Listen to the Episode — 81 min
Alanis: The Ex-Worker
Rebel Grrl: An audio strike against a monotone world
Alanis: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action
Rebel Grrl: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Dear listeners…. Wow. Just, wow. What can we even say?
Rebel Grrl: Before we go further, we want to acknowledge that everything that has happened over the past few weeks, however beautiful or tragic, was spurred on by the brutal, inhumane, heartbreaking murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. George Floyd was another Black man that was lynched by the American state. He was beloved to his family and community, a friend and partner, and a father to six-year-old, Gianna Floyd. George Floyd’s death sparked protests, revolts, and rebellions against police violence and statist white supremacy in Minneapolis, spreading out around the country and the globe. Riots can be acts of mourning as people channel their grief and rage into notable actions. We recognize now that so many people are mourning and grieving this recent tragedy, as well as the deaths of Brionna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many others. George Floyd’s death set off a cavalcade of events that bring us to a moment we would have thought absolutely implausible weeks ago. May great change come. Rest in Power, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all other victims of white supremacist state violence. May their deaths not be in vain.
Alanis: Amen to that. Fortunately, far from being in vain, their deaths appear to have sparked one of the largest popular protest movements in American history, with ferocious rioting and clashes with police, literally thousands of demonstrations in all fifty states and now solidarity events in over fifty countries around the world, and a more dramatic shift in the discourse and popular perceptions around race, police, and protest than I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Rebel Grrl: Alanis, if you’d told me like two weeks ago, hey, in two weeks a major American city’s government officials are going to pledge to DISMANTLE THEIR POLICE DEPARTMENT, what would you have said?
Alanis: I would have told you that you were totally deluded. I wouldn’t have believed it for a second.
Rebel Grrl: Yet that’s exactly the situation we seem—seem—to be in today.
Alanis: I mean, three weeks ago some of us were despairing that protest in the US and indeed around the world seemed almost totally quiet. The uprisings in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, and elsewhere appeared to have stalled due to the pandemic. In the US, except for prisoner solidarity car protests and scattered small-scale other things, there didn’t seem to be much radical momentum.
Rebel Grrl: And even worse, the right wing was taking the initiative with these “Liberate Here” protests, where it seemed like Trump would get to corner not only state power but street mobilization too, and the rest of us would be forced to go back to work and get sick making them profits.
Alanis: Exactly. But now… I mean, I can remember that time, I know it happened. It was practically yesterday! But now, it’s as though we live in a completely different world. The sense of possibility, the mobilization and energy, the media discourse, the initiative—everything has completely transformed. From one of the most depressing times in recent history, we appear to have landed in what is probably the most expansive and explosive moment in rebellion against the ruling order that I have experienced in my not insubstantial career as a professional anarchist and outside agitator.
Rebel Grrl: [sarcastic] Ha. But seriously, I know what you mean. It’s incredible to see wave after wave after wave of militant protest, fierce confrontations with police, huge outpourings of support and solidarity across the globe, and pressing the advantage on every front to put cops on the defensive and even call the legitimacy of policing as an institution itself into question, even in the mainstream. It’s unbelievable. But it’s happening.
Alanis: So, we here at the Ex-Worker have, like many of you, been in the thick of it. But we’re stepping back for a moment to pull together some of our reflections on these momentous events to share with all of you. We’ve been preparing a series of episodes on the Minneapolis uprising and the national and international solidarity protests, including a variety of interviews with participants, essays from the CrimethInc. blog, and plenty more. We’ll be releasing these in the days to come, so stay tuned.
Rebel Grrl: But since we just got the news about Minneapolis City Council’s intention to actually dismantle the police department; and since this is an unprecedented, thrilling, and also totally confusing and unclear development for us as anarchists and abolitionists, we felt the need to address it immediately. In case you haven’t heard the news, on Sunday June 7th, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council announced at a rally that they would “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” The number nine is significant because that marks a veto-proof majority to override the opposition of Mayor Jacob Frey, who was booed off the stage the day before when he wouldn’t commit to abolishing the police. While it’s not clear what this will mean in practice or on what timeline it will take place, it is definitely the first time in American history that such a bold initiative against policing has seemed not just possible, but imminent.
Alanis: How did this happen? And what does it mean? Will we actually see a major American city literally do away with its police force? Can this momentum for abolitionist, community-led approaches to safety sustain itself past this immediate moment of energy and upheaval? What will it look like in practice? Is this time for us as anarchists to just celebrate and do our best to take part in these experiments? Or is this actually as important a time as ever for us to voice our traditional cynicism about anything enacted by elected representatives—not to mention our suspicion of “community,” the nonprofit industrial complex, social work professionalism, and many of the other dynamics potentially at play here? Is this just a PR move or even a counter-insurgency strategy to regain control of the streets in exchange for vague promises of a different “justice” system in the vague future? As anarchists, we’ve been calling for the police to be abolished for a long time, usually without being supported or even taken seriously. But now that the context has shifted so dramatically, we want to critically analyze what it means and what we can contribute moving forward.
Rebel Grrl: We hope this is obvious, but just in case, we want to state it very clearly. Anarchists didn’t invent the notion of abolishing or dismantling the police. We’ve been calling for it consistently and for a long time—for those of you new to the Ex-Worker podcast, check out our Episodes Five and Six from back in 2013 for just one small example. But so have many others; and in particular in this moment, a wide range of Black activists, abolitionists, and other radicals have been articulating the call for ending policing and envisioning the details of how it could look. We think anarchists are certainly part of this conversation and could have valuable things to contribute, but we should be careful about how we position ourselves in moments like this—not as authorities or innovators, but as participants in an ongoing exchange of experiences, ideas, tactics, and strategies.
Alanis: So in this episode, we’ll start with an audio version of a text CrimethInc. published during the first major weekend of the rebellion, called “What Will It Take to Stop the Police from Killing?” It offers a critique of the reformist solutions proposed by the authorities and lays out a framework for imagining a world without police. If you think it’s useful, there’s a print-ready pamphlet version available to download on our website; we’ve heard tale of folks printing copies to distribute at Justice for George Floyd demonstrations in recent days.
Rebel Grrl: We’ll continue with an account of the destruction of the Third Precinct police station, one of the most important moments of the uprising in Minneapolis so far, a critical point of no return in freeing the neighborhood from police occupation and a powerful symbol of how folks there could reimagine their city. It offers a tactical and strategic analysis of how the crowd operated and how it was able to succeed. It’s sure to be controversial, and will likely conflict with other accounts and analyses you’ll here elsewhere, or even on this podcast. But it’s a provocative analysis that should help us think critically about how rebellions work and the conditions under which unprecedented things can happen.
Alanis: And then we’ll share an interview with an anarchist from Minneapolis who was there in Powderhorn Park on Sunday, June 7th when the City Council members announced their intention to dismantle the police department. We’ll hear some background context for how abolitionists had been organizing in the years leading up to the rebellion and how they pressed the advantage as direct action forced the police to retreat.
