"The Police Are Not Our Enemy" (Wrote this late last night....)
There are so, so many things to say about today. From the beautiful speech given by the young woman with the mask, to the thrumming energy in the crowd, to the stand-off at the Oregonian... there is a lot of good to say about what happened out there today. Then there was the woman shot with projectile weapons, the women trampled by horses, the mesomorphic displays of naked aggression by the police. All that pepper spray. Indeed, there is a lot to say. But I am tired now. It's been a long day. And the event that keeps my mind occupied, strangely, is the one that threw into stark relief for me the difference between what it means to yell "peace" and what it means to really be non-violent.
I was standing against a human barricade, sanwiched between the bad-ass line of armed police minions and the throbbing, pulsing crowd. This is not a place I like to be, but I find myself there all too often. I make my way up to the front of these stare-downs despite the grumbling sense of danger. I do it because I have a camera, and when police violence erupts in situations like this one, I know we will need to be witnesses for each other. We have learned this. But the truth is, it's scary to me there. I feel very vulnerable, with my body pressed so close to the sharp metal and hungry weapons of such lethal, angry men. When the shit hits the fan, it does so in a terrifying rush of trampling boots and flailing sticks and loud noises and clouds of pepper spray. Sometimes, like today, there are gnashing teeth and the clattering hooves of horses. Yes, it's a scary place to be. And I don't like it much.
So I do not stand against those lines because I enjoy the thrill, or because I think it's cool or because I like to provoke the guns of the police state. I do it because I have to. Because it's my chosen role in this growing resistance. And because I feel like my life depends upon it. The power of the story is everything, and so I stand up there to tell that story. The police are the front line soldiers fighting for the monster that is choking the life out of the earth. They are the ones holding the fortress, keeping back the rising tide of resistance. It is they who tuck our masters in at night, safe and sound behind that thin blue line. If the police were not herding us carefully out of the way, we would have put a stop to this war by now. We would have reclaimed our land from the bloody, imperialist, corporate regime that stole its way into our lives. We would have thrown their greedy asses out of our forests, out of our government, and out of the nurseries of Baghdad and Kandahar and Southern Lebanon, where their cold bombs are still falling. And so yes, the police are our enemies.
They are our enemies because it is their active and violent complicity that keeps the world spinning off balance and keeps the New World Order surging after innocent blood. They are our enemies because they hold guns on us to keep us from saving ourselves, to stop us from making any changes, to keep the wheel grinding even when it is grinding over us. They are our enemies because they beat people to death in the streets and the Law lets them. They are our enemies because when The Man makes it illegal to be poor or black or different, it is their guns that enforce those unjustifiable laws. They are our enemies because Vernon Allen and Jahar Perez and Kendra James and Jose Mejia Poot and Lukas Glenn and Fouad Kaady all died in a hail of their bullets, and James Chasse died beneath their boots.
Yes. The police are our enemies.
They are our enemies because every time we stand up against the evil that has overtaken our land, it is they who attack us in their surreal costumes with their surreal weapons, on horseback and on jackboot, with guns and with poisons and with clubs. And yet we have to stand up anyway. Our lives depend on it. And so that is why I stand there on that line, between the people and the police state. Because the police are violent, and they hurt people, and that is a story we must tell. What's more, their very presence there, on our streets, guns drawn, condones and props up the violence that our government perpetrates upon the rest of the world. And that, too, is a story we must tell. So I stand there in solidarity with all the people who are courageous enough to fight back against that oppression. No matter how terrifying I might find the guns of this police state, I am much more terrified by the thought of living in a world where no one fights back against this monster. And so I stood there today. Crushed between the thrumming crowd and the sweaty cops, I pulled on my mask and kept filming. Resigned in the knowledge that soon, I would be fighting for breath in the violent trample that usually comes in situations like this, I took a deep breath. And then, something absurd happened.
In the middle of all this, a woman in a white WCW organizer's t-shirt came careening out of the crowd, screaming, tears in her angry eyes, spitting as she shouted. "The police are not our enemy!" She yelled. "You people are fools! These are our friends!" Again, and again, she yelled this. People seemed too stunned to even respond at first. I wish I could say I was surprised by her raving outburst, that it was some anomaly. A crazy person. But I have seen all this before. Way too often. Alas.
She pushed her way along in front of me, turning to face the police, plaintively yelling at them that she knows that they are not our enemies. She turned to the crowd seething with rage and recriminations. Someone in a mask approached her and gently put his hand on her shoulder. He tried to calm her, tried to explain to her why her statement to these people was so absurd. She would not hear him. "You guys are ruining our march!" She screamed. I could not make out everything she said, so much venom in her throat made it hard to understand her.
"Ruining our march! You're ruining our march!" The guy in the mask tried again to calm her. "You people are fools!" She loudly fumed. "These are our friends!" Shit. Fucking just get a clue. That was my thought. I've grown tired of these displays. Enough. I was feeling edgy and worried about what the police might do, and suddenly this clueless ass who presents herself as an organizer of this event comes charging over and telling us that the cops are our friends. Shit! Our "friends" don't beat people to death. They don't pepper spray babies. They don't knock glass eyes out of little old ladies, or steal wheelchairs, or shoot people to death for being the wrong color. But these cops do. They have, and they've gotten medals for it. And if we let them, they would do it again.
