment and some of the following are selections from the comment trail that followed the CrimethInc blog entry of this poster, to see the conversation unfold visit the 24 thoughts on “New Poster: THE POLICE”]
Alanis: Sure, the champions of police in liberal democracies may pay lip service to sensibilities of justice, but violence like this isn’t unusual police behavior and it’s not unique to one police force, but rather the capacity to do these bad things is part and parcel to police work, and these arms of the state carry out violence “in every nation, in every age…” I like that; this poster exposes what Police do.
Alanis: For me that’s one of the reasons why this poster misses the point. the police are so scary, not because of what they do per se, but rather because the capacity to commit any violence at a moment’s notice lays at the heart of the police function. Cops symbolize violence, and that’s their purpose. COPS are specifically charged with keeping things the same, and to do this they are the only ones who can use legitimate violence. And that’s why cops lie on a regular basis, why their mere presence is so intimidating, why so much of law enforcement involves bluffing, improv, dishonesty, and brutality. It’s necessary that they do whatever they want in the interest of the law. That’s why police tactics often look the same across time and geopolitical lines.
Alanis [reading]: “To fight means to set one’s will against the will of another, with the aim of defeating the opponent, to bring him to his knees, possibly to kill him. ‘Life is a battle’ is a proposition that must have at first expressed melancholy and resignation. But out century of optimism and massacres has succeeded in making this terrible sentence sound like a joyous refrain. You will say that to fight against somebody may be terrible, but to fight for something is noble and beautiful. Yes, it is beautiful to strive for happiness (or love, or justice, and so on), but if you are in the habit of designating your striving with the word ‘fight,’ it means that your noble striving conceals the longing to knock someone to the ground. The fight for is always connected with the fight against, and the preposition ‘for’ is always forgotten in the course of the fight in favor of the preposition ‘against.’"
Alanis: Well, I think we agree that “fighting against the police state doesn’t cut to the root of the matter at all. Every modern revolution demonstrates how the supposed revolutionary force constitutes a new police force or army, whether it was the anarchist CNT in Spain or the Bolsheviks in Russia. Or, currently existing forces that are powerful enough to fight and win against the police take on the role of police in areas where they push out the state. However, my main concern is that those who fight against the police end up internalizing the logic and values of their opponent, regardless of good intentions. You know, during the miners strikes in England in the 1980′s, the union actually pushed miners into confrontations with police as a means of defeating the strike? This is the sort I thing I worry about.”
[Editor’s Note: This is a relevant selection from The Unseen, a novel written by Nanni Balestrini, quoted in the comments: “We are left at a dead-end because the destruction of this society will inevitably involve conflict with the state, but war with the state seems to destroy any possibility of a better world emerging from it. It is a Bonapartist problem of losing even when you win. Of course, this is not a problem that can be ‘worked out’ or solved on paper. Also, real and extended conflict makes coolheaded tabulations of experience difficult or impossible. When in conflict with the state, one can be drawn in so far one can no longer just step away, even when the situation is hopeless or one wants to do something else. Conflict with the state seems like a distraction. No, distraction is the wrong word, because this conflict means billy clubs and prison sentences and bullets to the head. But even when entire police forces or armies or governments or types of government are overthrown or defeated, the underlying social relationships of capitalism seem to stay constant.”]
Alanis: That’s the systematic nature of institutions, and that’s the same reason why although “some police officers may have good intentions, insofar as they obey orders rather than their consciences, they cannot be trusted.” –Seven Myths #3
Alanis: The point is that the police must not be allowed to brutalize people or impose an unjust social order. Though it can be empowering for those who have spent their lives under the heel of oppression to settle the score with their oppressors, liberation is not a matter of exacting revenge but of rendering it unnecessary. Therefore, while it may sometimes even be necessary to set police on fire, this should not be done out of a spirit of justice or establishing a righteous order, but from a place of care and compassion—if not for the police themselves, at least for all who would otherwise suffer at their hands. On a more day-to-day basis, anything that encourages police officers to quit their jobs is in their best interest, as well as the interest of their loved ones and society at large.
Alanis: Hey, have I ever told you that my dad is a cop?
Alanis: No, really?