Rebel Grrl: We’ll wrap up with some reflections on the directions we think this could lead and the path ahead of us. And we’ll mix in plenty of FTP anthems to keep the energy up along the way. By the way, this is the Rebel Grrl…
Alanis: …and this is Alanis. As always, you can find links and more information about all the things we discuss at our website, crimethinc dot com slash podcast.
Rebel Grrl: And we hope you’ll get in touch and let us know what you think, and send us updates about how the rebellion against police violence and white supremacy is taking shape near you. Send us an email to podcast at crimethinc dot com, or check us out on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Alanis: Now, let’s get in to it. We’ll kick things off with an analysis of why the false solutions proposed by politicians and some community leaders aren’t enough to stop police murders, and the kinds of social transformations it would take to envision a world free from their violence.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO STOP THE POLICE FROM KILLING?
Rebel Grrl: What Will It Take to Stop the Police from Killing?
Alanis: We’ve reached a breaking point. The murders of George Floyd—and Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the other Black people whose lives were ended by police just this month—are only the latest in a centuries-long string of tragedies. But in the context of the COVID–19 pandemic, when the state is openly treating Black communities as a surplus population to be culled by the virus, the arrogance and senselessness of the murder carried out by Officer Derek Chauvin crossed a line. Supported by hundreds of thousands across the US and beyond, the people of Minneapolis have made it clear that this intolerable situation must end, no matter what it takes.
Since the Ferguson uprising of 2014, considerable attention has focused on racist police killings in the United States. Reformers of many stripes have introduced new policies in hopes of reining in the violence. Yet according to the Police Shootings Database, the police killed more people in the US last year than in 2015. If police killings are continuing or even increasing despite widespread public attention and reform efforts, we need to revisit our strategy.
How can we bring an end to racist police murders once and for all?
Rebel Grrl: What about Criminal Charges and Civil Lawsuits?
Alanis: It’s widely known that the chances of individual officers or departments suffering real consequences for killing people, especially Black people, are next to nothing. It makes sense that protestors and grieving families often demand criminal charges against murderous cops—the US criminal legal system offers no other model for “justice,” and by refusing to press charges, the authorities show how little they value Black lives. But locking ordinary people in cages doesn’t prevent anti-social activity—and considering that police violence is legitimized by exceptional laws and powerful institutions, this deterrent seems to be even less effective for police. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who murdered Oscar Grant in Oakland in 2008, was one of very few police to serve prison time; yet the 2018 killing of Joshua Pawlik and many other police murders in the region suggest that this precedent has not deterred Bay Area police from fatally shooting people.
Nor do lawsuits seem to make a difference. The family of Justine Damond received a $20 million settlement after her murder by Minneapolis police—an extremely rare occurrence, likely related to the unusual circumstance of a Black male officer killing a white woman. But forcing the city’s taxpayers—some of whom suffer police violence daily—to shell out millions to pay for their murderous activity doesn’t work to stop police killings.
If it did, George Floyd would still be alive.
Rebel Grrl: How about Civilian Review Boards and Police Accountability Measures?
Alanis: Minneapolis already has a civilian review board, but this didn’t prevent Chauvin from killing George Floyd. In fact, the review board had failed to impose consequences for any of the eighteen previous complaints made against him. It also didn’t prevent the murders of Justine Damond, Jamar Clark, or any of the other people killed by the city’s police.
Police commissioners themselves are now calling for oversight and accountability measures, likely in hopes of preventing further rioting. This shows how little threat such measures pose to their power.
Rebel Grrl: What about Body Cameras and Filming the Police?
Alanis: Most of the police killings that have taken place over the past few years have been carried out by officers wearing body cameras. This hasn’t stopped them from killing—and it has almost never resulted in criminal convictions. An independent 2016 Temple University study concluded that on the contrary, the use of wearable body cameras correlated with an increase in fatal shootings by police, disproportionately threatening males, young people, and people of color. Other research efforts that have touted the technology’s benefits, such as the 2017 University of Nevada Las Vegas study, were conducted in part by police departments looking to save money on complaints.
Although it doesn’t seem to reduce killings, body camera footage does put the rest of us in danger, as it provides evidence that prosecutors sympathetic to police can cherry-pick to find ways to blame us when officers attack us.
Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Visions in Minneapolis, summed it up: “We have had citizen review boards, body cameras and a black chief. But we are still here, watching black people get murdered and tear gassed in our streets.”
As the CrimethInc. article “Cameras Everywhere, Safety Nowhere; Why Police Body Cameras Won’t Make Us Safer” put it:
“We don’t need more thorough information about what the police are doing. We need to stop them from doing what they do. We’re not looking for transparency or accountability. We’re looking for a world without police.”
Civilian filming also isn’t enough. Derek Chauvin knew he was being filmed, yet he still murdered George Floyd without hesitation. The officers who murdered Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and countless other people weren’t stopped by the cameras trained on them. Even if “the whole world is watching,” more surveillance won’t make us any safer as long as killer cops can act with impunity.
Rebel Grrl: Perhaps we should direct our rage at politicians rather than police, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio suggests?
Alanis: Of course politicians are complicit for their cowardly support for the police. But they’re not the ones who harass and bully us every day, who invade our privacy and spy on us, who physically stand between us and the resources we need, who beat and shoot and kill us. In fact, unlike the police with their guns, tear gas, and tanks, the power of politicians is an illusion; it only exists because of the ways we cede our power to make decisions to them. If not for the police protecting their privileges and enforcing their orders, politicians wouldn’t matter at all. Without the military, Homeland Security, Secret Service, and armed vigilantes to ensure that we do his bidding, Trump would be nothing more than an especially obnoxious bully. As long as the police regulate everything we can do, directing our anger against politicians will make little impact.
In a time of increasing social tension and volatility, when power structures increasingly rely on brute force rather than the consent of the general population, politicians of all stripes are especially fearful about losing the loyalty of the armed wing of the state. If they don’t guarantee police officers impunity, they risk undermining their own power; in an extreme case, they might even be deposed, as we have seen in coups from Chile to Egypt. Why did a Black president with “social justice” credentials stand by and watch as the killers of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and so many others got away with murder? Perhaps because it was more important to Barack Obama to protect the stability of his regime than to pursue justice for racist killings. This makes it even more unlikely that appeals to politicians will make a difference.
Rebel Grrl: Should we be registering to vote and making our voices heard in the ballot box, as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms insists?
Alanis: Again, what happened in Minneapolis implies that this doesn’t work. If a city with a progressive mayor and a city council composed entirely of Democrats and Green Party members still can’t prevent out-of-control racist cops from killing people again and again and again, there’s no reason to believe that voting differently in those elections would have made any difference. Racist police violence is only on the national agenda because the courageous, defiant resistance of people in the streets has put it there. Police murder has never been on the ballot as an item to vote for or against. Their violence is the glue holding together a system we never chose. It won’t be votes that abolish it, either. It’ll be by action.
[Incidentally, we note that the action taken by the Minneapolis City Council since this piece was written is shifting the context around this. We’ll have more to say about that later.]
