Fight Racism and Abuse of Police Power By Any Means Necessary
(And Violence Isn't Necessary)
Burning Down The Little Ceasars, Ferguson, Mo. November 24, 2014. Credit: EPA/Tannen Maury
Fight Racism and Abuse of Police Power By Any Means Necessary!
(And Violence Isn't Necessary)
by Kevin Salveson
"Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights... of meeting physical force with soul force." -MLK Jr #ferguson
Today I want to address issues regarding recent police related violence. The presumption is always going to be in favor of the law in a society that is governed by the rule of law (such as it is). Get on board! I wasn't surprised that an officer of the law would be aquitted no matter how poor his judgement in the case of Wilson in Ferguson.
But in terms of the rule of law, the case involving Garner's negligent homocide at the hands of officers such as Daniel Pantaleo is an obvious example of the rule of law not being upheld. Too often this happens in America.
Like two sides of a coin, the episode in Ferguson highlights why it is important to give police officers the benefit of the doubt when in threatening situations. Meanwhile, what happened in New York was an obvious travesty that sends the wrong message to the public in terms of law enforcement and their ability to act with impunity even when it involves excessive force and the violation of the department's own codes. At the least, in such a situation, a grand jury should reflexively vote for an Indictment. When there is video evidence that common sense suggests depicts excessive force and creulty the public should demand that a line be drawn.
Meanwhile, it was a tragedy that Michael Brown was shot but not an example of excessive force. That he had comitted a crime already that day speaks poorly of his decision making; that he wound up getting in a scuffle that ultimately resulted in his being shot by the officer was also a poor outcome. Could it have been avoided? Was he in the act of surrender? Should he have been shot? Maybe a more level-headed officer could have avoided it but I'm not surprised that it also wound up the way it did. Police officers have the right to use deadly force. That Brown was seemingly not aware of that fact (even if there are abuses of that practice that take place systematically; in fact, especially because of that)... foolish. That he wound up dead... it's a tragedy.
Still, the right response to that tragedy is not violence or chaos.
Sure, I'm not the absolute best position to comment on these topics. I admit hat I've been lucky in life with easier access to opportunities and there's a lot of people who have been through difficulties I will never truly comprehend. Thus, I probably don't understand the scope of anyone else's grievances and probably come off as condescending at times. But I think we're all entitled to our 2 cents. We are all or should be 'equal' in our respect for the law and we all deserve equal treatment under it as well. What's so wrong with equal treatment under the law?
There has been a history of the law abusing its power in this country (just as over the course of human history) and we have a lot to apologize for and history to live down as Americans. And so like brother Malcom X I tend to understand the reasoning behind the phrase he used to describe how to deal with issues we face today because of this terrible legacy: fight it "By Any Means Necessary".
And many people misinterpret that phrase to mean that violence is justified to overturn a corrupt and unjust system. They march in the streets pell-mell causing chaos, lighting fires, getting in skirmishes.
But I don't think that phrase means what you think it means.
See, the key word is "necessary." The phrase isn't "By Any means, period." It isn't "By all means, be an asshole."
No. not at all. It authorizes only what is "necessary." History may record and judge over time what may or may not be necessary. But my bet is that history will record a bunch of hoodlums taking advantage of a tragedy in order to exploit it for the purposes of mayhem and criminal behavior to be without necessary cause.
See, we all agree that racism is systematic to some degree in America and that it is bad, especially the drug war. But... people are already free to gather and ask for redress of their grievances (in lawful ways). There's a lot that needs to be changed, a lot that could be improved. Yes. But it's not necessary to use random violence to highlight it. What IS NECESSARY is for voters to mobilize and put people into office who will change the laws. It is up to us, and we already have the power. Torching your neighbor's gas station is not going to do it. Mobilizing intelligently will.
That's it. Simple. That's all that's necessary. Anything more, such as violence, is most often overkill. Sure, if the KKK threatens you, threaten back. And if they shoot at you, shoot back. That is lawful self-defense. But do what you do only within the realm of respect for the law and you will get respect in return.
Anyone who says that by criticisng the Ferguson protestors I am sticking up for repression and "the system" and racism from a perspective of white privilege is wrong. I'm just saying that if you want to change things, go ahead, please do... we're all on your side, we'd all like to see it. The tools are right there in front of you. You can win an election. You can get on the City Council. You can get laws passed. I'm right there with you, brother. Hell, I may even vote for you. You can influence politics through intelligent and peaceful means. the tools to do what is necessary are already in place, and thus violence and chaos are unecessary.
Yes, the system is unjust. But not so unjust that the founders didn't enshrine the tools for change and justice right there in the system itself. Yes, its a bad system. Just better than all the others.
So, don't like how the police department treats people? Get a job there, change things. Impossible? Get elected to the City Council and pass a special resolution appointing your grandmother head of the police department. She surely wouldn't shoot you down in broad daylight, would she? Or maybe she would if you went for her gun when she was detaining you as a robbery suspect and she feared for her life. The rule of law, it's what's for dinner.
