It’s Time to Disarm, Defund, & Democratize the Police as Well as Arm the Working-Class

A dialectical look at how we got here, how to move forward, and the danger of “respectability politics”

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Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary

— Karl Marx

The insurrection we’re witnessing was bound to blossom sooner or later

Uprisings have occurred in response to police brutality countless times before in America but the scope and intensity associated with this most recent iteration of unrest in response to the recent string of police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, and too many more, is nothing short of awe-inspiring to witness. But what made them reach this degree of intensity we’re seeing? As a materialist first and foremost, I would posit the current material conditions on the ground as the driving force for this bottom-up explosion. The police are routinely murdering black people in such succession that it’s painful and soul-draining to even try and keep up with the tolls they inflict. Seemingly every few days a video or story will circulate on social media showing the denigration or snuffing out of black life at the hands of repugnant uniformed killers who never face justice. It’s almost as if the injustice is purposefully carried out so nakedly so as to encourage resignation and eventual quiet acceptance. We may never be able to fully grasp the damage that this regularly scheduled desensitization to black suffering has done to the American psyche.

Combine this with a pandemic that’s brought an economy that was already clinically fragile before COVID, to its knees. After all, 40 million people have lost their jobs in the midst of a pandemic, rendering a quarter of the nation unemployed. Likewise, the state response has been nothing short of disastrous. On one hand, the rightwing has weaponized the pandemic to further defund state and municipal governments, as well as push through their agenda of saturating the nation’s courts with their fellow ghoulish death-cult members. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership, equally captured by capital, cravenly plods on, quietly opting not to propose an alternative. The corpse of Joe Biden is periodically reanimated for some uneasy media appearance like his recent one on “The Breakfast Club” where he’ll gaffe it up in his uniquely uncouth former segregationist manner. Meanwhile, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi isn’t busy showing off her artisanal ice cream collection stored in her cryogenic super-freezers, and when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer isn’t busy impotently boasting about getting a provision in the CARES act that prevents the Trump family from receiving benefits, the pair are working tirelessly on toothless legislation that, for example, subsidizes the parasitic health insurance industry, instead of instituting practical common-sense emergency medicare for all, or a universal basic income, national rent suspension, debt relief for students, or a myriad of other key legislative issues that need resolving. So, all of that preamble is to say that naturally, with the high frequency of graphic broadcasts of state-sanctioned racialized murder, the sharp worsening of material conditions, and the contradictions of capitalism becoming ever more apparent, the “United” States could not have been better primed for an eruption of conflict.

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Photo by ev on Unsplash

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.

— Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The contradictions run deeper than the concretely material, however. Invariably, the citizenry and police caste will always remain in dialectical contradiction so long as the police operate as a bludgeon for all social maladies (income inequality, racism, etc). This will reinforce the precarity of the social order reflexively, ultimately resulting in more death and incarceration of the impoverished. This self-reflexive system re-amplifies itself unless the job of the police is fundamentally shifted away from the maintenance of private property rights, the servitude towards state-capital infused tyrannies (i.e private prisons, tech-platform surveillance capitalism), and the reinforcing of fabricated racial hierarchies in the face of a visibly crumbling empire. Inevitably, if left unchecked these contradictions will mount until they reach an inflection point, and arguably, we are witnessing the early-stage realization of this dialectical synthesis in realtime, though time will tell. Recall that under the dialectic process, quantitative changes accrue until they lead to a qualitative change. For example, when placing liquid water on a hot stove the temperature of the liquid rises (the quantitative changes) until it reaches its boiling point (the inflection point) and qualitatively becomes something different — steam. The piling up of unjust killings is the quantitative change in our case, the qualitative change is the restructuring of policing entirely to something radically more just. Nationwide, these uprisings are the manifestation of the old order diminishing as we approach the zone of chaos and make way for the new order to establish itself. But as always, paradigms don’t die in their sleep.

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Example Diagram of the Dialectics Between Systems

What’s important for us today is that we are now existing at a juncture of extreme historical fluidity and as such will guide the course of history with the actions we take today. Indeed, we now find ourselves at that transient splinter in time Lenin described wherein decades of historical progression are materialized over the course of weeks; an infrequent anomaly where temporality itself seems suspended by the weight of the fleeting. So, the practical question then becomes, how do we alter the role of the historically racist police-state such that we can ameliorate the contradictions at work, and with luck, avoid a mass conflict in the process?