Alanis: Yep, he’s been a cop as long as I’ve known him. He worked at the county jail when I was a little kid. He patrolled the city that we lived in when I was old enough to break curfew. And he has been a K–9 training officer ever since. His dogs lived with us, and searched cars for drugs, and attacked people in flight, and defended my dad from so-called violent criminals. My dad didn’t tell me about how horrible working in the county jail was until after I told him that I was an anarchist and asked him to quit his job. He told me that he can’t, because it’s the only thing that he knows and he needs to support our family. After I moved out and I told him that he wasn’t allowed at my house, he didn’t say anything. But over the years, I’ve become the only person whom my dad can tell that he hates his job, he hates the people with whom he interacts, he doesn’t care about protecting anyone but my mom and us kids, he hates druggies, he hates [enter any profane racist slur in plural form], he hates his coworkers, his hates the detectives, he hates his supervisors, he hates what he’s done and hates who he’s become. I look at him and sometimes I see more my dad than a cop. There are never times when he is just my dad. There have been a few times when he’s stopped being my dad and just been a cop. He’s put me in jail before, and he’s told me that when you break the law, sometimes that’s the consequence. He’s a total enigma to me. I want him to quit his job. I look at him and I can’t understand what motivates him. That might be what makes him a cop. Alanis: As the arguments go, the conditions of modern urban and industrial life create conflicts and tensions that can only be mediated by the existence of police.
Alanis: It’s true that collectively we lack a lot of the skills that we need to resolve our conflicts without some Big Brother looking over our shoulder.
Alanis: Oh, and we’ll explore more of these skills and alternative models in future episodes.
Alanis: And, it’s true that, socialized as we are into a world based on competition, coercion, and repression, that if the police vanished overnight that there would certainly be a lot of conflict. But the police exist to protect and serve the permanent conflict and disorder required for a class society based on exploitation, for a political society based on wielding power over us rather than all of us making decisions for ourselves.
Alanis: You know, as an anarchist I’ve been called naïve and people think that I assume h an nature is inherently good, because I advocate for things like a world without police.
Alanis: But as anarchists we’re not making any claims about human nature; it’s cops and their champions who have to argue that humans are an inherently depraved and violent species to terrify us into believing that they’re necessary.
Alanis: In fact, I think that a vast range of human behavior exists within the spectrum of our nature from our cruelty to our altruism, our exploitation to our kindness. So, the real question isn’t ’what we would do outside of social institutions, but what kinds of behavior do our social institutions reward or condemn?
Alanis: Believing that a world without police is possible isn’t naive. It’s naive to believe that a political system based on violence and repression will keep us safe. The LA Riots, September 11th, Christopher Dorner… do we really need any more evidence against that?
Alanis: And it’s also naive to believe that just because the power of the police seems permanent now, that things can’t change. The most highly funded dictatorship in the world under Mubarak in Egypt toppled in just a few weeks… and the news today shows us that even a so-called democratic regime isn’t enough when the people identify police and military power as their enemy.
Alanis: The odds are stacked against us, and policing and surveillance in “the land of the free” have reached levels that would have made the East German Stasi or Soviet KGB salivate. Yet history suggests that the more force a regime has to exert against its subject population to keep it under control, the less stable it becomes.
Alanis: Now it’s time for the Mugshot, our profile of a contemporary anarchist project. Two members of the East Atlanta Copwatch are joining us to discuss their tactics for dismantling the common myth that “Police can win any confrontation, so we shouldn’t antagonize them.”—Myth #3
Alanis: We’ll start by speaking with Anthony, a resident of Atlanta, who is hanging with the Ex-Worker to reflect on an anti-police riot that erupted a few months ago in the Edgewood Court Apartment complex located in the neighborhoods near the Copwatch headquarters.
Anthony’s reflection on the Edgewood Riot
Anthony: The march took place on April 9, 2013, which was one day after a large conflict with the police unraveled in Edgewood Court Apartments, in which a man named Octavius McGee was tackled to the ground by the police, who placed a gun on the back of his head.
