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Why damage police property? Exploring some of the recent activities going on around PDX

Q: I don't understand why angry people would damage police property. I heard that the Portland Police Union headquarters was recently vandalized, and there was $20,000 dollars worth of damage. I can see why people might be mad about police conduct, but this ultimately just hurts me, the taxpayer. So why did it happen?

A: $20,000 is just not that much money when you think about how many taxpayers there actually are. The expense from this damage probably translates to less than a penny for individual taxpayers. Now $4,559,146.62 on the other hand is a significant sum. That's how much of taxpayers money has been payed out in recent years by the City of Portland in Police Incident settlements, meaning settlements to people wronged by police misconduct: things like excessive force, wrongful arrest, wrongful use of force leading to death, etc. If there's anything taxpayers should feel justified in resenting, it's that police violence is costing us this much money...

PLEASE PRINT AND DISTRIBUTE THIS INFORMATIONAL Q & A

Why damage police property? Exploring some of the recent activities going on around Portland.

Q: I don't understand why angry people would damage police property. I heard that the Portland Police Union headquarters was recently vandalized, and there was $20,000 dollars worth of damage. I can see why people might be mad about police conduct, but this ultimately just hurts me, the taxpayer. So why did it happen?

A: $20,000 is just not that much money when you think about how many taxpayers there actually are. The expense from this damage probably translates to less than a penny for individual taxpayers. Now $4,559,146.62 on the other hand is a significant sum. That's how much of taxpayers money has been payed out in recent years by the City of Portland in Police Incident settlements, meaning settlements to people wronged by police misconduct: things like excessive force, wrongful arrest, wrongful use of force leading to death, etc. If there's anything taxpayers should feel justified in resenting, it's that police violence is costing us this much money. The Police Union in particular uses its budget in order to stage extravagant protests, loudly defending abusive police from legal reprisal.

Should destruction of police property ever start costing actually significant sums of money however, it will still ultimately be the police who are responsible for forcing us to defend ourselves.

Q: Ok, but violence still ultimately just ends up hurting your cause. Nobody likes violence, it just unnecessarily endangers people, so isn't it still better just to avoid property destruction and stick to peaceful protest?

A: First off, property destruction is not violence in any true sense, as inanimate material cannot be hurt. Hurting living people, physically or emotionally (something the police are very good at), is violence. Also, practicing nonviolence and refraining from damaging property doesn't ever actually stop the authorities from attacking anyone. Police are unpredictable and will attack indiscriminately when they feel disrespected in any way, whether there's violence or nonviolence present, whether property is damaged or not.

Q: But most people will be think badly of you and your struggle when they hear that you're destroying property. What about keeping a presentable image?

A: Most of the population will hear about the actions of protesters and other angry community members first by way of the corporate media. This coverage is likely to be intentionally presented in such a way as to discredit and trivialize the concerns, intentions, and conduct of protesters by omitting certain facts and exaggerating others, regardless of whether or not there is violence or property damage. This is because the corporate media has a vested interest in defending the status quo (or business as usual) from serious, fundamental scrutiny or ridicule, no matter how exactly this ridicule is presented. The business that makes up the status quo is who funds the corporate media. As such we can't hope to win a public relations campaign using the corporate media, with or without property damage as one of our tactics (hence the crucial importance of independent, community controlled media).

The city and police have made it abundantly clear that our frequent verbal/written requests for peace will get us nowhere. The authorities simply disregard our attempts at communicating with them through polite means, they ignore our words because they can afford to. Like bratty children the police have learned that they can get away with absolutely anything, and now they throw major tantrums whenever anyone threatens consequences for their bad behavior. We have to teach them that they can no longer expect to avoid any responsibility. Damaging property is the leverage that our communities have, it's how we actually, physically disrupt unacceptable conduct.

Q: Alright, but even if property destruction could potentially be useful in stopping police violence, breaking windows won't actually do that much, it won't physically stop the police from acting violent, so what's the point?

A: We agree that there are much more effective ways to physically disrupt unacceptable conduct, however you can't jump directly from doing nothing at all to doing everything all at once with regards to curtailing police violence. We need to start somewhere and build from there in steps. Ultimately it's true that in order to halt police violence, we will have to take away all of their weapons, cars, computers, everything.