Rebel Grrl: Well then, if direct action is the only way to address police murders, then certainly the most effective way to make change is through strict non-violence, as Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter tells us.
Alanis: Unfortunately, that’s rhetoric, not history. In fact, the civil rights movement drew its successes from a combination of militant direct action, armed self-defense, rioting, and non-violent civil disobedience. King’s appeal as a civil rights leader—and the interest politicians today have in promoting his legacy to the exclusion of all others—arose in no small part because he offered an alternative to the threat of ungovernable urban riots and Black Power militancy. Condemning all action that falls outside the paradigm of nonviolence divides movements, protecting the reigning order and concealing the history of how change really happens.
Rebel Grrl: If not strictly nonviolent protests, can riots ensure that police stop killing and are held accountable?
Alanis: Riots can accomplish many things that peaceful protesting rarely does. They raise the economic and political costs of police violence for the regimes that perpetrate it. They can enable marginalized people to meet their needs directly via empowering group action—their needs for collective grieving, for vengeance, even for material goods. They dispel the myth that the police are invulnerable and rupture the illusion of political consensus. They expand the horizons of our collective imagination about what we can do together and how the world could be different.
But riots alone may not suffice. While mass unrest has forced reluctant authorities to press charges against killer cops—in Oakland, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and now in Minneapolis—they often don’t secure convictions, as the court cases in Ferguson and Baltimore make clear. And even if they could discourage further killings by some specific police forces, the consistent rate of police murders over the past five years shows that they have yet to make a dent in the overall problem. The flames of Ferguson were just dying down when St. Louis police fatally shot Isaac Holmes, despite the threat of further unrest.
If we have to burn down whole neighborhoods just to get a single officer indicted, that’s not a viable program to make the US justice industry accountable. The courage and determination of the rebels in Minneapolis and around the country represents an inspiring step forward. But we should not understand them as a means of reform—we should approach them as a step towards revolution.
Rebel Grrl: So What Do We Do?
Alanis: If none of the “solutions” that governments, police departments, and some community activists have proposed will suffice, what could put a stop to racist police murders once and for all? It is not easy to answer this question, but we have to ask it in earnest.
The assumption that Black and Brown lives are expendable is fundamental to all of the institutionalized power structures of our time. We will answer the question of what will work to abolish police murders in practice, through a lifelong process of experimentation—but it is clear that it will require us to abolish or utterly transform all of these structures. Starting from the model of collective defiance we have seen over the past week, we have to extrapolate what long-term change can look like. Here are some long-term objectives—some stars to navigate by.
Rebel Grrl: Disarm and abolish the police.
As long as police have weapons and impunity, they will go on killing us. All of our efforts have only made a dent in their impunity; it’s time to go all the way. Only when the highway patrol cannot end our lives during a routine traffic stop will the terror that so many of us feel every time we see blue lights flashing begin to ease. Only when no group of uniformed thugs feels entitled to pin anyone to the ground and ignore his pleas will all of us be free from the threat of becoming the next George Floyd.
Once police are disarmed, it will become clear to everyone how useless they are at the things we think we need them for. When mentally ill people act in ways that seem erratic to others, we need counselors and advocates, not armed gunmen. When romantic partners and neighbors have conflicts, we need people with conflict resolution and de-escalation skills, not violent escalators enforcing a patriarchal agenda. When kids need traffic directed so they can cross the street, we need friendly elders and neighbors who know them, not people toting lethal weapons who have little experience working with children. When we lose things or find things, we need a community center to exchange them, not a precinct. When our cars break down by the side of the road, we need a community of Good Samaritans, not a mercenary looking to write us a ticket. The majority of what the police do is harmful and should be immediately eliminated to make us all safer; much of the rest could be done much better by skilled, unarmed volunteers of good will.
As an institution, policing itself is violent and oppressive to the core. The thousands of murders individual officers perpetrate are just the tip of the iceberg. how can we measure the daily anxiety, the acute terror, the petty humiliations, the family members kidnapped and shaken down, the infuriating smug arrogance grinning from behind every badge? From their origin in slave patrols to today’s high-tech spy drones and predictive policing algorithms, police have never existed to protect us.
It’s not a question of bad apples. The entire barrel is rotten.
Rebel Grrl: Promote collective self-defense.
The chant “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!” is more than a slogan—it’s a necessity. There is no safety we can count on that is not built on our trust and relationships with each other. To be certain of our safety, we must be able to define for ourselves what risks we face and how to address them together.
Critics argue that it’s naïve to talk about disarming and abolishing the police, citing the aggression and chaos we will supposedly unleash on each other without the violence of the thin blue line to keep us in check. But what’s truly naïve is to continue believing that an institution responsible for killing a thousand people every year is somehow keeping us safe.
Collective self-defense will not be easy, but it’s our only hope. It will mean organizing to prevent the violence of the far right—of those encouraged by Trump to shoot looters and by state governments to run over protestors. It will mean taking responsibility for developing new skills in conflict resolution and new structures for rapid response in times of crisis. The indications that Minneapolis gangs are organizing a truce to collaborate on protecting protestors from far-right violence are encouraging. We will need all of our courage and creativity to develop new approaches that value and protect all of us, rather than sacrificing millions of us to be caged or killed in order to secure the safety and property of some.
Rebel Grrl: Share resources freely through mutual aid.
Alanis: Want to prevent looting? Ensure that everyone has housing, enough to eat, and enough resources to live a dignified life. When they don’t, who can blame them for taking out their rage against those who stand between them and the resources they need?
In Minneapolis, local communities are establishing supply depots where resources redistributed during the riots can be freely shared, both to support the protests and to enable neighbors to live. The COVID–19 crisis has popularized mutual aid networks; the riots are taking them to the next level. The police exist to ensure that resources are distributed not according to need, but according to an archaic system of property rights that benefits those who hoard them for themselves rather than sharing them. The protestors have turned this upside down. Contrary to critics who see looters of a Target as “destroying their own community,” it’s more accurate to say that they have transformed an institution that existed to siphon profits out of their neighborhood to outside investors into a project that actually serves their immediate material needs. Destroying the barriers that separate our communities from the resources we need is one of the most crucial things we can do to transform our society. Abolishing the police is a step towards accomplishing this, while ending the killings they perpetrate.
Rebel Grrl: Delegitimize and disempower all the institutions that excuse police murder.
Alanis: One of the reasons why cops get away with murder so often is that the Supreme Court has interpreted laws to grant police “qualified immunity” for killing people—which has happened in over half of the cases that reached appellate courts in the past five years. Why should an unrepentant rapist and his cronies be in the position to authorize cops to kill us whenever they see fit? For that matter, why should they be able to determine whether we can have abortions, or how we can organize unions, or the limits of indigenous sovereignty, or anything else?
The persistence of police murder is just one of the risks we engender by relinquishing our power to nine black-robed figures. To ensure our freedom, we must take back our self-determination from the clutches of the courts.
