No Longer Defensive

(Photo by Heather Mount, @heathermount)

By S. (June 2, 2020)

A number of thoughtful friends have reached out to ask me how I’m doing in the wake of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Christian Cooper and the riots that followed.

Short answer: I’m optimistic.

Longer answer: 20 years ago Amadou Diallo was murdered by the police and the conversations I had with many of my friends were very discouraging. Lots of blaming the victim. The discussions turned toward the circumstances. Oscar Grant was shot with the barrel of a gun pressed against his head 10 years ago. Many of my white friends just didn’t want to talk about it.

Six years ago was Michael Brown’s murder. He was no angel according to many people who didn’t know him.

When recounting the story of a family member’s brush with police, a close white friend wanted to know why he wasn’t faster in obeying the cop. This Becky blamed my family member for his brutal treatment, false arrest, and subsequent criminal record. Today, her posts are all fire. She gets it. In the past many of my white friends, possibly you too, dear reader, would go junior CSI on me and try to prove that every dead black person had it coming.

The majority of white people I know are waking up to the reality of being black and brown in America. They are no longer questioning the narratives of police brutality. Rather they are questioning the police.

I can finally talk to you all and not be on the defensive. I’m no longer having to bury my emotions so that we can have a rational conversations about the facts and circumstances. I’m no longer having to play defense attorney trying to prove the overwhelming and unbelievable story that a white cop might kill a black person without cause.

“I Hope You Get Out”: Low Key Police Abolition

By James Rotten (October 12, 2018)

I met S. at the Alamo Drafthouse to have lunch and see Monsters & Men, which centers around a murder by cop. When it ended, she left and I stayed to pay our bill. There was just one other person in the theater, sitting next to me, with one empty seat between us.

I’ve been trying to get better at low-key agitating in my daily life, so I asked him what he thought of the film. We started to get into it, then he said, “It’s complicated for me because I’m a law enforcement officer.” “Holy shit, you gotta be kidding me.” I considered making a swift exit, but figured it could get interesting and it did.

He said he was a Nevada Highway Patrol cop, just visiting Denver. He works four ten-hour shifts and often travels on his three-day weekends. He was Puerto Rican, about 30, ex-military intelligence.

He was very candid about his experience as a cop. He claimed to be one of the good ones, of course: “Most guys look for an excuse to get violent, but I’ve never had to in my three years.”

The blue wall of silence was addressed in the film and he said it was very real. “You can’t say nothing, they’ll Serpico your ass,” referring to the cop who exposed police corruption and was threatened and harassed by his fellow cops. “They might kill you. But I’m not afraid to die. I ain’t got a family or nothin.” Was he saying he was gonna flip? Sure seemed like it, but he remained vague.

He expressed fear of his fellow cops. “I’ve got no problem with criminals, I come from a family of criminals. If anything ever happens to me, it’ll be from another law enforcement officer.”

He said Nevada is almost majority-Latino and admitted to his own prejudice against Latinos. “I feel like they’re all Sureños” (Mexican gangsters). “But if half the state is Latino, a tiny percentage are in a gang.” “Naw, you’re right. They (cop bosses) just push that narrative so hard. They teach us that we can be ambushed at any moment. I know it’s not true, but they try to tell us that it happens all the time.”

I told him I was an activist and a socialist, that I had been assaulted by cops multiple times, framed once, and that I fucking hated cops. He didn’t flinch—he nodded his head in fact, like “I get it.” I told him about how cops killed a comrade of mine, as well as my friend’s cousin, and how I’ve become friends with several other people who have lost loved ones to cops. He apologized.

I know it’s a fool’s errand to try to convince cops of anything and I have no hope that anything will come of this, but dude really did seem to be teetering on the edge. I asked him if he was trying to get out. He said he’s thought about trying to become a lawyer, but it’s hard to leave a career path and a job that pays well already. He also applied to Las Vegas PD, which he says pays the best in the country compared to the low cost of living there. “My rent is $300 a month! That’s why I can travel.” Apparently he lied on his application, claiming he read fewer books each year than he actually does.

He talked about getting hassled by cops and TSA for being Latino. He talked about the racist shit constantly spouted by his fellow officers. This led into me talking about the difference and interaction between individual racism among cops and the racist, structural role of police in society. I went deep for a minute, giving an overview of the Marxist view of police as enforcers of class rule. He nodded knowingly about cops’ origins as slave-catchers and strike-breakers.

I told him he was fooling himself if he thought he was a “good cop”. “Good cops provide political cover for bad cops. And lie or look the other way for them.” “You’re not going to make a bit of difference. You should quit.” And dude was taking it all in, it was a trip!

