A Message from the Vice Chair:
For weeks, our country has erupted in protest of white supremacy and police brutality. In every major city, in every state, and across the globe, people have risen in solidarity against the American police state. The horrific murder of George Floyd by a police officer made clear something many Black Americans and radicals already knew: the cops are not our friends.
The police exist, and have always existed, for one purpose: to uphold the current social order by inflicting violence on American citizens. This is what the police did when they were slave-catchers, this is what the police did when they turned fire-hoses on Civil Rights protesters, this is what the police are doing now when they teargas us, beat us, and shoot us with rubber bullets. This is what the police were doing when they broke into Breonna Taylor’s home, and shot her eight times in her bed, and arrested her boyfriend Kenneth Walker for defending himself from this unlawful intrusion. Where are the right-wing gun-rights advocates now? I digress.
I often see my liberal friends on the front lines demanding officers’ badge numbers, because they assume police brutality must be misconduct; they assume that this brutality is evidence of a broken system. The police state is not broken, it is functioning as intended. The police are doing their jobs, and they are doing their job well. Try to find a point in history when the police were good; you will not, because they never have been.
When students get into a fight in the hallways, I hope and pray that the “student affairs officer” does not rush in and body slam or mace a child before an educator can move in and de-escalate the situation. The police officers in our schools are an excellent microcosm of policing in general; they exist only to inflict violence on students who step too far out of line. In the event of a mass shooting, an actual threat to student safety, these officers will sit in the parking lot and not intervene.
Their job is not to protect students, their job is to bully and intimidate.
Pro-police propaganda will mislead you to believe that police spend all their time solving murders and sexual assaults, but in King County an overwhelming majority of reported sexual assaults are not investigated. I am not too much of an ideologue to file a police report when I have been a victim of a crime, but the police have never ultimately helped me. They are too busy protecting property and harassing people of color to handle actual crime against citizens. Many people, including myself, are more threatened by police violence than criminal violence. I am not aware of illegal drug dealers, shoplifters, or fraudsters intentionally gassing whole neighborhoods. The SPD, on the other hand, has done that and more. But I digress.
An overwhelming majority of 911 calls that police respond to are for domestic violence. Police are not trained or equipped to handle this and are more likely to escalate dangerous situations than resolve them. Furthermore, multiple studies have shown that up to 40% of police families experience domestic violence themselves. We should not send domestic abusers to protect victims of domestic abuse, and Police officers are more likely to be domestic abusers than the general population. That means sending a random a person off the street is less likely to be harmful than sending a police officer. Coming up with a new system is not going to be easy; the new system will not be perfect, but almost anything we come up with will be better than what we have now. It is time to tell it like it is: the police as they exist now (and have always existed) are a threat to public safety.
I cannot speak on the day-to-day oppression felt by Black people from the police. I do not have that lived experience. Police officers are generally polite to me. But since Friday, May 30th I have seen incredible violence from the Seattle Police Department against largely peaceful demonstrators, and incredible bravery from protesters, especially Black and brown people, for whom the risk of arrest is much greater.
In the police riot on the 01 June, in 11th and Pine, I saw a young woman in jeans and a T-shirt get pepper sprayed by three or four police officers. She had her hands up, and her back to them. I have never seen a human being take so much mace. She was not a hardcore activist in black bloc and a gas mask. I had to guide her through five blocks of CS gas so thick that you could not see more than ten feet. This is a residential neighborhood; these were people’s homes. Babies and pets lived on those apartments. SPD Officers are not tear-gassed as part of their training; they do not know what they are inflicting upon people. The gas they use does not just cause a cough or tears; it is caustic. When you go home, it feels like you have a severe sunburn on any skin that was exposed to the gas. I rinsed the young woman’s eyes as best I could, and she was picked up by a friend who lived nearby, but I cannot imagine the pain she went through in the ensuing days. She kept talking about how she had not done anything, how she had been peaceful.
For many, including apparently that young woman, the level of violence the police are capable of toward peaceful demonstrators is unfathomable, but it's been an obvious reality to me since I first came under fire from flash-bang grenades in Portland almost three years ago, and saw one embed in a journalist's skull. Again, people ask for police officers' badge numbers because they assume this violence must be misconduct. It is not. They will get extra pay and citations for hurting protesters, that is literally their job. They are doing it well, and they are enjoying it. The police are not your friends; they never have been.