As the CrimethInc. article “Kavanaugh Shouldn’t Be on the Supreme Court; Neither Should Anyone Else” puts it,
The more we can delegitimize the authority of Supreme Courts to shape our lives, and the more powerful and creative we can make our alternatives, the less we will have to fear from the Trumps and Kavanaughs of the world. Let’s build a society that enables everyone to engage in genuine self-determination—in which no man can decide what all of us may do with our bodies—in which no state can take away our power to shape our future.”
While we’re at it, what about those politicians? If electing new officials can’t stop the police from killing us, what good are they? If we really want to secure our future against the arbitrary power of the authorities, we can’t go half way. As we organize in our neighborhoods to share and distribute resources, let’s lay the groundwork for a new grassroots form of political organization that can exercise power directly without need for representatives. Inspired by the council system in the Kurdish territories of Rojava, the assemblies of the Greek anarchist movement, the student strikes in Montréal, and many other examples, we can build a new world from the bottom up, without politicians at the top to boss us around.
Rebel Grrl: To End Police Murder Once and For All
Alanis: So what will it take for us to end police murders once and for all? Nothing short of revolution.
But that revolution isn’t a distant utopia, or a single spasm in which we storm the Winter Palace. It’s an ongoing process of building relationships, sharing resources, defending ourselves, undoing the structures of white supremacy, and organizing to meet our needs together without police or politicians—and it’s already happening. It’s time for each and every one of us to choose a side and take a stand. The stakes are high—the life you save might be your own. But as the courageous protestors in Minneapolis and beyond have shown us, not even the power of the police is absolute. Together, we can overcome their violence and build a new world.
THE SIEGE OF THE THIRD PRECINCT IN MINNEAPOLIS
Rebel Grrl: The essay you’ve just heard laid out some of the broad principles and approaches that we as anarchists think could point towards a world free of police violence. But the uprising in Minneapolis also provides some very concrete lessons about what sorts of strategies and tactics can allow people to take bold, decisive action against the infrastructure of policing. With this in mind, next we’ll share an excerpt from a forthcoming anonymously written account of the conflicts in the streets that led to the destruction of the Third Precinct. Rather than thinking about broad future visions, this analysis explores the particular circumstances, roles, and dynamics that enabled a crowd to overcome the force of the police and dismantle their physical occupation of the neighborhood. It draws on comparative insights from previous and ongoing rebellions to think through the lessons that combatants and movements can learn. We hope you’ll find it insightful and provocative. If you want to read more, look for the complete piece on crimethinc.com.
Alanis: The Siege of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis: An Account and Analysis
The following analysis is motivated by a discussion that took place in front of the Third Precinct as fires billowed from its windows on Day Three of the George Floyd Rebellion in Minneapolis. We joined a group of people whose fire-lit faces beamed in with joy and awe from across the street. People of various ethnicities sat side by side talking about the tactical value of lasers, the “share everything” ethos, interracial unity in fighting the police, and the trap of “innocence.” There were no disagreements; we all saw the same things that helped us win. Thousands of people shared the experience of these battles. We hope that they will carry the memory of how to fight. But the time of combat and the celebration of victory can’t be reconciled with the habits, spaces, and attachments of everyday life. It is frightening how distant the event already feels from us. Our purpose here is to preserve the strategy that proved victorious against the Minneapolis Third Precinct.
The last popular revolt against the Minneapolis Police Department took place in response to the police murder of Jamar Clark on November 15, 2015. It spurred two weeks of unrest that lasted until December 2. Crowds repeatedly engaged the police in ballistic confrontations; however, the response to the shooting coalesced around an occupation of the nearby Fourth Precinct. Organizations like the NAACP and the newly formed Black Lives Matter group asserted their control over the crowds that gathered; they were often at odds with young unaffiliated rebels who preferred to fight the police directly. Much of our analysis below focuses on how young Black and Brown rebels from poor and working-class neighborhoods seized the opportunity to reverse this relationship. We argue that this was a necessary condition for the uprising.
George Floyd was murdered by the police at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on Monday, May 25. Demonstrations against the killing began the next day at the site of his murder, where a vigil took place. Some attendees began a march to the Third Precinct at Lake Street and 26th, where rebels attacked police vehicles in the parking lot.
These two locations became consistent gathering points. Many community groups, organizations, liberals, progressives, and leftists assembled at the vigil site, while those who wanted to fight generally gathered near the Precinct. This put over two miles between two very different crowds, a spatial division that was reflected in other areas of the city as well. Looters clashed with police in scattered commercial zones outside of the sphere of influence of the organizations while many of the leftist marches excluded fighting elements with the familiar tactic of peace policing in the name of identity-based risk aversion.
The “Subject” of The George Floyd Uprising
The subject of our analysis is not a race, a class, an organization, or even a movement, but a crowd. The agency that took down the Third Precinct was a crowd and not an organization because its goals, means, and internal makeup were not regulated by centralized authority. This proved beneficial, as the crowd consequently had recourse to more practical options and was freer to create unforeseen internal relationships in order to adapt to the conflict at hand.
While the initial gathering was occasioned by a rally hosted by a Black-led organization, all of the actions that materially defeated the Third Precinct were undertaken after the rally had ended, carried out by people who were not affiliated with it. There was practically no one there from the usual gamut of self-appointed community and religious leaders, which meant that the crowd was able to transform the situation freely. Organizations rely on stability and predictability to execute strategies that require great quantities of time to formulate. Consequently, organization leaders can be threatened by sudden changes in the social conditions that make their organizations relevant. Organizations—even self-proclaimed “revolutionary” ones—have an interest in suppressing spontaneous revolt in order recruit from those who are discontent and enraged. Whether it is an elected official, a religious leader, a “community organizer,” or a leftist representative, their message to unruly crowds is always the same: wait.
With the exception of the street medics, the power and success of those who fought the Third Precinct did not depend on their experience in “organizing” or in organizations. Rather, it resulted from unaffiliated individuals and groups courageously stepping into roles that complemented each other and seizing opportunities as they arose.
We saw people playing the following roles:
This included street medics and medics performing triage and urgent care at a converted community center two blocks away from the precinct. Under different circumstances, this could be performed at any nearby sympathetic commercial, religious, or not-for profit establishment. Alternatively, a crowd or a medic group could occupy such a space for the duration of a protest. Those who were organized as street medics did not interfere with the tactical choices of the crowd. Instead, they consistently treated anyone who needed their help.
Scanner Monitors and Telegram App Channel Operators
This is common practice in many US cities by now, but police scanner monitors with an ear for strategically important information played a critical role in setting up information flows from the police to the crowd. It is almost certain that on the whole, much of the crowd was not practicing the greatest security to access the Telegram channel. We advise rebels to set up the Telegram app on burner phones in order to stay informed while preventing police stingrays (false cell phone towers) from gleaning their personal information.
The non-violent tactics of peaceful protesters served two familiar aims and one unusual one:
They created a spectacle of legitimacy, which was intensified as police violence escalated.
They created a front line that blocked police attempts to advance when they deployed outside of the Precinct.
