No More Patience! No More Illusions!

In case we still had any illusions

The grand jury has made its decision: Officer Jason Sery has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the killing of James Jahar Perez. Chief Foxworth called for patience. Religious and "community" leaders called us to let the justice system work things out, limiting ourselves to putting a little pressure on it through nonviolent legal demonstrations. Well, the justice system has worked things out. It has once again upheld the right of cops to kill who they want when they want.

This shouldn't surprise anyone who doesn't have a stake in the current social order. From the perspective of this order, Sery did not do anything wrong. It is his job to do whatever he thinks is necessary to maintain social control on the streets, even if that means killing someone.

Furthermore, from the moment Perez died, all the mechanisms of this social order went to work to hide the essential. A society in which there are rich and poor, rulers and ruled, can only maintain itself through a combination of intimidation and illusion. So it had to immediately begin the processes by which it could guarantee that this situation would not pose a threat to the power of the police to intrude into our lives.

The media

Perhaps one of the greatest illusions that exists in this society is that the media is neutral. It passes itself off this way by claiming to be "objective" and present "both sides of every problem".

But it was not hard for anyone who looked to see who the media served and what they were trying to do in this situation. For days after the shooting we saw pictures of a thoughtful and concerned Foxworth beside stories in which quotes from witnesses or people who'd been harassed by Sery would be "balanced" by accounts of Perez's criminal record or his alleged possession of cocaine. The message was clear enough: the police will take care of the matter. It will all go through the proper channels where we will "get some answers". After all the chief is an African-American, so how could the system be racist? Besides Perez wasn't a shining angel of light. The media, as part of the power structure, worked to hide the central fact behind a camouflage of trivia, but the essence of this event is that another cop shot another unarmed black person in cold blood.

The "leaders"

This process of hiding the essential has also involved the various "community" and religious leaders and "sympathetic" politicians who are making political bank off the situation. They organize demonstrations where they give passionate speeches in which they stand with Foxworth in calling for patience and faith in the system.

This is not at all surprising since most of them have places, however petty, within the power structure: state senators, leaders of civil rights organizations, church leaders. All have a stake in maintaining the present order of things, and so are quick to come in as leaders of the protest, in order to direct our anger into the "proper channels".

Unfortunately, the "proper channels" only serve one purpose. They dissipate our energy and anger in an endless bureaucratic maze, leaving us in the same position as before, still dependent on others to act for us, others who couldn't care less about us or our needs.

But the social order is one. The police system, the justice system, the legislative system, the social welfare systems are one system with one central purpose: to uphold the current order of things. In other words, their purpose is social control, and their function is policing.

When the "community" leaders channel our anger into protests calling the system to police itself, they too are acting as cops, controlling our anger in order to maintain the present social order.

Getting rid of illusions

The channeling of our anger requires our acceptance of certain illusions about how to deal with the problem of police harassment, brutality and murder. To begin to deal with this on our own terms would require ridding ourselves of these illusions.

First of all, there is the illusion of "justice". In every society, justice is defined by those who rule that society in terms of their own needs. Their most basic need is to maintain their power, so every system of justice is, first of all, a system for upholding the existing power structure. Regardless of any alleged "equality before the law", the justice system will always do what is necessary to maintain social control. We cannot trust it to act for us.

Police "accountability" is another illusion. It implies that we share the same values as the cops. But their role is that of maintaining the current social order, so their highest value is social control by any means necessary. I am a poor person within this society. The survival of people like me depends on shitty jobs and welfare bureaucracies often supplemented by scamming and petty "crimes", because these are the only options open to us. So on a practical level, my values and interests cannot be the same as those of the cops, and there can be no "accountability", only underlying hostility.

Then there is the illusion of "community control" of the police. This illusion assumes that we have community with each other. But this is itself largely an illusion. No doubt, an abstract "community" is imposed on us, with its community leaders and community values that have little to do with our real needs, desires or life experiences. But a concrete community that is our own would have to begin with real face-to-face discussion among ourselves about our needs and desires, and the development of our own activity to meet those needs together. And if we did begin to develop community in this sense, would we put up with the cops at all? Would we let our anger get channeled into the endless bureaucratic maze through which this system transforms it into weary resignation? Wouldn't we rather take inspiration from those like the people of Kabylia, Algeria, who acted together to quarantine the national police to their barracks and then drive them from the region? Though we couldn't imitate this precisely, together we could find ways to make it clear to the cops that we don't want or need them and will not tolerate harassment, intimidation or murder.