Q: Woah, now you're talking about not even really having cops at all. It's human nature to be violent and commit crime, we just need cops in order to live, so how am I going to be kept safe?

A: Well, first off, when people suggest that the police are necessary due to human nature they are forgetting that 99.9% of the time humans have lived, they have done so without police.

For example, one of the (if not the) longest existing democratic systems, the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy (Haudenosaunee), was a government structure that tied together large, diverse communities across a sizable area on the east coast of North America (the structure of the US government was somewhat influenced by the indigenous Haudenosaunee). This functioned very well without any police force to speak of. This is possible because there was far less structural inequality present in their society, meaning there was much more social, economic, and political equality built right in to their system.

This high degree of equality, sharing, cooperation, and mutual aid by itself ensured that conflict within society was relatively rare. Material want and social exclusion, problems that are a major causes of violence today in US society, were addressed directly and cooperatively by everyone, thus minimizing them to a large degree. Of course there absolutely was some violence present, this wasn't some mythically perfect "dream-world" or utopia: individuals and families simply felt comfortable helping each other in resolving conflict, taking a lot of responsibility for the well-being of their friends and neighbors, and thus things worked out anyway. Really it was all just a lot of basic common sense.

The belief that life was "nasty, brutish and short" before police and the state is quite simply outdated and racist. The qualities and conditions of equality and security present in Iroquois society are also found throughout human history and in many different societies around the world. They are in a very real sense the norm, and it is us in "modern" society who are the strange, sad exception.

The United States is a country where the social structure is highly divided and antagonistic (this is also true in most other modern nation-states). Racism, the overemphasis on the accumulation of private property, and resulting economic status' for example set up massive hierarchies that can only be maintained with the constant application of violence.

The early institutions of slave-catchers and overseers in the US were established in order to protect the property relations of wealthy slave-owning elites by clamping down on the mischief of "unruly" slaves. These institutions continued on and modernized into what we now call the police, and in actuality their job description has changed very little. Privileged (albeit now more diverse) classes of people still need overseers in order to protect their system of wealth and normalcy. The structure of our society itself causes excessive violence and social problems like mass depression. Constant conflict is inherent in the unequal, dehumanizing relationships we are kept in, not in human nature.

The police use violence in order to protect and maintain the rigid status quo, which is itself inherently very violent. In order to significantly change the status quo in the direction of real and fundamental equality, thus cutting down on violence and allowing us to live more peaceful, fulfilling lives, we will ultimately need to get the police out of the way and start looking out for each other.

Again this is not some utopic dream or crazed fantasy, it is the very sane and normal wish of humans who want to reintegrate themselves into a more logical, functional type of social system, a system of the sort that most humans have had the fortune of living with throughout history.

Q: The examples of these more cooperation-based societies may be inspiring, but it's hard to apply lessons directly from their very different experience to my life in the city of Portland. How do we figure out ways to work on the situation we have here and now in order to move in the direction of equality and justice? What solutions are there that make sense given the current circumstances we find ourselves in?

A: There is a large group of people and communities who have been working on exactly this problem for some time. They are constantly thinking critically about practical and workable ways to build toward this real equality, right now. They are called anarchists, and there are some living in your community. If we get to know each other, we can all work on these problems together in order to forge solutions that meet all of our basic needs, using cooperation.

Q: So what can I do to get involved and help out?

A: Keep up on local events with Portland Indymedia: portland.indymedia.org

This news site will let you know when community assemblies or actions like protests are planned. You are also able to comment on news articles or publish your own in case you want to publicize your own community's event.

You can also read more about the Portland police and community responses to them on:
www.portlandcopwatch.org and rosecitycopwatch.wordpress.com

Talk with you friends, neighbors and coworkers about these issues. If you or someone you know is having a conflict or mental crisis, try calling trusted friends, loved ones, or dedicated crisis lines to help first- calling the police will likely only make the situation worse.


think about it.. 03.Apr.2010 16:19

Anarchist

I'm pretty sure the PPA building is insured, in which case, the insurance company would pay for the damages, not the taxpayer. Also I'm pretty sure the PPA is funded by union dues, not the publics money.

a few responses to the above critiques 04.Apr.2010 23:17

community members

In a future edit of this piece the connection will be made more clear. Included will be something along the lines of this further explanation:

"The type of society we have is why there are police around who kill people. Nifty little reforms will not alleviate the problem of the type of society we have. The Iroquois are a fairly approachable example of a very different kind of society (there's lot's written about them). We actually need a very different kind of society in order to stop excessive, unnecessary violence." There you have it. That's the connection. Your suggestions of seemingly pertinent but woefully ineffective reform will not solve the problem. Although cancer is a medical problem, the application of band aids (which are a readily obtained, easy to apply technology with obvious medial purposes) won't cure cancer.