I was trying very hard to understand what could possess this woman to direct such "non-violent" rage toward the people in the crowd rather than the police state, when she suddenly turned on me. "Fuck you!" She screeched, and attacked my camera with her hands. Then she turned, and was gone. I continued to film, because I think this is important. THIS is why it is hard for radicals and liberals to work together. This is a divide that may be impossible to bridge, though many people have tried. Because when push comes to shove, it seems, the liberals are always collaborators. There was a choice there, on that front line. This woman, if she did not support a direct challenge to the police state, could have simply chosen not to take part in it. Instead, she leapt into the fray, demanding obedience and conformity, maniacally screaming a venomous and spittle-coated lecture on manners at people who know who are friends really are. And alas, who they are not. And then, in defense of the police state, she attacked me. SHE attacked me. Even before the first shot was fired from the big red gun, even before the pepper spray rained down on skin and lungs, even before the trampling hooves, SHE attacked me. This woman wearing a WCW shirt attacked me.
It would be better if it were only this woman who was so ridiculous. But it's the liberal mindset itself that creates the violence of "pacifists." It is violent to support the police. It is violent to dismiss the link between the police on our streets and the soldiers on the streets of Baghdad. It is violent to encourage the police to crack down on other demonstrators. And all that unacknowledged violence seething in the liberal mind leads to an unbalanced state that sometimes comes crashing to the surface like this. And yes, it is violent to lay hands on another human being without her permission. This woman did all of those things, yet she left believing that it was the people who shouted at the police who were being violent. People who used only words and autonomy, she saw as violent. She was incapable of recognizing the violence of her own hands, or the violence in her own heart. She told me later that it is "the radicals" who are violent, because they "ruined" her march. HER march. Her march...for what?
After that, a lot of things happened. The crowd continued on to the offices of the WhOregonian, where a jubilant throng used its mighty voice to shout down the liars. Later, celebratory marchers ran through the carefully prescribed lines and nearly took the freeway (just a guess). Then, predictably, lots of angry men with bulging weapons came huffing and puffing after the crowd and another stand-off ensued. Snorting horses rammed us, and a cloud of gas burned skin and stole breath from people. Officer Robinson shot his weapon as he likes to do, unveiled threats issued forth from the ice cream truck, and at last, people tired of the game and melted into the streets. Not before ten of us were arrested, dozens were assaulted with chemical weapons, and a few were shot with projectiles. I went off to interview people who had been injured in the ruckus. In spite of everything, I think there was a positive energy present in this march that has not been around for awhile. Even after it was all over, people seemed to be in a festive and victorious mood. Something is growing out there. I was walking with friends after it was over, talking about that energy, when I came upon my assailant again. As my friends and I passed through the park blocks to make sure there was no further need there for camera support, there she was. Sitting on a chair with a knot of people in WCW shirts. And I wanted to ask her why.
I approached her and asked for an interview. Clearly, she did not recognize me at first, because she eagerly granted the interview. I knelt beside her, turned on my camera, and tried to ask her if she recognized what she had done back there. If she realized that she, an organizer of this "non-violent protest" was the one and only person who actually laid hands on me today. And that she did so in defense of the violent, armed, police state. She at first denied that she had attacked my camera. I reminded her that I have it on film. She got angry, and her friends -- the other organizers -- got angry, and I got angry, and a lot of harsh words were spoken. I remember few details. I remember her asking, did I come to a meeting, was I going to clean up the garbage, and me asking did she really think that defending the police state was a nonviolent act. I remember her demanding to know, and her friends demanding to know, "What are you trying to do?" And me demanding to know the same from them. I remember finally telling a friend to take me away before I became an asshole, which he did. We sat down across the park, co-miserating on the folly of ever trusting a liberal as we watched yet another WCW organizer engaging in a long and apparently jolly conversation with the police.
I finally caught my breath after the long and trying day, and was about to leave, when the woman came marching back over to where we sat. She had a camera in her hand, stuck it in my face (as close as she said my camera had been to hers, though she knew that she was lying). I lifted my camera and filmed back. "What are you trying to do here," she began prodding in a crazy and provoking voice. "Whatcha doin' whatcha doin'?"
"Me? I was trying to join the 'big umbrella' ya'll said you were putting out," I said. "What about you?"
She continued to shout and mock, and I continued to film her. She struck my camera again. Clearly, she was way out of control. I explained to her again that what she was doing was violent. Laying hands on me was assault. This is no way to exhibit one's superior "nonviolence." She snapped a few stills, and then triumphantly announced that I must be "one of those plants" ("Perhaps a deiffenbachia, or maybe a fern," I later remarked to a friend). She accused me of being a provocateur "from the Bushies" and told me she would post my picture to the internet with a warning that I was "a plant."
I will let those words sit with you for a moment.