I think an important element of all this was that it was spring break, so all of the youth, the high schoolers, the middle schoolers, the elementary schoolers, were all off school, so they were all just hanging out playing kick ball, having a good time. They witnessed this gross police hostility, at which point people began yelling at the police. Allegedly at that point Nikia Jenkins, who was friends with Octavius McGee, as he puts it, began sticking up for him, asking the police why they are treating him this way. She is then struck and tackled and thrown into a squad car, and then, as seen on cell phone footage, she is struck multiple times by police batons in front of bystanders, and pepper sprayed, beaten by many officers. The crowd is incensed at this point. They get pepper sprayed by the police who… there are almost a dozen squad cars there. People are kind of hurling angry chants at the police. And Copwatch in East Atlanta—an important bridge between anarchists and this neighborhood—they were there and they have a lot of it filmed.
And, 24 hours later at which point, I guess several dozen people began marching through the complex. And whenever a squad car rolls up, people threw bricks and rocks and bottles at the cars, driving them away, encircling the vehicles, just attacking any cop that came up. Unmarked cars were pelted with bricks.
The rumor is that the first bottle thrown was thrown by a very, very young girl—very young, and that is the actual conflictual minority at the beginning of the demonstration was a group of young children who kind of bravely confronted the police when, at a moment in the march when it seemed like no one else was willing to. And then that antagonism, rather than confining itself to this small subject, kind of generalized to the crowd. At some point I guess someone poured bricks into the street and everyone picked them up. Willingness to be conflictual in the crowd was basically unanimous. Unlike an Occupy demonstration, this other type of demonstration, there was not a single plea made for the police. A few years ago in Atlanta there was a series of anti-police demonstrations following some officer-involved shootings. And you know, they ended with property destruction, block bloc, things of that sort, so, I guess, kinda, the expectation was that this was a way to involve ourselves in a struggle of people who we shared, I guess, an affinity with.
A lot of these events could not have happened without the presence of Copwatch who have developed ties with the neighborhood over a long period of time and work at risk to themselves. And the willingness of people in the city to engage with the struggles of other people is really a kind of I think an important dynamic that anarchists sometimes miss out on because of different ideological… I don’t want to say hang-ups, but maybe hangs-ups or something of that sort. I’d just like to encourage people in other places to involve themselves with the imperfect and contradictory struggles of other sections of the class or whatever. They are usually more exciting than anything that’s subcultural or avant-garde that we have sometimes built up.
East Atlanta Copwatch
Earthworm: My name is Earthworm. I’m a member of Copwatch of East Atlanta and I have been since its inception in 2009. And I live at The Tear Down, which is an activist collective does a lot of projects including Copwatch. We take bottom-line responsibility for that and some other things and supporting activism in Atlanta.
Copwatch is an effort to increase police accountability and community empowerment by filming the police and educating people about their rights so that police can’t get away with as much misconduct.
Caroline: I’m Caroline. I also just moved into The Tear Down, which is an activist collective here in Atlanta. And I have been involved with Copwatch for about six months.
Earthworm: The first time people see us or hear about us in our neighborhood—I mean, not all people, the yuppies hate us, which is great—but the people who are facing constant police harassment, as soon as they find out about us, they love us and they are very supportive. But I think that people didn’t take Copwatch seriously as a thing until we established a really consistent presence and a really consistent ability to show up when called, and until after the lawsuit when we successfully sued the cops⎯that was really helpful too.
What happened was in April 2010, we were doing Food Not Bombs in a public park and we happened to see police arresting a guy and we film the police, and they said, you can’t film us. And the member of Copwatch who had the cell phone kept filming, because we know we have the legal right to continue to film. The cop seized the phone and we sued them. And the city, having recently been involved in a bunch of other massive scandals involving police misconduct, readily settled out of the court with us. So we won $40,000 and changes to the police standard operating procedures that required them to allow us to film and required them to get more training to the effect that we’re allowed to film.
I think one of the effects of the lawsuit was just that a lot more people heard about us, because it was on the news for a couple of days, which was great for publicity in the neighborhoods and among the people that we’re trying to connect with, but also good for protecting us from the police, because you can tell that the police do take us seriously as a thing and do have a somewhat legitimate fear that we can hold them accountable if they do something to us. For example, when cops try to threaten us or intimidate us, they’ll say stuff like, well, your group doesn’t protect you from inciting a riot, and blah blah blah. And that’s supposed to scare me, but I’m thinking to myself, they think my group can protect me, that’s kinda cool.
