Resist! is a new collection of writing edited by Ray Filar. I have a chapter in the book entitled Communities of defence: legal political organising after the riots which draws on my work with Defend the Right to Protest and other campaign groups to ask where we could have played a role during the August 2011 riots and how we can learn from our failings.
It is available as a free ebook or to purchase as paperback from Lawrence and Wishart
Discussion on the Baltimore Uprising and the uses of political violence with Ash Sarkar, Adam Cooper and myself. Hosted by Aaron Bastani of NovaraMedia.
The tragic killing of Michael Brown has proven to be a world changing event. So many people on both sides of the Atlantic are now conscious of a the long running epidemic that is the state sanctioned killing of people of colour. We are now at a point where this widespread devaluation of black lives calls into question entire systems of violence.
When we learn that black lives don’t matter we also learn that queer lives don’t matter and women’s lives don’t matter. We can’t get away from the connections between these. As soon as we begin looking at the many wrongs of the police we come to a point where the entire myth of service, protection and justice unravels.
The police, along with all those other institutions that help them ‘get away with it’, are rightly the recipient’s of our ire, but we have already learnt that the denigration of life, especially black lives in this instance, goes much further than the individual officer or even the institution.
We need a society which takes life seriously. A black vitalist world would be one where many things are absent: police, prisons, immigration detention and a whole host of other violent forces. Yet we can propose a positive image of what we demand from such a society too. We call for justice all the time, but for good reason. This is not an empty concept or one that is irredeemably bourgeois. In the hands of campaigners it often means dignity being done to the violence they have already suffered. In the hands of the state it means precisely the opposite to this.
We need modes of accountability for all areas of life. Accountability would be the tenderness and dignity required of us all toward one another. Criminal justice and punishment are modes of escaping accountability.
#BlackLivesMatter is an imperative that runs through all interactions. Other than death perhaps the greatest attack on black lives are courts and prisons. The large solidarity protests with Ferguson were important, but how do we address black life more generally?
The work of groups such as London Campaign Against Police and State Violence are so important for this very reason. These campaigners are there in the courtrooms where otherwise individuals are forced to face a law which is their enemy all alone. At this point we should remember the twenty four hour courts of the riots. It is a great failing that many of us were not there, but now we are well placed to build the infrastructure necessary to pose a threat to the smooth running of criminal justice.
Our prisons are spaces where both life and death come into question. Is life in a cell living at all? Similarly prisons themselves account for a chunk of the state’s killing. Deaths in prison, like deaths after contact with the police are out of control and those responsible are immune from accountability.
It is hard enough to breathe out here, how can one breathe inside the walls of prisons?
We can’t breathe.
Do you feel that shortness of breath that accompanies every little encounter with the police? It is a sign that we’re fighting a taxing fight. But we fight nonetheless until we can all breathe free. We are at a moment where together we have learnt what needs to be burnt down and what needs to built up. Let’s build new lives together. Lives that truly matter.
There are no freedoms, only violences of varying qualities and intensities.
Politics is the work of passing judgement on violences.
Some judgements carry the weight of the law.
The law is the monopoly over the legislative use of judgement/violence.
The state holds the monopoly over the legitimate use of violence/judgement.
In acting politically it is incumbent on us to be violent and exercise judgement apart from the state.
In acting radically it is incumbent on us to craft the tools of healing from violence.
The user of violence need not be guilty.
The subject of violence need not be innocent.
Tragedy and trauma are forms of appearence of violence.
Violence holds various social masks with differing acceptabilities.
It is politically important to pass judgement against some violences. Sometimes violently.
It is politically important to want to be violent towards violence.
It is politically important to pick sides.
It is politically important to be on the side that is violent towards the law.
It is politically important to be on the side that is violent towards reactionary violence.
One must be violent towards ones own violent urges.
As long as there is violence there is political work to be done.
As long as there is political work to be done there will be violence.
We should be violent towards politics.
There should be no politics.
There should be freedom.
There should be no violence.
There should be freedom.
In the spirit of international communication and solidarity – exemplified by the open letters and communiqués those in Ferguson and across the United States have shared via social media – I would like to contribute a letter of sorts.
Firstly in order to send my personal solidarity and utter empathy to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown Sr. and the family, as well as all those engaged in the inspiring work of fighting to hold the state and Darren Wilson accountable for the killing of Michael Brown. Darren Wilson’s conscience may be clean but the support which has been rallied, now internationally, shows that the conscience of so many thousands of others has been awoken to the atrocity of the systematic killing of black people.
Secondly I write to my comrades here in London to call for their support and to impress upon them the political need to join a global call to centralise the lives of black people as inexpendable, important and meaningful as all lives should be.
Where are we now? If pessimism characterised our anticipaton for the grand jury decision (for better or worse), the statement by prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch dealt the latest in violent blows that have characterised the state’s attitude to this killing, which once again they plan to get away with. Yet for months the community of protest has been unrelenting in the face of further and further horrendous state repression in the form of militarised police and prolific media demonisation. Justice campaigns are often massively protracted and isolating for those involved – of course the stretch of time here acts punitively towards those who remain as survivors – but Ferguson has shown us that even amongst this intense isolation, there can be a persistent and sustained opposition to those who would happily see these deaths after contact with the police be quotidian and unimportant.
No one can be blamed for thinking that police officers are there to protect them. That is the logic they present. However, the point is that the thousands of deaths in police custody, psychiatric custody, prisons and even after mere contact with a police officer – like in the case of Michael Brown – absoutely gives lie to their claim to universal protection. We all know to some extent that the police act on behalf of certain people over others. The frankly terrifying prospect is that some of my friends, a portion of my comrades and myself are literally expendable in the name of a greater safey simply because of our race.
The killing of Mark Duggan by armed police officers in the UK in 2011 devasted a family and community in much the same way as Michael Brown’s killing. The further attack by police on the peaceful demonstration outside the local police station sparked anger and rioting across English cities for several days. Painfully lacking from these uprisings was the support of those who really should have been the closest allies of those battling police on the streets. From what we can see here so far from Ferguson, the ability for demonstration and resistance against the police to continue has been supported by the incredibly broad cross-section of people who have been involved over the last few months.
The families of Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and others in the UK who have died because of the brutal actions of the police have extended their support and solidarity to those taking action in the US, and importantly the families of Duggan and Rigg will be present at the London vigil at the US embassy called in response to the grand jury decision. As Reverand Sekou – addressing the London-basedDefend The Right to Protest conference from Ferguson – pointed out, the killing of Michael Brown and now Tamir Rice happened in a continuum of global struggle with those killings that we are familiar with here in the UK.
Black lives all over the world are fundementally under attack by entirely unaccountable and unremorseful state killings of various forms. As black people and as human beings we must be allowed access to a basic category that we have thus far been denied: life. And not life with conditions and restraints because we represent the wrong type of person, or because our race means we are seen automatically as a threat to the life of the society the police seek to protect. Faced with this global atrocity we urgently need a black vitalist politics to become central to all political struggle. For the sake of Michael Brown’s family, for the sake of Mark Duggan’s family, for the sake of all those people currently at risk.
I can only hope that ensuring black lives matter can go someway towards the justice the families of the dead seek.No justice, no peace.
Originally published at Novara Wire
Interview on Ferguson with Aaron Bastani and James Butler of Novara Media