We can and should push for higher levels of transparency, which means body cameras that cannot be “turned off” or coincidentally “lost” by the wearer. We likewise ought to institute universally higher standards for becoming a police officer with regards to the training necessary, as well as upping the stringency of psychological and mental evaluations one must undergo. Additionally, properly training officers in the practice of de-escalation as is commonly done in European police contexts is also crucial. Currently, the standards for becoming an officer vary wildly from county to county, and sometimes even at the precinct level. Ideally, prospective officers would have to score very high on respect for human beings and human concerns, with a willingness to enter into dialogue with any individual.

However, none of these measures go far enough. They may quantifiably reduce the sheer amount of death and suffering wrought by police but they don’t fundamentally address the systemwide issue. So long as police are always highly militarized (meaning grossly over-funded), the force will always remain a depot for racists, fascists, and cowards alike to assemble and exert their power. By demilitarizing, defunding, and disarming the police, as well as arming the working-class, we can radically reorder the power-asymmetry that exists between the police and citizenry at the structural level. In the same vein, all use of weapons, whether beating a person, using any kind of gun, pepper spray or tear gas or electronic forms of torture — such as tasers, to enforce obedience of arbitrary police commands should be prohibited. The left must work to methodically arm the working-class, peoples of color, as well as those who are non-binary. It’s becoming increasingly apparent the dangers involved with allowing fascists, be them state-sanctioned, private, or otherwise to hold a monopoly on power and violence. The Black Panthers understood this intersectional power dynamic better than anyone else last century and were systemically destroyed for it. It’s time to build off of their work in the more materially precarious present-day, this time with a more durable cross-racial class-united base. Gun control policies in America are historically highly racialized and fostering cross-racial class-united armed community presences would mitigate sensitivities to any government attempt to repeat what Ronald Reagan and the NRA enacted in California with the Mulford Act.

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Washington State Archives via CIR

One such organization doing vital work on the matter is the Socialist Rifle Association. The following is taken from their website.

The Socialist Rifle Association is an educational organization dedicated to providing the working class with the information they need to be effectively armed for self and community defense. This includes all manner of community defense, from the right of the working class to possess firearms to the ability to be well versed in the fields of medicine, disaster relief, logistics, agriculture, and survival skills. Our goal is to provide an alternate to the mainstream, toxic, right-wing, and non-inclusive gun culture that has dominated the firearms community for decades. We seek to provide a safe, inclusive, and left-leaning platform for talking about gun rights and self defense, free from racist and reactionary prejudices, while providing a platform for the working class to obtain the skills necessary for all aspects of community defense.

If you are any of the following: working class, progressive, anarchist, socialist, communist, eco-warrior, animal liberator, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, PoC, LGBTQ+, or anyone else who is interested in learning about firearms and modern self defense — YOU are invited to join the Socialist Rifle Association today!

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Indeed, it’s hard to find a more prescient warning for why these efforts must be pursued than the President himself quoting racist Miami police chief, Walter Headley, stating that: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — in reference to the Minneapolis unrest. When the highest perch of office in the world is loudly calling for entire crowds of people to be fired upon, you know something is seriously f*&ked up. If the events in Minneapolis were taking place in a nation of the Global South, Western media would report it like this:

In recent years, the international community has sounded the alarm on the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the United States under the regime of Donald Trump. Now, as the country marks 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the former British colony finds itself in a downward spiral of ethnic violence. The fatigue and paralysis of the international community are evident in its silence, America experts say.

In tandem with the disarmament of the police and armament of the working-class, the police apparatus must also be democratized. This can only be achieved by intertwining local police with the communities they serve at the department level. Training procedures and internal rules of the department should all be made public and discussed, with possible modifications proposed and ratified by neighborhood assemblies. All aspects of policing should ultimately be discussed, modified collectively, and ratified by all the communities in the city. Time for an officer to be promoted? Let the community as a whole or a community representative board review their record and decide as a democratic body if they are deserving of it. If the police are public servants, then they must be known fully to the public. All that they do and are should be open to public scrutiny, and available for criticism, judgment, and correction by the community and or its appointed representatives. This also means dismantling the corrosive police union which vehemently shields and obstructs justice from coming to their members even in the face of clear wrongdoing. In the event of misconduct and termination, decertified officers must be thoroughly databased so that they cannot simply move one county over and become a cop again.