When we first bought this house in this neighborhood, we were concerned; my partner and I are both white, and we were concerned that we would be playing a role in the gentrification of the neighborhood just by making other white people see more white faces and therefore feel more comfortable. So we had to think about it and were wondering how we could fight gentrification. And we realized that policing is a really important part of gentrification because by constantly harassing poor, black people and making life difficult for them, you [the police] contribute to the phenomenon of them [poor, black people] moving away. And of course, the police serve power and serve the rich yuppie interests of those moving in. They are at the beck and call of those people. And we decided that trying to put the brakes on this overt constant harassment was a good way to start.
So, we started out slow and we started out just by doing patrols. And patrols⎯you normally don’t happen to run into cops when you’re on patrol, but what a patrol is, is a reason go out and walk around the neighborhood. And we wear bright orange shirts that say “Copwatch: Stop Police Brutality” and we carry flyers and we’ll give out flyers to anyone that will take one. And we talk to them about police brutality and we listen to them about what’s happened to them. We’ve been doing that for about four years.
In that time, a huge percentage of the people that we talk to tell us about incredible amounts of harassment and oppression that they experience. And by doing that over and over again and getting to know people and kind of seeing what they want and trying to respond to their needs, you build a relationship and you build trust. And people know that they have our number and they can call if they want us to come out. And by consistently showing up when they do we’ve started to build more of a relationship of trust.
The other part of that, though, is we don’t want to be Copwatch just in order to be these rescuers that’ll swoop in and save if you give us a call. That was never the idea; the idea was always to encourage people to start doing Copwatch for themselves, and to show people a tactic that works and can actually bring you some protection and make your community safer from the police. As part of our outreach, our efforts have always been geared towards, we’ll train you, do you have a camera? You can film the police. Here’s what’s legal to do, here’s what’s safe to do. We’ve met varying degrees of success.
Caroline: Having Copwatch present helps people safer, knowing that the cops can’t just get away with pulling people off the sidewalk or beating people up when there are cameras there. When Copwatch is there, the police know that they’re going to be held accountable for their actions and it scares them. And I think that the people in the community know that and have seen that just from our presence in the neighborhood, and therefore, with Copwatch’s presence at the march, I feel like it allowed people to be more emboldened and say things that they might not have otherwise felt safe saying or doing things that they might not have felt safe doing otherwise.
Earthworm: Yeah, I completely agree. I think that to an extent Copwatch’s presence in the neighborhood over the past couple of years has legitimized and maybe even kind of solidified an anti-police sentiment, as far as people are willing to speak more openly against the police when they see them. Like Caroline said, people are willing to stand up the police more when they know that we’re there to the extent that we have their back and that the cops can’t get away with as much. And I think that being able or willing to speak out has a sort of a cumulative effect over time on yourself and on the people around you. I mean, people were always really against the police. We didn’t make people against the police. The police made people be against the police; and the massive amounts of harassment and way that they ruin people’s lives is what makes people be against the police in the neighborhood. But I think that Copwatch has played some role in supporting that anti-police sentiment and hopefully maybe getting people to have more of sort of a sense of unity in that, and maybe a sense of being willing to do something about it.
I think that maybe a lot of anarchists listening to this might think, why should we do Copwatch which the ostensible purpose of it is to make sure that the police obey their own laws? Isn’t that kind of revisionist and shouldn’t we be working on more revolutionary goals? But here’s why I think Copwatch is a revolutionary thing. If we are going to make a revolution, we need to build power. We need a base of people who are not afraid of the cops and not afraid to stand up to them and have resources and are unified enough way to deal with state repression. And Copwatch is a good training for further things like that. It’s a good way to reach out to people who know very well what it’s like to oppressed by the cops and give them a sense that they can stand up without repercussions, and that they don’t have to live in constant fear of the police. Because there are limitations to what the police can get away with. They are not just demigods. They do have their own rules and there are things that we can do to face them down. That spreads much more of a sense of empowerment that I think can lead into other sorts of forms of resistance once you have the skills. For example, stare a cop down and stand there and do something that they are telling you not to do that you know you can do.
Caroline: Yeah, I think that the Edgewood Courts march was a really good example of that, demonstrating what Earthworm just said about empowering people to stand up to the cops in a way that they might not have felt empowered to do so before. Like, they had a very legitimate fear for their own personal safety, knowing that hey, as a community we can come together as a community to protect each other from the cops; we just need that solidarity and work there.
