part 2 of MARIO AFRICA interview with photo-journalist Hans Bennett
This is the final part of a week-long photoessay series documenting the multitude of protesters gathered in Washington, DC on April 20, 2002. Part four featured the first part of Hans Bennett's interview with Mario Africa, founder of AWOL magazine. Here is the last half of the interview as well as Hans' "This is What a Police State Looks Like!," featuring photos from assorted demonstrations.
In this photo, the masked anarchist black bloc burns an AmeriKKKan flag outside of LAPD head quarters / Parker Center, August 16, 2000. This protest was part of the overall protests during the Democratic National Convention. Police attacked the crowd on several occasions that day.
Mario Africa is the founder of the Philadelphia-based AWOL magazine (a joint project of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the War Resisters League). AWOL uses the strategy of alternative media to challenge the U.S. military's recruitment of youth of color. A CD accompanies each AWOL that features both established revolutionary artists and the best among the "up an coming.
Mario is also the founder of the CCCO's Third World Outreach Program, which organizes against U.S. military recruitment within communities of color and works to examine the historical relationship between the U.S. military and communities of color (both domestically and abroad). A MOVE supporter since 1984, Mario also works with the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Born in Santiago de Cuba, the 11-year old Mario came to the U.S. with the 1980 Mariel boat lift.
To view part one of the interview with Mario Africa, please link to:
To view the complete photoessay, please link to:
In your work with AWOL and the Third World Outreach Program of the CCCO, you've argued that most soldiers, particularly non-white soldiers are there because they needed money and that they entered the military on unfair terms that left them prey to the US military.
I'm wondering if you extend this critique to how police are recruited. Do poor people and people of color become police out of economic necessity (among other things)? Specifically how would this analysis work in with the Dead Prez song "Cop Shot" made specifically for the AWOL CD? In the song Dead Prez declares: "The only good cop is a dead cop... Black cop, White Cop, Brown Cops, all cops... "
In regards to the Dead Prez track, in particular: the line that says "the only good cop is a dead cop," can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. One of the ways that it can be interpreted is that it's kinda true. Look at the situation with Mumia right now: This guy Arnold Beverly has confessed to the murder, he has passed 2 lie detector tests, has cleared up questions about ballistics that were previously mysteries. One of the things that Beverly talked about was police corruption and the fact that the Philly PD may have been behind the killing of Daniel Faulkner. So one of the things that we point out is that the phrase "the only good cop is a dead cop" in many cases is true but it doesn't mean that we killed him. In many instances, if you're a good cop and really want to clean up the police department and make it just, you're not gonna last too long because they're gonna kill you. So if you're a good cop you may be a dead cop because those cops (and others) who thrive on corruption are gonna make sure your ass is dead.
A lot of people can take a very narrow view of "the only good cop... " line and say that we're advocating killing cops. No, we're talking about the FOP, cops like Frank Serpico, who they made the movie about a few years ago and he wrote the book. He had numerous attempts on his life. You hear about so-called good cops in precincts all around the country and the plots to kill them because they were going to blow the whistle on police complicity in prostitution, drug running, and extortion within the police department. These people experience attacks on their life and in many cases have been killed. "The only good cop... " doesn't necessarily mean that we're saying to go kill a cop.
In regards to the other part of your question, we do understand too that some people join the police force out of economic need. One thing we've always recognized is that this system puts money between people and their needs and that's how they get people to make their machinery run.
It's just like how need is the reason that someone will join the military and take up arms, keep the military machinery running smoothly, and kill on command. It's the same way that you have cops on the streets. I might have met a few, but there aren't a lot of cops who would be out there doing that if they weren't getting paid for it. The difference between us and them is that when we're at a demonstration, in an altercation, or on the street organizing, we're not doing it for a paycheck. The cops are more enslaved than a lot of other people in the system.
MOVE's founder John Africa pointed out that really cops are like a shit shield for the system. In the eyes of the rulers (the politicians, mayors, governors, senators, congress people, the industrialists, the big business people), cops are a bunch of peons who are put out there to protect their money and their materials. They don't give a damn about cops. They take them and put them out there to catch bullets. They're a shield between the people and those in government, corporations, and others really behind the shit. The cops are expendable. They put them out there and if one gets his head blown off, it's like: "fine, we've got another one we'll put out there that looks just like him".
