Taking the Initiative Back For the Movement After the Brinsley Killings
Taking the Initiative Back For the Movement After the Brinsley Killings
By Bruce A. Dixon / blackagendareport.com

For brutal wannabe fascists like police union thugs, for liberal authoritarian politicians like President Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus and most big city mayors, for media talking head like CNN's Don Lemon, and for weaseling civil rights spokesleaders eager to throw shade on grassroots movements that make them irrelevant, the December 20 killings of two NYPD officers were a gift from heaven, or whatever place their gifts come from.

The killings let cop thugs across the country, usually Republicans flip the script to massquerade as injured victims living in fear for their lives, howling (or oinking) at the media for covering their crimes and citizen outrage at all. The fascist cops also single out authoritarian liberal politicians for even pretending to listen to the protests, and for not unleashing them even further.

The killings gave prevaricating politicians from the president on down to city halls across the land the excuse to double down on their authoritarian credentials, repeating once again the Big Lie that cops are in unique and daily danger, despite the fact as Johanna Fernandez points out, elsewhere in this week's Black Agenda Report, that cop killings are at a 50 year low at the same time police killings of civilians are at an all time high.

The killings allowed corporate media to stop covering the nationwide protests against police crimes, and deliver us instead more cops pretending to be victims, more public officials posturing in favor of whatever cops want to do, and orchestrated demands that protesters outdo each other in mourning the slain police and again and again renounce any thought of breaking the state's monopoly on violence, even in self-defense.

Zombie-like civil rights spokesleaders, ever attentive to their masters' needs, directly link the killings to the protest movement in their own way by calling in some cases for suspension of protests, and bringing forth the kin of police victims to join in public mourning for the slain officers, as though some kind of tit-for-tat world exists in which cops, prosecutors and officials publicly mourn civilian deaths at the hands of police.

The post-Ferguson movement is in a kind of crisis moment. Its leaders and prominent spokespeople, some possibly influenced by Teach For America trojan horses Brittany Packnett and others have been on a sort of nonstop victory tour the last couple months, flying back and forth across the country to meet with the president and his school privatizer-in-chief Arne Duncan, popping up on CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere. The president and doubtless other wise and influential heads have counseled them, as Dream Defenders Phillip Agnew wrote in the Guardian, to “think big but go gradual,” to not embarrass the president and his crew by demanding “too much too soon.”

This is not the kind of self-serving advice that you ignore. It's the kind you listen to carefully, and do the exact opposite of.

If movement activists follow the president's advice they'll waste the fleeting opportunity that media coverage allows them to advance their own demands, and without taking those demands a step further in the direction opposite the one Obama and his crew want, the movement may find it difficult to continue to grow. The president, the Congressional Black Caucus, big city mayors and other liberal authoritarians are old players at an old game. They desperately need movement leaders to AVOID game-changing demands. They're Democrats, utterly dependent on votes from the overpoliced and terrorized communities. So while the fascist cops work for them, and they have little intention of cracking down on police murder and brutality beyond the cosmetic and convenient, they need to appear to be “listening” to the pain of communities suffering under their police and prison state. Their remedies, as always will be community policing, more training, and more talk, to show that they are indeed listening. Their aim is to channel back whatever activism exists into the safe channels of establish Democrat politics.

Still, “authoritarian” means exactly what you think it means. These are the very same Democrats who deployed the fusion centers, the Department of Homeland Security, military intelligence resources and coordinated federal, state and local police agencies to infiltrate, to disrupt, to co-opt, to discredit and crush the Occupy Movement only 2 years ago. It's delusional to imagine they intend anything different for today's movement. As we pointed out in these pages back in 2005, mass movements don't wait on or answer to elected officials.

“Mass movements exist outside electoral politics, and outside the law, or they don’t exist at all.  Mass movements are never respecters of law and order.  How can they be?  A mass movement is an assertion of popular leadership by the people themselves.  A mass movement aims to persuade courts, politicians and other actors to tail behind it, not the other way around.  Mass movements accomplish this through appeals to shared sets of deep and widely held convictions among the people they aim to mobilize, along with acts or credible threats of sustained and popular civil disobedience...


Mass movements are kindled into existence by unique combinations of outraged public opinion in the movement’s core constituency, political opportunity and aggressive leadership.  The absence of any of these can prevent a mass movement from materializing. ”

Aggressive leadership means advancing demands that are both radical in the sense that the authorities must emphatically reject them as "too much too soon," and realistic in that they must seem quite reasonable and sensible to the masses. Without such demands the movement loses the initiative and inevitably ends up trailing behind liberal authoritarian Democrats in either of two columns, either with the old school Sharptons and Morials or with a younger generation trying to replace them, but with the same ethics and table manners.