In addition, in an unexpected turn of affairs, the peaceful protestors shielded those who employed projectiles.
Whenever the police threatened tear gas or rubber bullets, non-violent protesters lined up at the front with their hands up in the air, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Sometimes they kneeled, but typically only during relative lulls in the action. When the cops deployed outside the Precinct, they naturally tended to form a police line facing those practicing non-violence. This had the effect of temporarily stabilizing the site of conflict and gave other crowd members a stationary target. While some peaceful protestors angrily commanded people to stop throwing things, they were few and grew quiet as the day wore on. This was most likely because the police were targeting people who threw things with rubber bullets early on in the conflict, which enraged the crowd. We are used to seeing more confrontational tactics used to shield those practicing non-violence (e.g., at Standing Rock and Charlottesville); the reversal of this relationship afforded greater autonomy to those employing confrontational tactics.
Ballistics squads threw water bottles or rocks and shot fireworks at the police. Those using ballistics didn’t always work in groups, but doing so protected them from being targeted by non-violent protestors who wanted to dictate the tactics of the crowd. The ballistics squads served three aims:
They drew police violence away from the peaceful elements of the crowd during moments of escalation.
They patiently depleted the police crowd control munitions.
They threatened the physical safety of the police, making it more costly for them to advance. The first day of the uprising led to attacks on multiple parked police SUVs at the Third Precinct. This ballistic sensibility resumed quickly on Day Two, beginning with the throwing of water bottles at police officers positioned atop the Third Precinct. After the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, the ballistics squads also began to employ rocks. Nightfall saw the use of fireworks by a few people, which quickly generalized in Days Three and Four. “Boogaloos” (Second Amendment accelerationists) had already briefly employed fireworks on Day One, but it appears that they mostly sat it out on the sidelines thereafter. Finally, it is worth noting that the Minneapolis police used “green tips,” rubber bullets with exploding green ink tips to mark lawbreakers for later arrest. Once it became clear that the police had limited capacity to make good on its threat and, moreover, that the crowd could win, those who had been marked had every incentive to fight like hell to defy the police.
Those who operate laser pointers are referred to as “light mages” in the language of the Hong Kong movement. As seen in Hong Kong, Chile, and elsewhere in 2019, some people came prepared with laser pointers to attack the optical capacity of the police. Laser pointers involve a special risk/reward ratio, as it is very easy to track people using laser pointers if they are not operating within a dense and active crowd at night. Laser pointer users are vulnerable if they attempt to target individual police officers or (especially) police helicopters while operating in small crowds. This is true even if the entire neighborhood is undergoing mass looting. The upside of laser pointers is immense: they momentarily compromise the eyesight of the police on the ground and they can disable police surveillance drones by interfering with their infrared sensors and obstacle-detection cameras. In the latter case, a persistently lasered drone may descend to the earth where the crowd can destroy it. This occurred repeatedly on Days Two and Three. If a crowd is particularly dense and visually difficult to discern, lasers can be used to chase away police helicopters. This occurred on Day Three following the retreat of the police from the Third Precinct.
Barricaders built barricades out of nearby materials, including an impressive barricade that blocked the police on 26th Avenue, just north of Lake Street. It was assembled out of a train of shopping carts and a cart-return station pulled from a nearby parking lot, dumpsters, police barricades, and plywood and fencing materials from a condominium construction site.
Car sound systems and engines provided a sonic environment that enlivened the crowd. The anthem of Days Two and Three was Lil’ Boosie’s “Fuck The Police.” Yet one innovation we had never seen before was the use of car engines to add to the soundscape and “rev up” the crowd. This began with a pick-up truck with a modified exhaust system, which was parked behind the crowd facing away from it. When tensions ran high with the police and it appeared that the conflict would resume, the driver would red line his engine and make it roar thunderously over the crowd. Other similarly modified cars joined in, as well as a few motorcyclists.
Looting served three critical aims.
First, it liberated supplies to heal and nourish the crowd. On the first day, rebels attempted to seize the liquor store directly across from the Third Precinct. Their success was brief, as the cops managed to re-secure it. Early in the standoff on Day Two, rebels signaled their determination by climbing on top of the store to mock the police from the roof. The crowd cheered at this humiliation, which implicitly set the objective for the rest of the day: to demonstrate the powerlessness of the police, demoralize them, and exhaust their capacities.
An hour or so later, looting began at the liquor store and at an Aldi one block away. While a majority of those present participated in the looting, it was clear that some took it upon themselves to be strategic about it. Looters at the Aldi liberated immense quantities of bottled water, sports drinks, milk, protein bars, and other snacks and they assembled huge quantities of these items on the street corners. In addition to the liquor store and the Aldi, the Third Precinct was conveniently situated adjacent to a Target, a Cub Foods, a shoe store, a dollar store, an Autozone, a Wendy’s, and various other businesses. Once the looting began, it immediately became a part of the logistics of the crowd’s siege on the Third Precinct.
Second, looting boosted the crowd’s morale by creating solidarity and joy through a shared act of collective transgression. The act of gift giving and the spirit of generosity was made accessible to all, providing a positive counterpoint to the head-to-head conflicts with the police.
Third, and most importantly, looting contributed to keeping the situation ungovernable. As looting spread throughout the city, police forces everywhere were spread thin. Their attempts to secure key targets only gave looters free rein over other areas in the city. Like a fist squeezing water, the police found themselves frustrated by an opponent that expanded exponentially.
The Pattern of the Battle and “Composition” vs. “Organization”
We call the battles of the second and third days at the Precinct a siege because the police were defeated by attrition. The pattern of the battle was characterized by steady intensification punctuated by qualitative leaps due to the violence of the police and the spread of the conflict into looting and attacks on corporate-owned buildings. The combination of the roles listed above helped to create a situation that was unpoliceable, yet which the police were stubbornly determined to contain. The repression required for every containment effort intensified the revolt and pushed it further out into the surrounding area. Crucially, a gang truce had been called after the first day of unrest, neutralizing territorial barriers to participation. By Day Three, all of the corporate infrastructure surrounding the Third Precinct had been destroyed and the police had nothing but a “kingdom of ashes” to show for their efforts. Only their Precinct remained, a lonely target with depleted supplies. The rebels who showed up on Day Three found an enemy teetering on the brink. All it needed was a final push.
Day Two of the uprising began with a rally in which attendees were on the streets while the police were on top of their building with a full arsenal of crowd control weaponry. The pattern of struggle began during the rally, when the crowd tried to climb over the fences that protected the Precinct in order to vandalize it. The police fired rubber bullets in response as rally speakers called for calm. After some time passed and more speeches were made, people tried again. When the volley of rubber bullets came, the crowd responded with rocks and water bottles. This set off a dynamic of escalation that accelerated quickly once the rally ended. Some called for non-violence and some tried to interfere with those who were throwing things, but people didn’t bother arguing with them. They were largely ignored or else the reply was always the same: “That non-violence shit don’t work!” Neither side of this argument was entirely correct. As the battle would demonstrate, both sides needed each other to accomplish the historic feat of bringing the Third Precinct to its knees.