He mentioned getting shunned for his positive views of bodycams, which I awarded zero points for—“yeah, but they’re pointed at us, not y’all. And you can turn them off whenever you want, delete the footage, mute them, bury them in court.” He said he was one of the few men cops that was pro-women cops because they are better at deescalating.

We left the theater after sitting there for maybe half an hour. As we parted ways, he shook my hand, which I was uncomfortable with tbh. I told him, “I hope you get out.” Fuck every cop!

The Black Working Class of Ferguson Opened Up Human Rights For All of Us

By Chris Crass (August 10, 2017)

Three years ago the Black working class communities of Ferguson, St, Louis, and the surrounding area, moved the political landscape of the country towards Black liberation, racial justice and collective liberation. Black working class communities, with young people, women, and parents in the lead, refused submission in the face of yet another racist police murder, in the face of a Ferguson city government and police force that made racist punishment and extortion through ticketing, bail, warrarents and imprisonment of Black people their business model.

The Black working class communities of Ferguson and St. Louis opened up the political space for the movement of Black Lives Matter to challenge white supremacy culturally, politically and institutionally, and their courage, tenacity, and resistance – against machine gun wielding police, tanks, snipers, mass media calling them thugs, criminals, and animals – their affirmation in words and action of Black humanity in defiance of the nightmare of white supremacy, awakened, radicalized, and energized people hungry for justice and liberation, all over the world.

Black working class people, who took enormous risks, who brought leadership in hundreds of different ways, who asserted the values and visions of Black liberation for a whole new generation, made history and we have been living in the times of a renaissance of leadership, organization, and vision for Black liberation every since.

Yes, we are also living in the times of white racist reaction, but we must never forget that Trump and the GOP are in fact in reaction to the life affirming, dignity for all of humanity asserting, movement for multiracial democracy, for Black liberation, for racial, economic and gender justice, for Black Lives Matter.

The people of Ferguson and St. Louis who took to the streets day after day, night after night, facing the violence and vitriol of this white supremacist society, fundamentally expanded human rights, democracy, economic, racial and gender justice, for all of us.

For Michael Brown and his family and community, for the people of Ferguson and St. Louis, for the Black leaders in cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas all over the country who created and continue to build the Black Lives Matter movement, let us all continue to build.

For those of us racialized, raised to be white in a white supremacist society, let us remember that this day three years ago was a moment in which we all had to ask “what side of history am I on” and how will I bring as many other white people onto the side of justice, multiracial democracy, and Black Lives Matter, as possible. Let us fight to free as many white people as possible from being soldiers of white supremacy, from having their/our humanity devoured in the service of a ruling class agenda to divide and rule us. Let us fight to unite as many white people as we can to the multiracial movements for collective liberation all around us, end white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, and all get free.crass1

It’s Not Just Bad Cops, It’s the System


By Joseph Orosco (July 7, 2016)

The criminal justice system that is. In the aftermath of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, there are calls for widespread police reform, ranging from mandatory body cameras, better training to the establishment of civilian oversight committees and the election of pro-reform officials.

It’s not clear that these reforms that focus on police force reform will do much good to stem the tide of the killing of people of color. Part of the reason is that police operate within a criminal justice system that has given them wide lattitude to use deadly force. This is why, even when cops are indicted for the use of excessive force, they usually go free. In fact, the US Justice Department study in 2002 found that about only 8% of complaints of police brutality are ever upheld.

Since 1989, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has held, in the case of Graham v Connor, that the use of deadly force by police officers has to be judged by whether it was “objectively reasonable” in that particular circumstance. The Graham test for whether force is reasonable, according to SCOTUS, has to be based on the police officer’s perception at the time. In other words, an officer may use deadly force if they reasonably believed at the moment of use that they or others were in imminent danger, regardless of whether such danger in fact existed. Indeed, the court said it doesn’t matter if its determined with “20/20 hindsight” that no one was really in harm’s way—all that matters is what the police officer reasonably perceived to be the case.

This leeway is the reason why officer Darren Wilson was not brought up on charges for the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The law in Missouri, Section 563.046 “Law Enforcement Officer’s Use of Force in Making an Arrest” creates a shield against prosecution based on this standard. It holds that the use of deadly force is justified if the officer: “reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested (a) has committed or attempted to commit a felony; or (b) is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon; or (c) may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.”

