In response to mass protests across the country against police brutality, “the same number of active duty troops deployed in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan”1 have been deployed to police the public and enforce curfews, CNN reported last Monday. The protests were catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, a black 46-year-old resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota by Derek Chauvin, a white cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck as he lay on his stomach handcuffed in the street. Floyd’s alleged crime was using a fake $20 bill to make a purchase at a local market. Floyd told the arresting officers repeatedly “I can’t breathe,” which they ignored. The same last words were uttered by Eric Garner who was choked to death with his hands up by Daniel Pantaleo of the NYPD in 2014 for suspicion of selling cigarettes. Pantaleo was never charged with a crime.
Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for a total of nine minutes. After six minutes, Floyd was unresponsive and had no pulse, (which was checked by EMTs) yet Chauvin continued to drive his knee into his neck.2 The arresting officers made no attempt to resuscitate him and prevented EMTs from treating him for one minute. He was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center. An autopsy report by two forensic pathologists paid for by the family of George Floyd determined that Floyd died of asphyxiation, conflicting with a initial report that was likely altered to avoid implicating Chauvin. It is unconscionable and despicable that the initial medical examiner wrote that Floyd’s “underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death” when Floyd told officers multiple times he couldn’t breathe. Fortunately, Chauvin was arrested on May 29th and charged with third-degree murder, which made him the first white cop in Minnesota to be charged for the death of a black civilian3 an incredible fact considering cops in Minnesota have killed at least 53 black people since 2000, ten of whom were unarmed.4 Two days after Chauvin’s arrest, the charges were upgraded to unintentional second-degree murder though it is still unclear how much prison time (if any) he will receive.
Chauvin already had 18 complaints on his official record at the time of the murder, and on multiple occasions in previous years he shot at three suspects, killing one.5 Another arresting officer at the scene of Floyd’s murder, Tou Thao, told concerned witnesses that Floyd (with Chauvin on his neck) was “talking. He’s fine.” Six previous complaints had been filed against Thao prior to the murder of Floyd including one filed by a man in 2014 who was handcuffed and assaulted by Thao, resulting in the man’s hospitalization and the loss of multiple teeth. Another arresting officer at the scene of Floyd’s murder, Thomas Lane, asked Chauvin twice if Floyd should be moved onto his side, to which Chauvin replied. “no.” This was clear cut, first-degree murder.
Again and again, prosecutors argue for no prison time for killer cops. Judges acquit them of all wrongdoing, police departments, police chiefs, and police unions defend killer cops in court, and killer cops walk because the system is set up to protect those in power. Floyd joins the long list of black men, women, and children killed by police, such as Breonna Taylor, shot 8 times in her own home, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley Jones, Quintonio LeGrier, Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin. Philando Castile, and Ahmaud Arbery. Police brutality has risen recently in part because of increased police presence to enforce strict corona social distancing orders and curfews. Freedoms have been given up in the name of “safety” and police are among the only people allowed on many streets, allowing them to terrorize the public with fewer witnesses.
Journalists during recent police brutality protests have been systematically targeted as well. John Minchillo, for example, a photojournalist of the Associated Press was shot by police on May 29th. On May 30th Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole were forced against a wall by Minnesota State troopers before being shot with tear gas and projectiles, despite the fact that both displayed their press credentials and Cole’s flak jacket was labeled “press.”Linda Tirado, a freelance photojournalist, was shot by police on May 30th in the face, permanently blinding her in one eye. MSNBC reporter, Ali Velshi, and his crew was attacked by police in a nearly deserted parking lot. They identified themselves as reporters and the pigs responded, “we don’t care” before firing on them. Police also shot a flash-bang grenade at MSNBC reporter, Morgan Chesky, while they were “broadcasting live on television and retreating from the parking lot police were attempting to clear.”6 Despite identifying himself as a member of the media, WCCO photographer Tom Avile was also shot by a rubber bullet and arrested in Minnesota.7 The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit in response.
Trump’s response to the recent protests was predictably reactionary, militaristic, and authoritarian. On May 29th he incited more violence on twitter by threatening to send the National Guard into Minneapolis in response to protesters who he called “thugs” and wrote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Despite all of his posturing, Trump showed his spinelessness when he skirted off to an underground bunker scared for his life the same day he made the tweet.8 In These Times reported, “Since Trump spoke those words, the National Guard has been implicated in at least two shootings related to the response to protests, one of them deadly. On June 1, Louisville, Kentucky resident David McAtee, a 53-year-old Black man, was killed after police and Kentucky National Guard members shot into a crowd with live ammunition in the city’s majority Black west end, under the auspices of enforcing a 9:00 p.m. curfew.” 9 A deployed member of the National Guard also fired three rounds at a moving car in Minneapolis on May 31st. A protester in Minneapolis was also shot and killed on May 27th. and not surprisingly prosecutors refused to press charges against the killer cops10.