It’s important to note that the dynamic we saw on Day Two did not involve using non-violence and waiting for repression to escalate the situation. Instead, a number of individuals stuck their necks out very far to invite police violence and escalation. Once the crowd and the police were locked into an escalating pattern of conflict, the objective of the police was to expand their territorial control radiating outward from the Precinct. When the police decided to advance, they began by firing rubber bullets at those throwing projectiles and setting up barricades and by firing tear gas and throwing concussive grenades at the crowd as a whole.
The intelligence of the crowd proved itself as participants quickly learned five lessons in the course of this struggle. The first lesson is to remain calm in the face of concussion grenades, as they are not physically harmful if you are more than five feet away from them. This lesson extends to a more general insight about crisis governance: don’t panic, as the police will always use panic against us. One must react quickly while staying as calm as possible.
Second, the practice of flushing tear-gassed eyes rapidly spread from street medics throughout the rest of the crowd. Employing all the looted bottled water, many people in the crowd were able to practice and quickly learn eye flushing. People throwing rocks one minute could be seen treating the eyes of others in the next. This basic medic knowledge helped to build the crowd’s confidence, allowing them to resist the temptation to panic and stampede, so that they could return to the space of engagement.
Third, perhaps the crowd’s most important tactical discovery was that when one is forced to retreat from tear gas, one must refill the space one has abandoned as quickly as possible. Each time the crowd returned, it came back angrier and more determined either to stop the police advance or to make them pay as dearly as possible for every step they took.
Fourth, borrowing from the language of Hong Kong, we saw the crowd practice the maxim “Be water.” Not only did the crowd quickly flow back into spaces from which they had to retreat, but when forced outward, the crowd didn’t behave the way that the cops did by fixating on territorial control. When they could, the crowd flowed back into the spaces from which they had been forced to retreat due to tear gas. But when necessary, the crowd flowed away from police advances like a torrential destructive force. Each police advance resulted in more businesses being smashed, looted, and burned. This meant that the police were losers regardless of whether they chose to remain besieged or push back the crowd.
Finally, the fall of the Third Precinct demonstrates the power of ungovernability as a strategic aim and means of crowd activity. The more that a crowd can do, the harder it will be to police. Crowds can maximize their agency by increasing the number of roles that people can play and by maximizing the complementary relationships between them.
Non-violence practitioners can use their legitimacy to temporarily conceal or shield ballistics squads. Ballistics squads can draw police fire away from those practicing non-violence. Looters can help feed and heal the crowd while simultaneously disorienting the police. In turn, those going head to head with the police can open opportunities for looting. Light mages can provide ballistics crews with temporary opacity by blinding the police and disabling surveillance drones and cameras. Non-violence practitioners can buy time for barricaders, whose works can later alleviate the need for non-violence to secure the front line.
Here we see that an internally diverse and complex crowd is more powerful than a crowd that is homogenous and simple. We use the term composition to name this phenomenon of maximizing complementary practical diversity. It is distinct from organization because all the roles are elective, individuals can shift between them as needed or desired, and there are no leaders to assign or coordinate them. Crowds that form and fight through composition are more effective against the police because they minimize police control over the conflict. Not only are “compositional” crowds more likely to engage the police in battles of attrition, but they are more likely to have the fluidity that is necessary to win.
PSA: STAYING SAFE AT STREET ACTIONS, BY THE CHANNEL ZERO NETWORK
Before we continue, here’s a quick public service announcement from our friends at the Channel Zero Network, of which the Ex-Worker podcast is a proud member, on ways to stay safe when you’re in the streets.
INTERVIEW: A MINNEAPOLIS ANARCHIST ON THE CITY’S PLAN TO DISMANTLE THE POLICE
So far we’ve heard anarchist analyses both of the overall framework of police reforms and pathways towards abolition, as well as a detailed tactical analysis of one of the high points of the uprising against the police in Minneapolis. But the local political class, after failing to take control of the situation by force, eventually settled on a different strategy—and that’s what we want to discuss next.
When we got the news of the Minneapolis City Council’s announcement, we were astonished, and probably like many of you, felt a mixture of excitement, disbelief, and suspicion. We wanted to get a firsthand account from someone who was there in the city when the announcement was made, and who can give some background context for how things got to this point. So next we’ll share a short interview with a Minneapolis anarchist, in which we’ll hear about the background of anti-police and abolitionist organizing before George Floyd’s killing, how different groups responded as the uprising unfolded, the role of direct action to forcing this decision, the balance of optimism and skepticism in responding to the announcement, and the significance of art, poetry, and creativity in the struggle.
Minneapolis Anarchist: I’m an artist and an anarchist. I’ve been living in Minneapolis for around fifteen years, and I was at the meeting in the park yesterday, Sunday June 7th, where the Minneapolis City Council, nine Members of Council said they are ready to disband the Minneapolis Police Department.
The rumblings I’ve heard and the different organizing voices that I’ve heard, it’s at least been since 2016. It’s been coming up more, especially—there’s a group here called MPD150, and they did a sort of retrospective of the hundred fifty years of policing here in Minnesota. They’re abolitionists, and through that work, they’ve been calling for abolition of the police. And, you know, it’s been sort of in and out. Some of the biggest things that were happening were when the Fourth Precinct was occupied in North Minneapolis after the shooting of Jamar Clark. So I would say back then was when there was some really strong organized resistance to police brutality and shootings in Minneapolis. And a lot of organizers came together: anarchists, other folks—there’s a pretty strong leftist community here, a lot of socialists, commies, progressives, liberals, the whole business. There’s a lot of them. A lot of people are coming together for this stuff around Jamar Clark, but a lot of younger people are staying and occupying outside the Fourth Precinct.
I think probably about a year later was when Philando Castile was shot, and that, while it wasn’t Minneapolis Police, it was close enough. In many ways there’s a lot of segregation between the cities, but actually in reality, there’s not. People just sort of are free flowing between them. So, even though it wasn’t strictly Minneapolis, the whole community responded.
After Philando Castile, there was occupation at the governor’s mansion. A lot of the folks from Jamar Clark stuff were doing that. A lot of young folks came up in that, and my gut is that from that organizing was where MPD150 kind of came in, and people were starting to look deeper into the Minneapolis Police Department and its history of racism, white supremacy.
And I guess even before Jamar Clark, there was the stuff with CeCe. CeCe McDonald is a Black trans woman from Minneapolis who was attacked by white supremacists outside some bar—which burned down, by the way. It’s really amazing; we’re all really excited that it burned down two weeks ago. So, she was attacked by white racists outside this bar, and she fought back. She had scissors in her bag and ended up stabbing this Nazi, and he died. And she was on trial; we supported her through all of that. She served a couple years in prison.