The movement has to get beyond the failed liberal authoritarian responses of “more black officers,” “more community policing” and “more training for cops.” Nobody spends more on training than big city departments like Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Training hasn't stopped the killing and police terror, and neither has hiring more black and brown cops. As for community policing, the shorts-wearing Officer Friendly on a bicycle is just a radio call away from the SWAT team in the amphibious mine-resistant armored vehicle.

Here are some examples of far reaching, but sensible set capable of inspiring masses, keeping them in the street, and taking steam away from liberal authoritarian

  1. The movement must double down on the demand to de-militarize local police, to cease the flow of military grade hardware to local cops, and ban the use of local funds to refit and refurbish military hardware for local police use.
  2. End asset forfeiture, and ban police use of seized assets. Right now cops can grab money, vehicles, and property of all kinds without proof a crime has been committed. Lots of people outside the current movement are already angry about this, and it will give them a tie to what's happening in the streets.
  3. End all federal funding to local cops based on their volume of low level drug arrests.
  4. Decriminalize drug use, homelessness, mental illness and sex work. Ending these kinds of interactions with civilians removes heavily armed police from most of the very situations which end in daily civilian deaths. Of course decriminalizing homelessness, mental illness and sex work will require far-reaching changes in laws and judicial practices. Nobody said rolling back the police and prison state was easy. But it is absolutely necessary.
  5. End profiling and overpolicing in minority communities, whether it goes by the name “stop and frisk”, “broken windows” or the latest shibboleth, “predictive policing.” This too is tough to accomplish, since cops and prosecutors have taught themselves, and have taught a large number of voters as well that aggressive overpolicing of minority communities is all that holds society as they know it back from the brink of the abyss. They can learn new lessons, or get new jobs.
  6. Force all police departments to record and report data on police violence inflicted on civilians, and make this data transparently available to the public. Since the Clinton administration federal law has required the Department of Justice to gather stats on police violence against civilians, but local departments are under no obligation to keep them, so the requirement has been meaningless. Local cop shops will fiercely resist this, and authoritarian Democrats who want our votes but don't want change will resist it with them, calling it “unrealistic.” Screw them. It's real, and its right, or politically speaking, left.

These are just a few examples of sensible demands that fascist Republicans, authoritarian Democrats and civil rights zombies will all declare 'unrealistic” but that the masses know are just and sensible. Advancing these, along with the insights provided in this week's issue by such original thinkers as Johanna Fernandez,Thandisizwe ChimurengaGlen FordMichelle Renee Matisons and Davey D all show how the movement can regain the initiative from cops, politicians and spokesleaders, reaching past all of them to inspire and move masses. Inspired masses can accomplish almost anything. Look what the Cubans did in 50 years outside Yankee rule, both at home and in the service of liberating Africa.

In the end of course, the police are part of the coercive machinery of the state, the strong arm and tip of the spear for whichever class is governing a particular society. As long as the rich rule at the poor's expense, as long as the gulf between them is a largely racialized one that continues to widen, racist cops will keep on doing all the wrong things to all the wrong people. Arguably, the problem of brutal, racist, corrupt and murderous police enjoying immunity and impunity simply goes with the territory of 21st century capitalism. It might be time to look for new territory.

Whipsawed between fascist Republicans and authoritarian Democrats, the US is rapidly going the way of Brazil, as recounted also in this issue of Black Agenda Report by Brian Mier. Down there Mier says, murderous police not only enjoy immunity and impunity in the aggressive overpolicing of black communities, cops descending on suspect neighborhoods routinely and customarily murder a few innocents just to instill general fear and show who's in charge. Don't think it can't be done here. The US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, also routinely tortures large numbers of random folks without even bothering to question them about anything, just to send the same message.

It's time, when our fascist cop Republicans and our authoritarian liberal Democrats are denouncing and dictating to the movement, for us to stop carrying their messages. It's time to stop reassuring people that the elected officials are finally “listening.” It might even be time to suspend the victory tour for a while and double down on work nearer the ground. It's time for leaders to carry the movement's own messages, to amplify the horizontal conversation that is the lifeblood of movements instead of the vertical ones that stilt and suppress it. It's time to take the initiative back.

Bruce A.Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. Reach him via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

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Taking the Initiative Back For the Movement After the Brinsley Killings