By instituting basic transparency and training reforms, democratizing the police apparatus, and disarming/defunding police, we can break the self-reflexive cycle that is hurtling society towards a destructive conflict of contradictions desperately trying to synthesize itself. With luck, the withering of the old order and establishment of the new can occur relatively peacefully. Had something akin to this model existed in Minneapolis, George Floyd might still be alive today. Unfortunately, Floyd wasn’t officer Derek Chauvin’s first victim. His first reported “incident” can be traced back to the mid-2000s. Thanks to inaction on the part of the then Hennepin County Attorney in Minneapolis and now former potential vice presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, Chauvin was allowed to keep prowling the streets in uniform, ultimately taking more lives along the way. Chauvin’s career would have been short-lived under a collective and inclusive community-governance model.

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Instead, the same Minneapolis police force is currently touting the autopsy report of George Floyd, claiming that “potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.” NOT the knee of Chauvin digging into the back of his neck for several minutes after he passed out and ceased gasping for any air.

Under the current system, it’s clear who, or rather what the police “serve and protect” in this nation. The recent viral confrontation with Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper in Central Park is a perfect distillation of who the policing apparatus belongs to in America, chiefly affluent whites. Amy cooper brandishes her own knowledge of this reality by hysterically exclaiming the race of Christian Cooper to the 911 dispatcher before the dispatcher even inquires about it. That demonstrates a level of practicedness that only someone who does that regularly would possess. Make no mistake, the weaponization of white tears that’s presented in that video may not be as graphically violent as the video of George Floyd’s murder, but the act itself was one of extreme violence in much the same way, as Amy Cooper ultimately aimed to sic the police on Christian Cooper in much the same fashion.

Respectability politics is a carefully designed trap

Putting aside for a moment the plainly obvious astroturfing and provocateur-ing elements at play, be it stirring up trouble at protests across the nation, on Twitter, or on mainstream media outlets, the “respectability politics” game is decisively a losing one that should be put down and ignored. This moralistic discourse is designed to distract and disaggregate any movement of resistance by holding the oppressed to a far higher standard than that required of the oppressors. At least conservatives have the gall to look the marginalized in the eye and say the quiet parts out loud when they blow on their dog whistles. In truth, it’s the liberal fetishization of moralizing every goddamn act of resistance that I find especially frustrating. The same liberal media class that greenlit the U.S. backed coup in Bolivia last fall under the guise of “restoring democracy” and unequivocally backed the demonstrations in Hong Kong can now be found finger-wagging once again comfortably from their blue check Twitter accounts. Don’t fall for this liberal media canard. Perhaps the most disturbing cynical realization of this can be seen when these same folks wield the legacy of Dr. King to pass their moral judgments. The first article I ever published on this site dealt with debunking this exact whitewashing. Frankly, if you aren’t a fellow staunch advocate of Dr. King’s anti-imperialist politics and broader socialist tendencies, then your opinions on King’s philosophical beliefs regarding nonviolence are wholly irrelevant.

Don't fall for this liberal media canard

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Raleigh protests on May 30th | Image credits to Instagram user rachelpfenning

We must also deny all ground to the “white instigator” narrative that has been astroturfed heavily by rightwing, all the way up from the President, and by liberal forces alike on social media. This narrative uncritically presupposes that only white ANTIFA outsiders are damaging property amidst the protests. This is problematic firstly because it delegitimizes and erases actual black radicals on the ground who make up a crucial bloc of the resistance movements nationwide. Secondly, because this narrative is being manipulated to strip credibility from the left. Trump tweeted today that the U.S. will designate ANTIFA as a terrorist organization. It’s not clear how he plans to go about doing that since legally, the U.S. government doesn't have the authority to designate domestic entities as terrorist organizations. This same protection is why the KKK and other white supremacist groups aren’t legally labeled as domestic terrorist organizations. Furthermore, ANTIFA is merely an abbreviation of the word antifascist. It doesn’t possess any actual organizational structure — there is no CEO of ANTIFA. It’s moreso a loose multi-tendency amalgamation of leftists broadly speaking. But that's exactly the point. It’s yet another reified abstraction like the “war on terror”, but this time domesticized, that supports the pretenses for taking out dissenters on the left as the government deems fit. Trump and his apparatchiks will no doubt attempt to leverage this moment into a third (or fourth depending on who you ask) Red Scare. Contemplate for a moment what this means. Opposing fascism now makes you a terrorist according to this tweet. This will be weaponized against leftists of all stripes whether they participate in antifascist actions or not. Expect this dangerous pretext to be utilized in charging protestors, black or white, as terrorists.