Earthworm: Another element in the April 10th march was that April 10th fuck the police march was a response to the fact that on April 9th the police beat the living shit out of somebody essentially for asking why they were beating up his brother. There were probably 100–150 people out watching that. They were incensed; the crowd was furious about it. And Copwatch was out there. People started talking about what should be done about this, and the idea of a march came out. And I think that Copwatch’s continued presence in the neighborhood has developed somewhat of a sense of trust; I don’t wanna say that people trust us with their lives, but there’s sort of an amount of trust there that I feel like probably facilitated the ability of the march to happen and the willingness of people to participate in it.
Alanis: Similar to the lawsuit mentioned by Earthworm, a year ago, David Morse of Indybay settled with the UC Berkeley Police Department for $162,000 and improved training regarding legal protections for journalists. The laws vary from state to state in terms of filming the police. If folks would like to take part in these activities, they should seek out what legal rights they have to record law enforcement. East Atlanta Copwatch offers to visit other cities to help them set up effective Copwatch groups. For more information and to view their reports, videos and resources for standing up to the Five-O, visit [copwatchoea.org] (http://www.copwatchoea.org/).
Alanis: Also, I’m sure y’all will be happy to hear that thus far there has been little backlash for the Edgewood Courts riot. In fact, following the riot, the police cleared out of the neighborhood for a few days, and for some time afterward, only used undercover cars. The chief of police held a press conference touting lies such as, “The riot was out of the ordinary” and “The police and Edgewood have a great relationship’. The police increased so-called “community outreach” endeavors to possibly identify snitches, but this maneuver was a complete and utter failure. Everyone in the neighborhood just thought it was kinda funny. As far as direct consequences go, there was one arrest near the riot and that person received some sort of very minor charge.
Alanis: Thank you Earthworm, Caroline and Anthony for joining us!
THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Clara: Now it’s time for the Chopping Block, in which we review a contemporary or classic anarchist text and tell you what you need to know. This week we’re focusing on “To the Indomitable Hearts: The Prison Letters of Luciano ‘Tortuga’ Pitronello”. This heartbreaking and passionate collection combines statements made by an injured imprisoned Chilean anarchist and his supporters from around the world. Tracing his resolve to survive and remain at war even in blindness and captivity, the book offers a poignant portrait of the consequences of committing to a life of militant struggle against capital and the state.
On the morning of June 1st, 2011, two individuals pulled up on a motorcycle in front of a bank in Santiago, Chile. One got off carrying a homemade explosive device, which detonated accidentally in his hands, blinding him, setting him on fire, and injuring his hands severely. In the hospital, where he was placed under armed guard, he was identified as Luciano Pitronello Schuffeneger, better known by his nickname “Tortuga,” Spanish for turtle. Demonized by the sensational mass media, condemned as a terrorist by his own sister, and abandoned by some former comrades fearful of repression, he faced the certainty of prison while saddled with horrifying injuries. Yet against all conceivable odds, he turned around his unbearable situation, persisting in his physical therapy to recover beyond expectation, overcoming suicidal depression, and defeating legal efforts to prosecute him under an anti-terrorist law. He was sentenced to six years of house arrest, and remains unrepentant and committed to anarchist struggle.
“To the Indomitable Hearts” collects five letters written by Tortuga to his comrades between January and September 2012, along with letters written to him by supporters from around the world, lyrics to three songs written to commemorate him and another that Tortuga often sung, and an extensive chronology of solidarity actions across fifteen countries. His letters trace his efforts to overcome despair and stay committed to his recovery, analyze hunger strikes as a tactic and discuss the situations of other imprisoned militants, offer constructive self-criticism around his own actions, reflect on the culture and mental environment of prison life, and send a heart-rending statement of compassion and support to his collaborator in the failed attack. Throughout the letters an astonishing sense of h ility and patience shines forth; Tortuga refuses to see himself as a victim, writing with unflinching honesty and untempered passion. Despite all that has happened to him, he scorns those who would cite him as an example of the danger and futility of militant resistance. In a letter titled, “When the Fire of Anarchy Nourishes Our Hearts,” he writes of the choice authorities attempt to frame between repression and choosing “a normal way of life” where “you may walk in peace. Peacefully? What is peacefully?” he asks. “To crush yourself into a day to day routine of shit that will exhaust your spirit into abandoning a life that means anything? Yes, if for the others this is to live life peacefully, well then I prefer to live an anarchist life wildly.” In another, he describes his determination to recover:
Who said that the struggle does not make us great? If my ideas can bring me to lose my life, they can also bring me to recover it… so I have thrown myself with all my strength into the fight, because I recognize in it the greatness to break the chains. What matters is to never lose the spirit of struggle, not ever. It does not matter how terrible things look…while your heart and mind do not betray you, the rest becomes mere detail. Our bodies can weaken, it is true, but what makes us great has nothing to do with flesh and bones. What turns us into giants are our convictions, our spirit of knowing that what we do is right.