In the absence of any kind of justice and continued lack of police accountability, people have chosen to take justice into their own hands. Protests and direct actions have spread across numerous major US cities, including Minneapolis where the third police precinct was burnt down, Portland Oregon where the Justice Center was looted and vandalized, Seattle WA where police cars were set ablaze, Reno Nevada where the headquarters of Reno Police Department was destroyed, Las Vegas Nevada were Molotov cocktails were thrown at police, in San Antonio Texas where a probation office was set on fire, Chicago where police cars were smashed and burned, Ferguson Missouri where bricks, rocks, and bottles were thrown at pigs, New York, NY where police vans were smashed, and in Philadelphia where police cars and Frank Rizzo (a cop notorious for racist police brutality)were set ablaze.11 Similar actions were taken in Paris France in solidarity with George Floyd and against the racist police in France. A police station in Paris was attacked, barricades were set up, and many fought with police.12 People are understandably pissed off. They are tired of peacefully protesting (although there is still more of that than there is combative resistance) just to be beaten, fined, and arrested. They are tired of being treated as worthless by police, the state more broadly, and the super rich. People are fighting back and it should be clear this is self-defense.
Many mainstream media outlets have been focused on the looting taking place without pointing out how unjust the distribution of capital is. When people rob giant corporate franchises, this ought to be considered expropriation. As Warren Gunnels, pointed out on Twitter, “Looting is the wealthiest person in America (Jeff Bezos) increasing his wealth by $40 billion in a pandemic while his company (Amazon) pays nothing in federal income taxes for 3 years, receives a $104 million tax refund, ends hazard pay and denies paid sick leave to its workers”
Despite the brutal, authoritarian response to the protests, there are signs that the protests and direct actions people in the streets are taking are working. The DC National Guard was pulled out on June 6th, and talks about defunding and even disbanding police departments are becoming far more mainstream. While this would be a reform and not enough, it would still be a step in the right direction. On June 8th, Seattle City Council member, Teresa Mosqueda, called for the Seattle police department’s funding to be cut in half for 2020, telling her council colleagues, “I am committed to defunding the police. To using most of that money, 50 percent ideally, to invest back into communities that we’ve failed. Creating anti-racist, low-barrier housing options, investing in equitable transit, providing permanent supportive housing, providing housing options for survivors of domestic violence, and shelter for the thousands of people on our streets who are unsheltered.“13 On June 4th, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti agreed to cut funding to the LAPD by $100-150 million. However, the budget before the cuts was a whopping $1.8 billion.14 Most significantly, the Minneapolis city council just announced its plans to dismantle the Minneapolis police department altogether and shift funding to education and healthcare.15 Council President Lisa Bender told CNN, “We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe.” If this comes to fruition, it would be progress we have never seen before in this country since it was colonized.
The people of Capitol Hill in Seattle Washington have already made this vision into a reality after police shredded documents and abandoned the East precinct police department there during protests. On June 8th, protesters occupied the building, 6 blocks of Capital Hill, and a park, declaring it an autonomous zone. The protesters published a list of 30 demands, including the abolition of police in Seattle, prohibiting ICE from entering Seattle, an end to prisons, reparations for victims of police brutality, the publication of the names of cops accused of abuse, retrials for all people of color serving a sentence for violent crime, releasing all prisoners convicted of cannabis related offences and resisting arrest, giving prisoners the right to vote, the creation of a separate system to respond to 911 calls about mental crises, to which mental health experts would respond, and the redirection of funding for police to socialized health care, free public housing, education, and naturalization services. The list of demands also recognizes that “although we have liberated Free Capitol Hill in the name of the people of Seattle, we must not forget that we stand on land already once stolen from the Duwamish People, the first people of Seattle”. This is all nothing short of incredible in the US under Trump. Of course, Trump has called the protesters “domestic terrorists” and demanded the neighborhood be retaken by police but so far that has not happened.
The answer is not more police accountability. While that would be a good start, the true answer is no police. We cannot sacrifice our autonomy for a false sense of security. Freedom is the most essential condition of life. Bad human behaviors will never be policed away. The underlying socioeconomic inequities that cause most bad human behavior need to be resolved. Having police or any positions of violent authority simply ensures that sociopaths will enlist and be acquitted when they abuse their authority. No one can be trusted with that kind of authority. People simply need to respect each others autonomy, defend themselves when that autonomy is violated, and do what they think is right. That is all.
The popular protest slogan “Black Lives Matter” that has reemerged in recent protests should be a completely uncontroversial statement. It is not “black lives matter more,” or even “black lives are important.” It is simply that they matter or that they are not worthless. The statist reaction to Black Lives Matter is no, “blue lives matter,” (this was recently trending on twitter) which is a way to deny that black lives matter. It is not “blue lives matter too,” which would recognize or at least imply the worth of black lives. It is a complete refusal to acknowledge the worth of black life. “Blue” is not a race. It is a color that represents a job that certain people choose, unlike race, which no one chooses. The position of police officer is forced on no one and the number of cop killings pales in comparison to the number of unarmed, black men and women killed by police without cause. Hopefully, more people will begin to envision a more just, equitable, and free world without police so we can see it become a reality.
1https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/us/national-guard-protests-states-map-trnd/index.html and https://www.wbur.org/news/2020/06/02/rhode-island-national-guard-vandalism-looting-damage