I've talked to cops before and its like: "Look man, I'm not the one who sent you out here and put you in harm's way. You need to turn around and look at the people who've got you out here. Why aren't they out here defending their shit? Because they can give you a few crumbs and make you go out and do it. The thing is, if your kids end up not having a father one night, your kids have them to blame for not having a mother or father". That's how you've got to look at this stuff. MOVE hasn't sent no cops out and put them in harm's way. The International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal hasn't done it. AWOL hasn't either.
They're sent out there by big business people and politicians in order to protect their wealth. Not to protect the wealth of the cops, because cops live in the same neighborhood I do. You go to Port Richmond, Fishtown and Grey's Ferry, you've got white cops out there that aint living no better than black people in North or West Philly. They're being prostituted for crumbs. In terms of the people who are pushing the buttons and sending them out there: they're not getting shit. Cops aren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. You've got a situation here in Philadelphia where the rulers are sending firefighters out there and when the people get sick from different diseases, the politicians in the city won't even talk to them. The higher-ups and businessmen who stand to lose money from lawsuits won't even give them the courtesy—you have a woman here who had to sleep in City Hall and the mayor just stepped right over her, didn't give a damn about her. Just spitting on them. Big business people and people with old wealth think cops are like something stuck on the bottom of their shoe. They don't have any love or respect for them. They don't have them over to their homes for dinner. They look at them as a buffer between them and the people that threaten their interests. They're expendable.
One of the things we've worked to point out is that we understand that those cops are victims too. The thing that happens, though, is that we as revolutionaries and freedom fighters have an obligation to set things right, to stop the pollution in the air and the brains of our children, to stop the brutality in our communities. Our fight is not with the cops. Our fight is with the system, but if they take and put cops between us and our work, then we have to deal with that situation, you know what I mean? As revolutionaries and freedom fighters we have to see that this entire system needs to go.
I'll give you an example: MOVE prisoners (and I know Leonard and Mumia do this) talk and have study sessions with guards, Lieutenants and others and explain to them: "look, you're locked in here just like me. They don't have any concern for you. If something happens to you on this cell block, they're just gonna get a carbon copy of you, throw a uniform on him and bring him in here tomorrow and they aint thinking about you no more. Your kids are the ones without a father. Your wife is the one at home without a husband to help provide for the family. They'll talk about how much they believe in family, but they'll destroy your family just for the sake of keeping their machinery running. They don't give a damn about you no more, just for the sake of a couple dollars or something that they don't give a damn about, know what I mean?"
I know in the case of MOVE prisoners, they've had guards who really would tip them off when things were going to happen. They've had guards quit and say "I'm not going to do this no more" after getting that kind of information and really having their eyes opened. It's not just one or two guards. This has happened over the years, there are dozens of them.
So we understand that if they're placed between us and our work and are going to come and brutalize us and kill our babies; if they're willing to accept the order of going into our communities, brutalizing our youth, murdering our babies, killing us off, then we have no choice but to negate that. Whether it be through organizing or through whatever other means are necessary to do that. We have no choice but to protect ourselves, protect each other, and negate that. That does not mean that our problem is with the cops. Our problem is with the system. Our problem is with the bosses who sent them out there. #1: Our duty is to educate them and let them know that. #2: In the appropriate situation we have to take whatever measures are necessary to protect ourselves and comrades,
Hans: In his essay "Pacifism as Pathology", Ward Churchill has argued that the true question for revolutionaries today is not WHETHER to engage in armed struggle, but WHEN. If you agree, when do you think is the appropriate time for armed struggle?
I don't mean to evade the question, but I think it happens pretty much on a case to case basis. I think that we have examples in history, which have shown when is the right time. I'm Cuban. I was born in Santiago, Cuba and grew up there until I was 11 years old and I think looking back at the history of my country, we can see a point where it wasn't . Hindsight being 20/20, initially it fell from Guatemala to some years before 1959, you know they arrested the Granma and stuff. I think we saw that that wasn't the right time, but shortly thereafter, it obviously was.
In terms of forecasting, I don't really have an answer for that. In terms of saying "this is the right time when so and so is happening, when these factors exist, then it's the right time to move ahead," We as revolutionaries have to be on point for when the time is right... When the opportunity presents itself, we have to be ready. I can't and don't know of anyone that can honestly forecast what is the right time to engage in armed struggle.
