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.