Anything that fails to mention the fact that we need a very different kind of society in order live in what can reasonably be called peace is seriously lacking in realistic analysis. Anything that says that we need a very different kind of society and then doesn't make it clear that very different kinds of societies have existed and functioned is seriously lacking in backing information and will just frustrate people or leave them doubtful.

TO JEAN: To run with but modify your example, here's a slightly better analogy. If you lived in a field without any substantial shelter but had only ever heard of chairs then you might try to collect lots and lots of chairs in order to fix your problem of not having any substantial shelter. That's sort of reasonable, while you might be guilty of lacking imagination, it's true that you've got no idea that anything else exists which might better fix your problem. If a carpenter realized this and then didn't explain to you how there have been many, many societies around the world that had in fact lived in substantial structures that protected them from the elements better than a huge pile of chairs does, then they would be a schmuck. At first you might be perplexed and wonder: "why is this carpenter going on about so and so society? All I want is more chairs." But then maybe if you actually listened you would begin to understand what the carpenter is talking about, and why.

As you likely know 05.Apr.2010 12:16

Vegan Cabal

The totals of taxes spent on worthless animal torture and specious science should incite serious devotion to ending the fraudulent practice of vivisection. Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) houses over 4,200 primates who will only know captivity and experimentation until death.

 http://www.ohsukillsprimates.com/CAATHOME.htm

and, the broader problem of vivisection around the globe and.. "In the U.S.:

It is estimated that the publicly funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been spending $8-8.5 billion annually on animal research and this expenditure is increasing.

43.6 million people have no health coverage. According to the Institute of Medicine, 18,000 people in the U.S. die each year for lack of health care.

The utility of animal research is being increasingly questioned by the scientific community. Because every species is different, animal experimentation gives us misleading data which delays medical progress, and which harms and often kills people. For example, penicillin was delayed for a decade and tobacco was 'proven' not to cause cancer."

*excerpt from:  http://www.whitecoatwelfare.org/

Cops exist to protect people who punch puppies and electro-ejaculate macaques from all who would enact vengeance for victims. The justice arm of the system puts innocent activists in federal penitentiaries for maintaining anti-vivisection websites, chalking on the street, and wearing masks (oh why do they do wear them? who are they hiding from? aren't they cowards?). Political repression is real everyday, friends and lovers are separated by the legality of compassionate action. Cops worldwide are doing their jobs, it's about time for us to do ours, REVOlT or DIE!

concretely 09.Apr.2010 00:20

my bottom line

My bottom line would be, absent very focused and concrete demands, all of which play a part in a focused and concrete campaign, what ends up happening invariably is that energy and momentum get dissipated, and finally people end up demoralized, having put forth effort with little or nothing tangible ultimately to show for it.

That's why I would argue that, when it comes to messaging, it has to be thought out carefully and tailored to the audience. If you want to talk about the theory of what kind of society you are after, that kind of discussion is most suitable for a smaller audience of people who have already given these problems a lot of thought, done a lot of reading, and are ready to hash out their ideas with others. Unfortunately, that category is pretty small, because most people in this dog-eat-dog society are busy enough just trying to make a living, and when they aren't doing that, decompress with their family from the stress.

For a broader audience, it is more effective to lay out concrete and tangible goals, ones that the audience in question will find attractive. Sometimes you even have to have quite different messages for different people. For example, if you are talking to ordinary working class people, you want to emphasize that the police are privileged and arrogant, think they're better than everybody else, are never happier than when breaking strikes, etc. If you are talking to middle class people, you might want to emphasize that the city is paying out millions in damage and liability claim settlements on account of these bozos. If you're talking to homeless people, then you want to emphasize demands for improved social services for poor people. Etc.

Without some degree of really well thought and disciplined messaging and strategy, even with all the enthusiasm and energy in the world, you can wind up self-defeated, demoralized, your energy dissipated.