The texts were translated from the original Spanish by War on Society, an international insurrectionary anarchist blog, and bound into a beautiful 101-page volume by egoist publisher Plain Words. Although the translations could have been edited to read more smoothly, the writing is mostly clear and vivid, and the volume is elegantly designed and illustrated with pictures from solidarity actions.
Reading this text brought me to tears. I have never read so moving a statement of anarchist conviction in the face of repression and misery, steadfastly confronting the despair of prison, injury, isolation, and doubt. Tortuga refuses to sugar-coat these realities, yet finds the strength to carry on, fueled by sheer defiance and nourished by solidarity actions taken around the world. Tortuga and his comrades offer a sobering reminder of the costs of committing to the path of a militant and a window into the insurrectionary and anti-civilization currents influencing anarchists internationally. Their words are a powerful testament to the value of solidarity and the beauty and passion of lives devoted to uncompromising resistance. As Tortuga wrote in a letter titled “The Abyss Does Not Stop Us,”
To all those who cannot pacify their dreaming because they know that one of their own is suffering…to all those who took on the fun and exciting adventure of conquering freedom…to the conscious rebels, to all of you I dedicate these lines…and I owe you the determination that kept me alive, because I’ll have you know, you were my oxygen when I had none.
“To the Indomitable Hearts” is available from Little Black Cart distribution, online at littleblackcart.com. Proceeds from the book benefit anarchists imprisoned by the Chilean state.
EVENTS AND UPCOMING NEWS
Alanis: And now … it’s time for Next Week’s News, our calendar of events that are coming up before our next episode.
Alanis: The Earth First! Round River Rendezvous is just finishing in North Carolina, but there are plenty of other action camps and gatherings coming up later this month.
Alanis: In Eastern Utah, a Canadian petroleum company is planning to open the first US tar sands mine, and people from across the country are descending on Green River Utah to make sure this project never breaks ground. Big oil has already paid their way to regulatory approval, but will only move forward if they can prove that digging up tar sands makes financial sense.
The [Utah Tar Sands Action Camp](http://joins merheat.org/utah/) plans to show them “we can’t afford this project,” and gets under way in Green River, Utah from July 21st–28th.
(FYI: Their website asks you to make the following pledges: I promise to be nonviolent and peaceful in all of my activities during the action. I will be dignified in dress and demeanor⎯these are serious issues, and we want to be taken seriously. I knowingly and freely assume all risks, even if arising from the negligence of others, and assume full responsibility for my participation in this action.)
Alanis: In Cascadia, the Trans and Wymen Action Camp, or TWAC Cascadia, will be holding an ecodefense action camp this s mer in Western Oregon about 90 miles outside of Eugene. You can join them in the forest from July 23rd to 29th for a week of discussion, skillshares, networking, workshops, story telling and action! This action camp is planned by and for folks who identify as women, transgender, transsexual, gender queer and gender variant.
Alanis: Also, the Feral Awakening Gathering, a rewilding green anarchist gathering that was planned for late July in Idaho, has been postponed until fall. No date or location has been announced, and folks interested in organizing were asked to contact email@example.com.
Alanis: On the 10th, Gary Tyler, a black high school student framed by the police in 1974 for a race-related shooting, and on July 18th, Patreese Johnson, one of seven black lesbians who were imprisoned for defending themselves against the assault of a homophobic stranger.
Alanis: All of their addresses and information about how to write to them is available on our website. Send a birthday card to these incarcerated peeps!
Alanis: That wraps up this episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks to everyone for listening! I’m Alanis…
Alanis: …and I’m Alanis, and we’ll be back with our next episode on July 21st, at which time we’ll dig deep discussing alternative resolution and accountability processes, plus you know: the news, events, reviews, and plenty more.