People are finally realizing this fact, but the history of protest and struggle in this country has been deliberately whitewashed. The only historical protests we are allowed to learn about are ones that were convenient to those in power. Ask the average white person how the Civil Rights movement happened, and they will tell you some version of this story: Dr. King marched and was so peaceful and respectable that everyone felt bad for him and racism ended.
The average person does not learn about the third Selma to Montgomery march, when James Forman led a group of Black students and workers through the police line. They fought the cops with bricks, batons, and stones, and they won. This is the incident that inspired most Congressmen to vote for the Voting Rights Act; it was the threat of violence, not peaceful protest. But you do not learn about that in history classes, because if you emulated that form of protest, it would be inconvenient to those in power.
The average person also does not learn about the Black Armed Guard, Black veterans of World War II who had an actual shooting war with the KKK in Monroe, North Carolina after the Kissing Case in 1958. Robert Williams, a marine, fortified the local NAACP headquarters, and when the KKK came to execute a drive-by, they shot back. The Black Armed Guard went on to protect the freedom riders. They were an inspiration to the Black Panthers and to Rosa Parks.
Even Dr. King himself is whitewashed. He was nonviolent, but he was not peaceful. He did not march to raise awareness or garner sympathy, he engaged in direct action. His goal was to apply pressure on those in power. He wanted to be contentious and confrontational. Everything he did was calculated to force those with power to negotiate with him. I should note that Dr. King was a radical himself, he was socialist, and he wrote about the necessity of breaking unjust laws. They did not put him in jail for loitering.
I see many of my fellow protesters trying to emulate a Civil Rights movement that never existed. On 02 June, around midnight, I watched a crowd get dispersed over and over again by extreme police violence, only to reform, and march, hands-up, chanting “I Can’t Breathe.” Their peaceful protest was met with more CS Gas, bombs, rubber bullets, and pepper balls. It was an incredible show of bravery, but it was not effective. Eventually, sustained nonviolent demonstration will bankrupt a department, so it is not a completely ineffective means of protest, but it cannot be our only means. This is a long struggle, and in many ways it is a battle of attrition. When the police attacked us at 11th and Pine on the 1st of June, as the crowd was being teargassed and bombed, you could hear a chant that by now must vex every police officer in the country. “Every day! Every day!”
We are in this for the long haul, and we need to learn from history, to emulate the real Civil Rights movement, and play with a full deck of cards. We do not have to, and should not, immediately escalate to the maximum level of violence, but we need to be a nuisance to those in power. We need to occupy more space. We need to go where we are not wanted.
If you can join us on the front lines, grab an umbrella and some safety goggles and do that. You do not have to be in the streets 24/7. Watch the cops, they tap each other out when they get tired, so bring up fresh officers to keep their line strong.
If you cannot physically protest, make direct action your mantra, even online. Show your support, but take the next step and do something. Flood the inboxes of politicians and police chiefs, people with power. Report on the actions of the police and fascists; many demonstrations are being intimidated by heavily armed fascist militias. Count them, note their arms, gather intelligence. Overwhelm white supremacist hashtags and spaces with irrelevant content, to interdict their communications. Listen to police scanners and watch live streams to help disseminate accurate information. We cannot all give the same thing, in fact we would be weaker if we were all the same, we all have different abilities. Some of us know first aid, some of us play instruments, some of us are skilled in online direct action. If we all give what we can, the people united will never be defeated.
If you have read this far, I thank you, and I hope you are giving as much if not more attention to Black voices. They are the ones leading this fight. The struggle will not end when the officers who murdered George Floyd are brought to justice, or when SPD is defunded. The struggle will not end until the promise of this country - liberty and justice for all - is finally fulfilled. And make no mistake, that will not happen until Black lives matter in the eyes of our society. We do not have a free society if only some people are free. In case it is unclear: All lives do not matter unless Black lives matter.
Vice-Chair of the Washington Progressive Party, 2020