This woman, who had no idea who I am or why I was there, had the absolute gall to tell me that she planned to publically accuse me of being "a plant" for the police state. Why? Because she did not like the fact that I had filmed her attacking my camera, and that I had challenged her worldview about how one can claim to be "nonviolent" as long as they only attack protesters in defense of the benevolent police state. And this, my friends, is what I mean when I say that I have trouble ever trusting a liberal to do anything but turn us in to the camps when the time comes. Because this woman, for her own selfish purposes, was willing to do the dirtiest thing one can do. She, a willing collaborator, a raving apologist for the police state, she threatened to knowingly spread dangerous and damning disinformation about an activist simply because, as I said, when push comes to shove, they will turn. On us. Always, always on us. I am appalled beyond words, but I am not surprised.
A friend who heard her say this leapt up and followed her, informing her that if she should do so there would be immediate legal repercussions. (He spoke in a language she would understand. "Legal repercussions." Liberals like talk like that.) "Oh yeh?" She asked. "Well what about me? What about my privacy? She got right in my face, and you're gonna post that video to the net." My friend explained to her what should have been obvious. That her threat to post intentional disinformation was much different than my assurance that I would show the footage of her attacking my camera. The latter is what actually happened, while the former is a lie. My friend is much more patient than I am, and spent some time talking with her defensive fellow organizers. I walked away.
But the story doesn't end there. Because as I walked away, I noticed another WCW organizer. A man who had introduced himself to us early in the day, and who seemed like he wasn't a complete ass. I asked to speak with him about what had happened. I'll admit, I was still pretty angry, and I can be less than articulate when I'm really pissed. So I must have been just ranting. I told him what had happened, and I demanded to know whether this woman's position was one supported by all the WCW organizers? Do they all side with the police? Do they all think it's all right to attack the people who came to their big show? Do they all support the spreading of disinformation just to fuck with other activists who do not share their convoluted worldview?
This man took a long time to answer. He took a long, deep breath, and chose his words carefully. To his credit, he was very respectful toward me as he informed me that the woman who had attacked me, the "vitriolic freak," the "clueless asshole," the "collaborating knife-in-the-back," and all those other words I had used, was his partner. Yikes. It was only briefly an awkward moment, as he was very genuine in his desire to understand and be respectful of what I had to say. Some of which he agreed with, some of which he did not. We talked for a long time, he and I. He tried to explain why the organizers had chosen to work with the police for this event, and I tried to explain why siding with police against protesters is dangerous. He talked about being peaceful by trying to bring the police into the movement, and I bit back my disbelief and talked about being peaceful by resisting the police state rather than collaborating with it. He explained that his partner is "really a very good person" and that she was probably just beside herself with the events of the day when she attacked me. I talked about the folly of pretending that hard words and self-directed decisions are "violent" and that guns and poison gases are not.
Yes, we talked for a long time. And somewhere in that conversation, a healing began. I could feel a thawing in the long, cold rift that has frozen the ground between liberals and radicals in this city for years. Not because the liberal mindset seems any less flawed, but because I realized as we spoke that it is not necessarily a life sentence. I guess I should know this by now, that people can grow and change. But somehow, it was surprising to me that this man sat there with me for so long, actively listening and mulling over what I said. Not in that shallow, "political" way that is the hallmark of the liberal mindset. Not in a dismissive, yeh-yeh-yeh-whatever kind of way. But in a sincere, thoughtful way that began to absorb what I was saying. And I wonder if the next event that he's involved with will be different.
My friend returned from his conversation with the other organizers, and expressed a similar sentiment. Wouldn't it be a thrill if these random events suddenly swelled and gained momentum, and did more than just herd people along the side streets.
On a side note, I'm very conflicted, now, about what exactly I will do with this footage -- the footage of her silly rampage. As I spoke with this man I began to make room for the possibility that maybe there might be a way to show the footage in a respectful manner. I honestly do not want to just make this one woman look any more foolish. After all, aside from the fact that she is this man's partner, she is also a human being capable of growth and change, just as our movement is capable of growth and change. Perhaps she will some day understand why so many of us were not responsive to her lectures about being nice to the police, as her partner seems to now understand. Perhaps. If this was just about her, I would probably just forget the footage and leave it at that. But this is not just about her. This story is representative of so many radical/liberal encounters (to use the labels yet again), and it's an important story for those still mired in the liberal mindset to hear.
As I told the man, I have to use the footage. But I will take some time with it, and I will do so in a way that makes it clear that this woman is not a fool for getting angry, or even for being passionate in her anger. The problem is not that she had a temper tantrum, it is in where she directed her anger, and what she was defending as she did so. More than that, the problem is that her mind -- and not just hers -- was full of stereotypes about who is being violent and who is not, and that those stereotypes blinded her to the difference between actual violent behavior and behavior that she simply did not agree with. And the problem is that she, like so many liberals, has power and privilege behind her when she clashes with more radical activists, because she condones and cooperates with the system. (This is why the police did not respond when she assaulted me in full view of at least twenty of them. If it had been the other way, I would have been arrested.) Yes, this is an important story to tell, and I need to tell it. But I will do so in as respectful a manner as I can.
I am tired now. I will probably post this tomorrow, if it still seems to make sense.
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