I think one of the things that we have to do, though, is be prepared. We have to be prepared mentally (in terms of having our teaching and information behind us) and technically (in terms of understanding that if you're going to engage in armed struggle you're gonna have to know how to operate arms). If you're going to defend yourself in hand to hand situations, you have to be trained in how to do that. Some people say: "When the shit pops off I'm gonna be there and be ready," well its like "No your Not". You're not learning how to operate the tools of revolution if you're not learning how to survive without supermarkets, if you're not being a strategic revolutionary, then you're not gonna be ready when the time comes, and then the time for armed struggle is never going to be right.
But we do have an obligation: people do need to learn how to cook for fifty people, we need to know how to dress wounds, how to produce alternative sources of power and water systems, understand how to protect ourselves with sticks if we're attacked with sticks and fists if we're attacked with fists, or using whatever sort of weaponry that is necessary to protect ourselves, our children, our families, and our comrades. We need to take those steps on a daily basis and know how to survive outside the element that we're in right here with buildings, heat, and air conditioning and with water coming out of a faucet and things like that. We need to be taking these steps in our daily lives so that when the opportunity does present itself, we are able to do what is necessary in order to carry that out. So I don't think that we can forecast when the right time for armed struggle is on a calendar or even based on a particular political climate.
Hans: Even from studying history?
Mario: The world's a lot different now than it was a while ago. Take the Cuban Revolution, it wouldn't have happened like that today. A particular time in history was captured and everything broke right. It couldn't have happened in Puerto Rico at the time, or in the Dominican Republic or Haiti, The Soviet Union was poised and ready to do certain things. The United States had other things that they were paying attention to at the time. Politically things broke right at an exact point in history. I think if the same thing were to happen today, the absence of another super power would change things a lot. If this happened today there would be nothing to stop the United States from going in there. You have the School of the Americas now. You have more counterinsurgency operations all throughout the globe than you had at any time before in history. You have the Patriot Act, the Effective Death Penalty Act, different types of surveillance and all sorts of things.
I think we can learn a lot of important things from history, but in terms of being able to forecast the future, I think there are other factors we have to take into account as well. One thing we need to pay attention to is that with all these changes in the landscape there are also new points of vulnerability. In terms of the internet, satellite surveillance, wiretaps, increased infiltration in foreign governments, they've also opened themselves up to new avenues of vulnerability, and we have to identify what those points of vulnerability are. They may be less vulnerable in certain ways than in the past, but they may be more vulnerable in other ways. I
Hans: Do you have anything in mind?
Mario: There are people with certain skills, in terms of computers, technology and things. Anything that this system creates can be used against them. That's been shown time and time again. My belief isn't in technology, but if I can use it against the system, I'll do it. I'm sitting here in front of a computer. I don't believe in computers but I will use it in order to carry out the work of revolution and to do away with the system. I'm not here trying to perpetuate computers. As soon as this computer is not useful to me, you can bust it up and put it in dirt and let it go back to its essence and I'm done with it. I'm not trying to perpetuate a world where computers, technology, cars, and airplanes, cell phones and all these things continue to grow and grow and infest our minds and rob our health and steal our strength and stuff like that. That's not what I'm about.
I think we can take inspiration from Che, Patrice Lumumba, and from revolutionary leaders George Jackson and Huey P. Newton. But I think what we need to do is take that inspiration/that spirit, and adapt it to our present day using the tools that we have available
The next AWOL will be out in May 2002.
Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with the Philadelphia-based INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. Along with the movement to defang and ultimately abolish the U.S. military and it's international terrorist network, Hans is also documenting the struggle for the life and freedom of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. To view his recent interview with Pam Africa of MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (featured on the AWOL magazine website), please link to:
To view part one of this photoessay, please link to:
Two view part two, please link to:
To view part 3 of the photoessay, please link to:
In the new issue of INSUBORDINATION, Hans also interviews Pam Africa (of MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal), Curly Estremera (former Black Liberation Army political prisoner), and Ernesto Aguilar (a Chicano community organizer who maintains the Anarchist People of Color Website). For a copy, please send a $2-$5 (sliding scale) donation to:
Po Box 30770
Philadelphia, PA 19104
address: po box 30770 Philadelphia, PA 19104
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