Cops and gang-bangers

In my neighborhood recently there have been some other killings. These tragic murders were apparently gang-related. This is another aspect of the reality we face every day in poor neighborhoods. And the police use this reality as an excuse for their continuing harassment and intimidation, especially (but not only) of young black men.

Like cops, gangs harass and intimidate - and kill. Like cops, they have a certain sort of power over those around them based on the implied threat of violence. But there the similarity ends.

Cops are sanctioned by law to wander about our neighborhoods armed with guns, clubs and chemical weapons (like pepper spray). They have an entire system of courts and prisons to back them up. They are not simply individuals coming together to try to get a piece of the pie by the only means they know how. They are part of the power structure and have all of its force behind them.

Gangs, on the other hand, simply have their weapons and their wits. Their willingness to impose their violence over others makes them no more desirable than the cops in our lives, but we can't let the fear of gangs blind us to the fact that the cops themselves operate as a legally sanctioned gang.

When we talk with each other about our lives and begin to act together on our own terms, it becomes much more difficult for any gang, legal or otherwise, to impose their petty power over our lives.

What is policing?

Perhaps the greatest illusion we can have about this is that the murder of James Jahar Perez was something unusual. Jason Sery is a cop. His job is policing. And policing is always based on intimidation and the threat of violence. To clarify this let's look at the real role of the police.

First of all, police are not there to protect us or to prevent crime. They are there to protect the ruling order, to maintain the status quo. In other words they are the human guard dogs of this who rule us. This is why they go through poor and working class neighborhoods with an air of hostility. We are potentially the biggest threat to the ruling order, because the most we get from it is a few coins to buy a few trinkets.

So policing is a type of social management, in this case, on the streets. In our neighborhoods, cops aim to prevent our angers and frustrations from bringing us together, to make sure that we direct them at each other and not at the social order that creates them. Gang-banging and domestic violence show how well this process is working. And the police use both to increase our fear of each other and our belief in the need for the cops. Yet their presence prevents nothing and just adds to the fear, frustration and violence.

More significantly, police are an armed force of the ruling order. In wealthy neighborhoods, their purpose is mainly defensive, so they are only occasionally seen. In our neighborhoods, they play the role of an occupation force, parading their presence in full arms to make sure we know their power. Because they operate within their own state they do not have to operate under international law for military operations. This is why they can carry pepper spray, recognized by international law as a chemical weapon.

Looking at what policing really is, we can see that killing, when cops think it is necessary, is part of the job. Throughout the world cops kill unarmed people everyday - and not just a few. Armies in "police actions" add to this toll. In our neighborhoods, the presence of the police is always a threat of violence, not because of individual bad cops, but because that's their job - to keep us in line.

Social war

The rulers of this world know full well that we are potentially their enemy. Their power depends upon their ongoing theft of our lives, our time, our minds and our feelings. This is why they hire a band of armed mercenaries to occupy our neighborhoods, monitor our activities and manage our frustration and anger. If we were to move beyond our fear and resignation and to stop directing our anger and hatred at each other, the "social peace" enforced with arms might be broken, and their arrogant comfort destroyed.

This is why when our anger does become focused, the "community leaders" must come in. They too are social managers, grasping their bit of the political pie as "representatives" of the oppressed. They direct our anger into the "proper channels" where ceaseless activity takes us nowhere and our anger is drained away leaving us once again frustrated and resigned and at each others' throats.

So the time has come to take our own anger in hand and to recognize who our enemies are: our rulers and exploiters, their paid human guard dogs and the "community leaders" who tell us to "keep it peaceful". In truth, there is no peace, just an occupation and our submission to it. If we start to talk with each other about our lives, our problems and our own little daily revolts, perhaps we can find ways to bring these revolts together, do away with the rulers and their servants and take back our lives to create as we see fit.

But this means destroying our illusions and refusing to be patient.

One individual who has no more patience, April 24, 2004