It is into the space of this legal leeway that all sorts of problematic racial prejudices can enter. Was Darren Wilson’s perception of the threat posed by Michael Brown “reasonable”? In his testimony to the grand jury, Wilson said that he felt severely overpowered and in terror of Mike Brown: “When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five year old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” After he shot Brown the first time, Wilson said that Brown “looked up at me had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.” Wilson continued to shoot and remembers: “At this point, it looked like he was bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him…And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

What is most striking about Wilson’s testimony is that his characterization of Brown as a threatening superhman animal with extraordinary strength and resilliance is not a peculiar quirk of his. Researchers at Northwestern University have found that many white American have an implicit racial bias against African Americans which the researchers call “superhumanization bias”. Whites are more likely to associate African Americans with mythical creatures and they are more likely to assume that African Americans do not experience as much pain as white people. In other words, the story of Blacks as beings endowed with magical abilities and supernatural powers is a common, unconscious framework operating in the minds of many white Americans. This framework conditions how white Americans understand the forces at work in the world, what is true in it, and what to expect from their interaction with African Americans. It’s not surprising then that Wilson might “reasonably” believe at the very moment of his encounter with Mike Brown that he was confronting something that he was not equipped to deal with except through the use of deadly force. And the law protects him in doing so.

And while it is difficult to criminally prosecute police officers for the use of unreasonable deadly force, it is also almost impossible to gain a civil remedy. In the case of Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014), SCOTUS ruled that police officers cannot be sued for excessive force or killing someone if they did so under the reasonable belief that force was necessary.

So when people defend police officers by saying that we cannot judge whether or not the use of force was justified because “we weren’t there” and don’t know what split second decision the cops might have had, they are actually voicing the current legal standards for judging police brutality. But hopefully we can see that those standards allow for some very heinuous racial biases to enter into the definition of a reasonable assessment of reality.

It’s clear that the problem of extrajudicial execution of people of color won’t be tackled merely by reforming police training or even strong community oversight boards (though these might help a little). It must involve significant legal overhaul and cultural intervention into the foundations of white supremacist worldviews, as well. Maybe it will also get us to consider whether or not we need police forces to keep us safe at all.

Racism of the Left is More Dangerous


By Chris Crass (March 2, 2016)

In the post-Super Tuesday analysis, my comrade Rev. Osagyefo Sekou wrote on his Facebook wall: “White folks who are Sanders’ supporters are far more dangerous than Trump supporters when it comes to race because they think they have all the answers on the question which is politically dishonest. Trump supporters are just racist which has a certain integrity.” Continue reading “Racism of the Left is More Dangerous”

By Diversity We mean


By Chris Crass (November 3, 2015)

If by diversity we mean striving to get individual people of color into a handful of highly visible positions that serve to mask and obscure the systematic devaluing, degrading, and brutalizing of communities of color, then no, that is not the diversity we are striving for. Continue reading “By Diversity We mean”

Black Lives Matter: A Two Hundred Year Old Spirit


By Alex Riccio (September 15, 2015)


9 August 2014; eighteen-year-old Mike Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson and left face down on a public street for four and a half hours before being processed into a local morgue. (1, 2) The murder of Mike Brown proved a catalyst for the revival of a black-led liberation movement with roots in preceding Abolitionists, Civil Rights, and Black Power! movements. Continue reading “Black Lives Matter: A Two Hundred Year Old Spirit”

At Least I’m Not in East Texas


By Teka Lark (July 16, 2015)

July 14, 2015 Sandra Bland was found hanging in a cell in Waller County Jail in East Texas after being arrested after a traffic stop on her way to start a new job. On July 16, 2015 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Blue Line Train celebrated its 25th anniversary of service. My great-great aunt was burned alive in her home in East Texas after she and her sister shot two white men who had raped her. Her sister, my great-great grandmother, disguised as a white woman escaped to Los Angeles with her new husband posing as her driver. They settled in a part of Los Angeles now known as South L.A.
Continue reading “At Least I’m Not in East Texas”

We Must Name the Reality of the Black Holocaust

For all who, understandably, feel fear after a terrorist attack happens, from 9.11. to the Boston bombing.

By Chris Crass  (July 15, 2015)

Imagine now that these kinds of terror attacks happen regularly, persistently, for hundreds of years in your community, and the people in official power in the city and country you live in, are either directly involved, or support policies and a pathologically violent and racist culture that justifies it. Continue reading “We Must Name the Reality of the Black Holocaust”

Notes for a White Anti-Racist Struggling with White Friends about #Baltimore


By Chris Crass

Notes for a white anti-racist struggling with white friends about ‪#‎Baltimore‬(in this case a friend who has loved ones who are police) : I love you comrade, and I’m so grateful for the ways you throw down. Continue reading “Notes for a White Anti-Racist Struggling with White Friends about #Baltimore”