Alanis: This has been a production of the CrimethInc Ex-Worker’s Collective: where heaven is wasted on the dead. We want to thank Kristian Williams, and East Atlanta Copwatch for speaking with us, and Global Uprising for sharing their interviews with us.
Alanis: Also many thanks to Frau Totenkinder and Sven for recording the last two episodes of the Ex-Worker!
Alanis: And thanks to Underground Reverie, who provided us with the music you’ve heard in this episode. You can hear more at soundcloud.com/undergroundreverie.
Alanis: Roll up on crimethinc.com/podcast, if you want a transcript of the show or more information about anything you’ve heard.
Alanis: And if you’ve got any feedback, constructive criticisms, call outs or ideas for future episodes, holla at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave us a voicemail at 202–59-NOWRK; that is, 202–596–6975. Also, if you downloaded this podcast through iTunes, leave us a rating and let us know what you think.
Alanis: Remember: be careful with each other, so we can be dangerous together.
Alanis: Mo money, mo problems.
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
Download MP3 (61 Min; 24MB)
The documentary “Inside Istanbul’s Taksim Square Protesters Remain Despite Police Attacks” with the complete Carşi interview heard on this episode is available online for free at globaluprisings.org. Global Uprisings is an independent news site and video series dedicated to showing responses to the economic crisis from around the world; visit their website for videos about the season of rebellion in Egypt, self-organization in Greece, strikes in the UK and Spain, and much more.
Kristian Williams’ Top 5 Anti-Police Moments of the Last 10 Years: (1) How Oakland’s anti-police organizing after the shooting of Oscar Grant was broadly accessible but also militant; (2) How Rose City activists’ challenge of the city’s police union, in response to the shooting of Aaron Campbell, has largely, permanently discredited the police; (3) NYC neighborhoods’ opposition to Stop-And-Frisk [more info below]; (4) RNC 8 defense built political alliances between anarchists, radicals and liberals and exposed the foul conduct of police during anti-RNC mass demonstrations; and (5) Individuals practicing disengagement from cops pullin’ that community policing—Good job, everyone!
The Stop-and-Frisk policy of the New York Police Department is a constant tension between NYPD patrol officers and the people of color who live in NYC neighborhoods. “In the first 178 days of 2013, the city averaged less than a murder a day, the first time the police can recall that happening for any sustained period. The latest n bers were recorded through Thursday. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly attributed much of the drop to a new anti-gang strategy meant to suppress retaliatory violence among neighborhood gangs. Police officials also credited their efforts at identifying and monitoring abusive husbands whose behavior seemed poised to turn lethal. In the first three months of 2012, police records indicate, there were 203,500 stops. But in the first three months of this year, the police recorded fewer than 100,000 stops.” June 26, 2013, nytimes
“Mayor Michael Bloomberg [recently] said that police “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little” as compared to murder suspects’ descriptions, sparking criticism from activists and some politicians in a city that has been immersed in a debate about law enforcement and discrimination.” June 28, 2013, usatoday
“At a rate of every minute every day, the New York Police Department stops a person, questions them, asks for identification, and frisks them, sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes slapped against a wall. The number one reason for the stop, according to NYPD statistics, is that the person made a “furtive” look. The number two reason is “other.” Most of the time that person is black or Latino and most of the time they are living in the city’s poorest communities… . A very small percentage of these “stop and frisks” result in arrest or the seizure of any kind of contraband. Since 2002, the number of stop and frisks has increased from 149, 000 to approaching 700,000 in 2011. The NYPD claims that “stop and frisk” is an effective policing strategy but its own statistics paint a different picture. Opponents see it as an example of the New Jim Crow and are organizing cop watches and civil disobedience actions to abolish the practice.”
Addresses for prisoners with upcoming birthdays:
Gerardo Hernandez (July 4)
P.O. Box 5300
Adelanto, CA 92301
Gary Tyler (July 10)
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Angola, Louisiana 70712
Patreese Johnson (July 18th)
Beacon Correctional Facility
50 Camp Beacon Rd
P.O. Box 780
Beacon, New York 12508–0780
Music for the Ex-Worker provided by Underground Reverie.