While we’re at it, let’s properly contextualize and historicize the “looting” that is taking place. The United States has pillaged and plundered virtually every continent on this planet at one point or another. The very land this nation sits on was stolen and genocided from under the Indigenous peoples that inhabited it. The same country was then built off the backs of multi-centurial African slave labor that only ended after engaging in the single bloodiest war mankind had ever seen up until that point. For another century after, legalized apartheid proliferated to such a callous degree that it served as the blueprint for Nazi Germany and later South Africa, and now Israel. Whole generations have had their livelihoods, heritage, and way of life barbarically looted from them in order to feed the American empire but surely, the lamps, vacuums, air conditioners, and cold beverages that were “stolen” from Target last week are the greater and more relevant tragedy to highlight. I use quotes around the word stolen because in a way these communities are at war. And historically, the U.S. has waged resource wars since its inception, often at the behest of multinational corporations. Looting Target is if anything then, a form of wartime expropriation by these communities. At the same time, the hyper-commodification of every last iota of society under capitalism necessarily dictates that destroying property is a legitimate form of protest. In the present tense, was the act of the Federal Reserve printing hundreds of billions of dollars and leveraging that into several trillion (by borrowing from future generations) in order to bail out corporations and float capital markets, while the rest of the country has had pennies thrown at them if they're lucky, not one of the greatest acts of looting this nation has ever seen? I’ll let you figure that one out.

To be clear, riots are bad. In an ideal society, we wouldn’t need them. Similarly, in an ideal post-scarcity communist society there wouldn’t exist a bureaucratic tyrannical structure like a government, and things like money, class, and involuntary work would likewise be nonexistent. But we don’t live in that world so oftentimes we must engage in the necessary in order to drive progress forward. No vector of change — especially if it is revolutionary —has ever accomplished anything major while simultaneously sheltering all people and property. Instead of finger-wagging under the guise of a cherry-picked MLK quote, actually dedicate yourself to ameliorating the inequities which lead to riots. Obselesce the structures of oppression and injustice and you’ll render riots obsolete simultaneously. If Chauvin had been fired long ago for his laundry list of abuse of power complaints, there would be no riots. If everyone were afforded true equality of opportunity, equal treatment under the law, and a strong social safety net, there would be no riots, but you don’t prevent riots with rubber bullets, tanks, and tear gas, and you sure as hell don’t accomplish anything productive by shaming those who resist. No ruling class has ever just “done the right thing”. They change when there is no other option. The riots of the 19th-century labor movement are why we have an 8-hour workday, 40 hour work week, child labor laws, and more. Violent protest is why we have some semblance of free speech as well as equal rights (in the legal sense at least) for different races and increasingly for different sexual orientations. I'm not advocating for destroying the local Guyanese spot but, unless you’re trying to discuss logistical methods for organizers to mitigate the damage done to tiny and struggling businesses that belong to the community (e.g hanging a certain color banner outside the business to let protesters know it’s off-limits), you’re part of the problem. Regardless, the police engage in the most actual violence, meaning the direct harming of people and not mere property, of any group by far. Here’s a long, non-exhaustive, and growing list of documented acts of police violence that have occurred over just the last couple of days of protest. Last night in Minneapolis, the National guard and MPD, who were sweeping residential streets in order to enforce an 8 p.m. curfew fired paint canisters at residents sitting on their own front porch, yelling “light em up” seconds prior to firing. As if we needed any more proof that we live in a police state where the evermore brittle constitution continues to mean less and less.

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Image taken from the Minnesotan government curfew FAQ page

In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.

— Kwame Ture

Minneapolis was not the first and won't remotely be the last. The world we were all born into no longer exists and sitting around waiting for its return will prove to be fruitless. In the short-term, we must take steps to demilitarize and democratize the police. In the long-term, fostering strong communal bonds among an armed working-class is key to ensuring greater community and individual defensive preparedness as we plunge deeper into capitalism’s dying authoritarian breath. Mental, physical, and spiritual training are all crucially important to channel this oort cloud of frustration that permeates our shared consciousness into a more collectivized, peaceful, and equitable future. In the meantime, reject any flaccid attempts made by bad-faith actors to legitimize the distraction that is respectability politics. One of the most important takeaways from this past week is that every single American now knows that police stations can be taken, captured, and burned. Carry that knowledge with you everywhere that you venture from now on. The frightened police will certainly not forget it. Do NOT, under any circumstances, allow the vapid rulers of this decaying empire to funnel your anger in the direction of a culture or race war so that they may avoid the class war.

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Economics student committed to leveraging the power of data science from a left/humanist international perspective; for the good of all and not the few.