Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Police Violence Continues Unabated

Today a former friend, now resident in San Francisco, linked on Facebook to a Chronicle article headed "Bricks, pipes, thrown from occupied SF building." He commented: "Arrest every single person found in this building. Every. Single. One." One of his friends chimed in: "Yes...all of them. ALL OF THEM! That we're [sic] in the building illegally.. Repeat..illegally."

Of course, the rule of law is very important in Our America, which is why all lawbreakers are prosecuted, even if they are rich and powerful and white.  But I remain skeptical of the article, which was clearly written in haste and needed copy-editing.  First, I'd like to know how the reporter's single reference to one brick thrown by a squatter, who was arrested, became the plural "bricks" in the headline and elsewhere in the article. Second, I recall how many articles about Occupy have reported violence by protesters that within a day or two turned out to have been initiated by the police or agents provocateurs or just right-wing journalists out on a lark.

This time around, there's hardly any pretense in the corporate media.  An AP dispatch in my local newspaper today was headed "Stinging gas, swinging batons send May Day protesters fleeing."  Though the story reported some incidents of "mayhem" (i.e., some "small downtown windows" smashed) by "black-clad" anarchists, mostly it was matter-of-fact that the violence was one-sided and initiated by the police.  For example:
In Oakland, the scene of several violent clashes between activists and police in recent months, the situation threatened to boil over again when police fired tear gas, sending hundreds of demonstrators scrambling.

Officers also fired "flash-bang" grenades to disperse protesters converging on police as they tried to make arrests, police said.  Four people were taken into custody.
Maybe you don't think that firing tear gas is violence; what would you think if the protesters fired tear gas at the police?  Notice also those grenades fired "to disperse protesters converging on police as they tried to make arrests" -- that's to prevent eyewitnesses from getting close enough to document police abuse of people they've arrested.

Yesterday on Democracy Now! Amy Goodman talked to Marina Sitrin of CUNY and Amin Husain of Tidal magazine, both Occupy activists, and to the journalist Chris Hedges.  (I really need to reread Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and write a detailed critique of it, but its problems are summed up well by John Horgan, who wrote in his The End of War [McSweeney, 2012] that Hedges "eloquently describes war as a deadly addiction but seems to project his own fascination with armed conflict onto the rest of us.")  Hedges argued incoherently that he's not a pacifist, but "most revolutions, including the Russian Revolution, are nonviolent enterprises," and though he claimed not to be a member of Occupy, he spoke of it several times as "we."

I share Hedges's suspicion of violent tactics, as I've written here before, and still think that people who advocate violence should be presumed to be agents provocateurs until proven otherwise.  But it's absurd to claim that most revolutions are nonviolent, or even that the controlled use of violence will necessarily alienate "the mainstream."  Even very extensive property damage by college students celebrating a team victory or supporting a corrupt but venerable coach doesn't seem to bother many Americans, not even the police.  Union violence against cops and scabs didn't seem to alienate most American workers at the height of the labor movement, and state violence against dissenters doesn't seem to discredit the State either.  Student demonstrators in Asia, Latin America, and Europe have fought back against the police as a matter of routine, and Egyptian protesters in Cairo last year used more violence than the Occupy protesters have so far.  It's certainly legitimate for Hedges to criticize the movement, but he shouldn't lie in the process; it'll discredit him.

The other guests answered Hedges forthrightly, pointing out the legitimate use of masks and violence by protesters around the world.  To his credit, Hedges didn't get indignant or throw a tantrum when Maria Sitrin said:
It’s actually not useful at all, from the outside, to tell the movements what to do, especially with people who have access to publish in certain places. And there’s quite a few. Whether well-meaning—people, Zizek, telling us we must be serious revolutionaries and anti-capitalists and do this, that and the other. And, you know, with all respect, either engage in the discussion, because it is open—all of it is open, and we need to have these conversations, and we’d love to have more intellectuals who relate to the movements relating to us directly and having the discussions, not telling us what to do. That part is not useful. But we’re organizing despite all of it, and the movement is flourishing.
I still think that Hedges would do better to denounce aggressive, repressive, routine state violence rather than the small-scale violence of social movements.  There are good reasons against those movements using violence, not least that the State outguns them immeasurably and is far more heedless of human life and safety.  (Now that I've finished rereading it I can say that this idea is important in Marge Piercy's Dance the Eagle to Sleep.  It's not a recent concern.)  Anyone who attacks the Occupy Movement for allowing a few Black Bloc-ers to smash windows or "disrupt traffic" -- another high crime of yesterday's protests -- without condemning the much greater violence of the US government, the states and cities, is simply disingenuous.  By all means, try to win over the police and the army, but they are also human agents, responsible for their own choices, and "just following orders" is not an excuse.  Maybe it's been too long since World War II and the Nuremberg Trials, but "I was just following orders" used to be as much of a giveaway as "Some of my best friends are ...".  Now it turns up every time a US military or police atrocity gets attention.  That's got to be challenged.

At the same time, I'd like to know what the Black Blocs think they are achieving by smashing the windows of small businesses.  They have the same obligation to defend and justify their tactics as the rest of the movement does.  To me they just seem to be imitating college basketball fans, but I could well be wrong.

P.S.  FAIR's first report on May Day reporting.