I’m not going to keep going back, but I really think lots of things are leading to this moment. I was just saying earlier that I was reminded that the candidates in the last election, publications here were asking them, can you imagine a world without police? What do you think about abolition? And MPD was doing their project; an artist that I know made a zine about some of the things that were being revealed about the police and how they would handle interrogating young people. And then a bunch of stuff was coming about how Minneapolis police were getting paramedics to dose people with ketamine in order to sedate them when they would get called out. So, all this stuff was sort of coming out, and there was a push on politicians to sort of respond to that. Obviously, the Minneapolis Police Department is fucked up, but what are you going to do about it? Can you imagine a world without policing?
Those sorts of things were already in the works, and there were groups here that were ready. As soon as the video and the information came out about George Floyd, people were on the ground and ready to respond to that. And also, there was this community uprising, this swell of all of the emotional response from the video but also people being pent up for the last three months, people being unemployed, you know: it just sort of all came to a climax out in the streets. And there are groups here—Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block—who were ready. They knew, we have to push defunding the police and abolishing the police; we’ve got to push this. And so they were doing actions. They immediately had demands for the City Council and the mayor, and they were pushing and pushing on that. After George Floyd’s murder, people here were ready. People here were ready to respond. They knew what direction things needed to go. We’ve got to get rid of the police. People were positioned and in place to push for that.
I also think that the politicians responded with the sort of affirmative responses that we heard just yesterday because of what happened in the street. The civil unrest that unfolded over that first week was sort of—this is a terrible metaphor because it’s so obvious, but you know—lighting the flame under the pot: it was the thing that made the water boil so that then the politicians were like, we have to pay attention. There was just so much pressure. And I think there was a lot of strategy that sort of took up the anger in the street and channeled it into the meeting in the park yesterday where nine City Council members said that they would agree to disband the Minneapolis Police. We’ll see where that goes.
I feel like my optimism and my skepticism are super hand-in-hand. I’m always so cautiously optimistic, especially when anything comes to politicians actually changing anything. And also I do feel optimistic because these last two weeks, I feel like something shifted, something pushed in a way that reverberated outside of Minneapolis, across the country, around the world, and people are really responding. And literally nothing I’ve ever seen is as hopeful as seeing the Third Precinct burn down. That was fucking amazing. That place is such a fucking horrible place; I’m so glad it’s gone.
But I have a lot of skepticism. I have a lot of skepticism that the City Council is actually going to follow through. I have a lot of skepticism—they say, okay, the next steps are listening to the community and working to meet different community demands, but… will they do it? They don’t have an amazing track record. A lot of them came in on saying they were going to reform the police—the mayor, all of them—and not a lot has happened since they’ve been in office. There was some defunding, there’s the forty-five million they did defund, but then it just sort of felt like it stalled out. City Council didn’t feel like they were really living up to some of the things that they had promised. I’m not alone in this skepticism. Many people here feel pretty skeptical that the City Council is going to actually change anything. They agreed, but what are the action steps? And they’re not really the ones who are going to make the best choices. It’s a lot of work, and I’m skeptical that they’re going to step up to it.
I mean, there’s a few narratives that are going around right now that are really distressing to me as an anarchist. One is the narrative that these City Council Members are going to do what they say they’re going to do, and people have great hope in them. But also, there’s such a strong negative reaction to the uprising, to the fires. People I know pretty well—thought I knew them politically—are blaming all the fires sort of in a very blanketed way on white supremacists. And yes, there were white supremacists out targeting on the North Side, but that’s not who was out in the street. That’s not who started this. It was a multicultural movement. It was youth, and there were Black, brown, white, Indigenous, Latinx—they were all out there in the street. They were angry—totally, justifiably, phenomenally angry—and the police pushed back super hard, and people rose up. It’s really distressing that so many people are totally dismissing all of it and not looking at what windows were smashed or what places got burned and sort of discerning. There were a lot of people out there. A lot of people, and some things were targeted for really legit reasons. That wasn’t just white supremacists out there every night. That’s impossible. Those people weren’t out in the street, they were at home. It was like a day or two before all those “Boogaloo” nonsense white supremacists and all those people came. They were not on the first train.
The people who’ve been doing the work here, the people in Black Visions—there’s a lot of younger people, a lot of artists, a lot of creatives who are visioning a future. And when I think about Ferguson, I think about the people who were on the ground doing that work, like OBS [Organization for Black Struggle] or CABCR [Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression] or whatever. That’s kind of a really different group. It’s a really different feel of people. I think actually part of what that perfect storm here, was all the artists and creatives who were also organizers here. And because there’s such a big overlap between artists and organizers, there’s that sort of ability to think outside of the system that’s already here, that was happening.
One of the funny things that happened at that meeting yesterday was how much poetry there was. There was no less than four poems read. One was a new poem by one of the City Council Members who’s a poet. She wrote a new poem. She also read an older poem that she wrote around when the stuff with CeCe happened. And then another Black artist read a poem that she wrote several years ago also about defunding the police and giving the police to the grandmothers. And to hear her read it yesterday, it was really moving because I was like, when you wrote that, I know I was like, that’s amazing, and obviously I’m all for abolition of the police, and I want to envision this, but I actually didn’t really think it might happen in my lifetime.
A lot of times I feel like the things that I fight for, I’ll never see. And in that moment of hearing that poem, I was like, this thing is maybe happening! In some way, some form, you know… The doors are wide open.
THE PATH FORWARD TO ABOLISH THE POLICE
Alanis: Hopefully these different analyses and reflections offer some context for thinking through the wild events of the last two weeks, and the prospects for creating a world free of police—not as a distant pipe dream, but an actual possible reality we could see in our lifetimes. In the aftermath of the uprising and the announcement from Minneapolis, we hope that a wave of abolitionist energy will spill forth throughout communities across the US and hopefully beyond. What form will this take? What can we expect?
Rebel Grrl: In some places, it’ll be a dead end that encounters hostility and backlash. We saw this recently in Wichita Falls, Texas, where anarchist professor Nathan Jun has been hit with a ferocious campaign of doxing, harassment, death threats, and attacks on his home in response to his advocacy of police abolition. As we go to press, it appears that the counter-campaign of hundreds of supporters around the world targeting the people who targeted Nathan has helped to stem the tide of harassment. But there’s a very real risk of situations like this unfolding in places where popular support for law enforcement is high and organized opposition is weak.
Alanis: In other places, we might see substantial reforms enacted, now that the specter of abolition has been raised. Probably most of these will be toothless—things like the list of reforms the mayor of Chicago announced, most of which involve actually devoting more resources to law enforcement for training, counseling, etc. But in some cases there may be substantial cuts to police budgets—Los Angeles’s mayor, for example, claims he will cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the LAPD—as well as limits placed on the force cops can use, heightened scrutiny and consequences for violent cops, and so forth.