Oh, I know, it takes money to run a campaign. It takes friends in power already. O, the system, O, Society! But... It's not like what I am suggesting is impossible. It's just difficult. May be very difficult, Maybe more than you got?
Systematic barriers prevent it? Sure, it's true, there are a lot of hurdles, historically more for some than others in America. We know, we get it. But they are hurdles not impossibilities to surmount. Tody, the tools are there.
It just takes a lot of real work rather than temper tantrums. It takes canvassing, it takes human commitment, it takes time, it takes energy. It takes money, it takes working with others and within the system as well as from beyond it. The system is just full of other people, fellow citizens, there for you to persuade and cajole, to poll and then to govern if you got the oves.
It takes, fundamentally, education. It takes a systematic plan for a sympathetic presence at every level of government and public service with the blessing and will of the people. Play the game, play it right, play to win. Do it nice and legal, history will bless it.
But get a few things straight. It's gotta be done legally. The rule of law is sancrosanct. Generally, more people are going to side with the police (even considering today's authoritarian police state style of enforcement which of course is fairly detestible) because the alternative --chaos-- threatens the safety and livelihood of their businesses, their children, their people.
If you want to complain that the officer who shot Brown was not following the law, or that the system which acquitted him was not just, then then you are still positing that the rule of law should be the law of the land. If you are saying America should treat all citizens with equal dignity and treatment under the law but it just does a poor job of it then do us a fucking favor and set the good example, ok? A show of respect for the law will get our respect as fellow citizens and may persuade or inspire us to honor and respect the law as well.
But it's wrong to burn down a Little Ceasar's Pizza because you're mad the system offers you the tools to change it all but you can't be bothered to really do anything about it except use it as an opportunity to light a fire. Well, hotshot, why not light yourself on fire? The buddhists have you beat there, you know.
Start a little bonfire with your own couch. Howabout it, big brave boy? You know your own garage would light up the sky real nice. Sprinkle a little tiki-torch fluid or what have you, get the barbecue goin', it's all good. Hey, don't hesitate to protest with a fireworks show as well out your ass posted to youtube if you want. After all it's your ass to do with what you like. Just be sure to get a permit and take appropriate safety precautions if public property or other people are involved. (Disclaimer: shooting fireworks out your ass is done at your own risk).
If you are not lighting yourself or at least your asshair on fire in protest but you have lit something else on fire that was not your property than you are simply a weak-ass punk in my book.
Ultimately time will judge the rightoustness of any violent act. And it has been true that history has judged some awfully violent things to be the stirrings of a new order which eventually was welcomed. (Though typically, that violence was never in service of conservative forces. Radical change isn't incited by conservative forces by definition). In general, the radical new opportunity that America offers human beings is the ability to change thelaw and society at large without the need for violence. The tools of change are embedded in the system itself. So, if your change is rightous, use the tools that are right there in front of you!
If you are not marching in the streets peacefully (and with a permit just to be smart) to protest the aquittal of Pantaleo then you are not doing it right. If you are threatening violence over it, you are doing it wrong.
See, the tools for change are right there in front of you. They are not matches. They are pens, keyboards, books, viral videos, clipboards, smiles, permits, peaceful gatherings, well written speeches, civil marches, strength in numbers, strong voter turnouts. It is the strength of a flood of job applications, the strength in behaving with dignity and earning the respect of others via reasoning that will save the day. And the keep a steady drumbeat of justice to which we can all march but not after 10 pm. Some people have to go to work in the morning.
To be clear, I am in favor of some forms of civil disobedience especially if it demonstrates a sense of humor. I also like to see liberal disobedience eventually own up and be honest about itself. Furthermore, it should hurt no one permanently (or even inconvenience them too much; to be judged on a case by case basis).
Yes, l do love me some Thoreau. I also love the non-violent but hilariously clever The Yes Men, Code Pink, and most every war journalist I've ever heard about. (I'll thrown in Sidney Shanberg and Dith Prahn, Spaulding Grey, Robert Reich, some in the Occupy crowd (when they don't go overboard), The Fugs, Bikini Kill, Cindy Sherman, all the funny Cal-Tech students, Jello Biafra, Chuck Dukowski, the Hong Kong umbrella kids, and anyone else who gets off their ass and speaks up about making the world a better place too).
All of those people do what they do without resorting to random violence. They use and abuse the tools and means of production and dissemination in order to win the information war that is continally waged over acts in the public sphere (with conservative forces seeking to discredit anything it sees as threatening to its narrow definition of order, generally, using their massive power via the ownership of many of the world;s most popular media outlets), often empowering those who use the media's tools to get progressive ideas across.
These are the tools which were already fought for and earned as a right of the people to be used for the good of all via what have been judged justified uses of violence (as history has finally recorded it) back in the revolutionary war and the civil war and the civil rights era and in the courts ever after.
Since the mid-20th century at least, all of those tools enshrined in our Bill of Rights are available to any citizen great or small for all who want to wield them. No violence necessary to get your hands on them. They're yours already. Everyone's.
Use them well, use them wisely, use them lawfully. We'll be rooting for you.
Kevin Salveson, 12/04/14