Rebel Grrl: As anarchists, we are not excited about reforms. I sincerely hope that some of these changes do save lives and reduce violence. But this is both an exciting and a dangerous moment right now, when the very legitimacy of policing itself has been placed up for discussion, and how things go in the coming months could determine whether police use reform to recover and even strengthen their position or are permanently put on the defensive. Now that something far more radical and substantive is on the table in Minneapolis, we need to keep pushing as hard as we possibly can to delegitimize the kinds of cosmetic reforms most politicians will use to try to keep us from rebelling, and to cut right to the heart of the matter. Even those of us who are positioned to push within institutions for reforms should do our best to articulate those as insufficient steps towards an urgent broader goal of ending policing itself. And those of us who are outside of institutions can keep up the pressure through direct action to make it clear that we won’t be satisfied until the killers are permanently disarmed and we truly are the ones who keep us safe.
Alanis: In many places, the struggle will be hard fought, with increasingly strong movements facing very strong entrenched powers. Take New York City, which has one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world, with some 32,000 uniformed officers and an outrageous amount of political influence. But New York City is also seeing one of the most massive multiracial waves of sustained protest we’ve seen in an American city in memory, decentralized and bringing tens of thousands of people into the streets all over the place, radicalizing people left and right. New York City may not see the kinds of defunding and reforms that other cities will, but they’ve seen an incredible blow to the legitimacy of the police force that will resonate for years to come and reconfigure life and politics in the city.
Rebel Grrl: In smaller towns, it’s hard to say. Some determined activists in liberal-leaning towns might succeed in seriously defunding or even dismantling their police forces with concerted campaigns; the bar imagining how safety could look without policing in large cities might be higher than for smaller places, so it’s possible that after Minneapolis, unexpected places could take the lead in modeling how life without police could proceed. We’ll continue to report in the months and years to come on what sorts of tactics and strategies work in different places as the grassroots movement to abolish policing continues to expand.
Alanis: But we shouldn’t forget in this moment, when the political and cultural climate has shifted so substantially, that cops and their allies are one of the best organized, most powerful, and most heavily armed demographics in the United States. They are not going to take this lying down. And unlike abolitionists, who have no friends in the mainstream Democratic Party headed by Joe “Shoot-em-in-the-leg” Biden, the police are fully integrated into Trump’s Republican machine as a core constituency and can use the political system to their advantage. At the same time, they’re supported by a substantial and dangerous grassroots armed wing of private security firms, militias, and lone wingnuts who have shown in these protests and before that they’re not afraid to intimidate or even kill. And these forces will be doing everything they can, using all the dirty tricks they know, to undermine experiments like that in Minneapolis and in other places that attempt to dismantle policing. This will make it all the more imperative that we come up with robust, effective means of self-defense—physical and tactical as well as through ideas and discourses—to prevent these forces from disrupting our experiments in freedom. They desperately want unpoliced areas to seem like chaotic, violent, scary, unsafe nightmares to show how when liberals and radicals are let off the leash, they’ll make life impossible for hardworking decent (white) Americans through their crazy cop-hating experiments.
Rebel Grrl: This means we will all have an enormous and critically important task ahead of us. We need to form strong relationships in our communities and build trust across lines of difference, particularly race. Those of us who are white in particular will need to deeply examine in ourselves and our white communities the ways that white supremacy and anti-Blackness keep us divided and invested in policing as a mirage of security. We’ll need to be generous and patient, taking inspiration from the mutual aid projects that have flourished both in response to COVID and in Minneapolis in revolt, making sure that no one’s needs are left behind. We’ll need to deepen our skill sets with conflict resolution, emotional and mental health support, and navigating non-state resources for dealing with our problems.
Alanis: For those of us who have given our lives to “the beautiful idea,” as they say in some parts of the world, anarchy can be our north star as we navigate through these transformative times. The vision of a world without any form of hierarchy or domination cannot just be a distant glimmer on the horizon; it’s the glimmer we see in the eyes of every stranger, in the broken glass that strews the ground after the riot as well as in the sweat that glistens off of us as we clean up and rebuild after. We invoke it not only when we stand up with bravery and tenacity against our enemies, but also as we struggle through the everyday challenges among our friends and neighbors that don’t seem heroic or revolutionary, but actually make up the raw material of revolution day by day.
I want to send courage and love and solidarity to each and every one of you listening for the struggles ahead. More than ever, no matter where you’re listening, this is a revolutionary process that can touch you immediately, directly, and permanently. Undermining policing is only one step among many, many others we’ll need to take on the path towards a world of freedom. But it’s a critical one, and it’s one that will open out into new vistas through which we can be radicalized and radicalize others. So whatever form it takes for you—and we know that many of you cannot or should not be physically in the streets, depending on health, COVID, legal vulnerability, commitments to others, and a ton of other concerns—however it looks for you, take this moment to speak up and take action. I have been an active anarchist for over twenty years and I have been through a lot and seen a lot; but I don’t think I have EVER seen or felt a moment as open-ended as this one for potentially radical social transformation. The powers that be will retrench, the backlash will come, and who can say what the future will bring. But by pushing now to the absolute farthest horizons of possibility that we can, we’ll be opening up the range of imaginable futures for years to come, and setting the template for all that we could achieve together.
So thanks to all of you for listening, and for everything that you’re doing in all the places where you are.
Rebel Grrl: That’s going to wrap things up for this episode of the Ex-Worker. We’ve got a lot more coverage in store for you over the coming days about the uprising in Minneapolis and the solidarity efforts that have spread across the globe over the past two weeks. There are so many incredible stories emerging from up there and also from many of the other emerging zones of rebellion; we’ll be sharing a few of those in forthcoming episodes and on crimethinc.com.
Alanis: In the meantime, we’d encourage you to check out the excellent coverage coming out from some of the other anarchist podcasts from the Channel Zero Network. The Final Straw has already put out two terrific episodes with interviews from folks in the uprising, and has more coverage coming, and you can also find episodes from It’s Going Down and SoleCast—links are posted on our website.
Rebel Grrl: There’s also a brand-new project that comrades have launched to help us keep up to date on the spread of protest and rebellion across the US. It’s called The Uprise Daily, and it’s a short day-by-day audio roundup of the headlines from the struggle against police violence and white supremacy. Here’s a quick excerpt from a recent episode that lays out what they’re doing:
The Uprise Daily: “You’re listening to the Uprise Daily. This is a grassroots effort from activists around the country to compile information about protests that have been happening in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Our work is by no means comprehensive, and it’s all done on a volunteer basis. That being said, here’s what happened yesterday…”
Rebel Grrl: Check it out at UpriseDaily.com, or follow the link from our website.
Alanis: Also, we always try to end our episodes with some prisoner updates. We’re not doing that this time, not because we aren’t keeping folks inside on our minds and in our hearts, but because we’ll be exploring the shifting context of prison struggles in more depth soon. Remember that this Thursday is June 11th, the international day of solidarity with Marius Mason and all long-term anarchist prisoners, celebrated now in its sixteenth year; much more coverage on this coming soon.
Rebel Grrl: So stay tuned! Thanks to our friends for the updates from Minneapolis, to Underground Reverie and all the great FTP musicians for the jams, and to all of you for listening. Get in touch—we want to hear what’s popping off near you. Email us at podcast at crimethinc dot com or holler at us on social media.
Alanis: Till next time—stay safe, get dangerous, and don’t give up!