The following statement was read Thursday evening during Discussion Time. It was written in response to certain attitudes that have been expressed by individuals at OCCUPYSTL. It’s hard to say how prevalent those attitudes are, but even one person inviting a cop to join us is kind of disheartening and potentially a big deal. The statement wasn’t intended as a speech, but rather simpy the best way to articulate one’s thoughts. It was greeted with cheers and applause (signifying something between approval of the statement and appreciation for the starting of such an important conversation).
“I want to address a double standard concerning police and violence.
I personally think our standard for action and dialogue shouldn’t be one of violence versus non-violence, but rather one of what works and what doesn’t. If the two overlap so be it, but often times the divide between violence and non-violence derails this process.* And for the record I’d like to say that I’m not a violent person, but neither am I a pacifist. But this isn’t the main thing I want to address – the main thing I want to address is the police and their violence.
I’ve noticed repeated statements that this is a non-violent movement, a non-violent occupation, etc., but some of the same individuals calling for this have defended police, invited them to join us, and consider them part of our ranks.
There are a few things we should keep in mind regarding the police. Historically, police organizations tend to come from one of two types of groups: in the South they were derived from vigilante gangs used to keep slaves in line and in the north from hired muscle used to break strikes. It’s no coincidence that they are the ones coming here every night harassing us and clearing the plaza.
I wonder if we could think of an organization in St. Louis with a longer history of harassing, intimidating, bullying, attacking and outright killing people than the St. Louis Police Department? I don’t think we could. Ironically, people often look to police to stop organized groups in their neighborhood that perpetuate violence when the police have shown time and time again that they have a monopoly on violence.
Why the double standard?
I wonder what would have happened if thirty or a hundred of my friends and I had come here last night with clubs and guns and handcuffs and told everyone to leave – surely, you wouldn’t have sympathized with us. I imagine you would have been outraged by us and our violence.
Some have said, “They’re just doing their jobs.” Yes, and their jobs require them to do fucked up things. It’s worth noting that certain jobs simply shouldn’t exist, and that some of the most atrocious acts in history have been committed by people simply “doing their jobs.”
I want all of you to know I would never come to a group of people seeking dialogue about and solutions to how fucked up the world is and tell you to stop. I would never put any of you in a cage – no matter how much they paid me. I hope that’s a fundamental difference between all of us and the police.
They may be a part of the 99% or even the working class, but are they a part of this movement? Yes. Okay, they are a part of it and they’ve once again made their role in it clear: they’re here to end our movement.”
*[added later] It moves it away from a conversation that assess what the group is capable of in terms of capacity, viable tactics, strategy etc., and turns it into a moral or ethical stance, neither side of which in and of itself is a strategy. For example, when a hundred cops show up, being non-violent or being violent isn’t a tactic or a proposal for a response. But saying, “There are a hundred of them and twenty of us, maybe it’s best if we calmly leave since we can’t win an escalation right now,” is a tactical conversation. The other side of which can sound like “now there are five hundred of us and a hundred of them, what can we get a way with? How can we stand our ground right now?”
This statement lead to a pretty fruitful hour and a half conversation. Among other things, the questions of whether or not the role of the police is fundamentally repressive and violent, and is there a point in having a non-violence stance or should we have a more tactically based policy concerning eviction were discussed. Here are additional points that were made or we wish had been made in the moment.
Saying we don’t like police isn’t a statement about them as people – about whether or not they’re nice to their children, or enjoy gardening or puppies or whether or not they secretly side with us or anything else – it’s a statement about the role they’ve chosen to have in society and at the plaza every night: one of enforcing the status quo with violence. One that doesn’t allow for their personal thoughts on the matter to influence whether or not they follow orders handed down to them. People point to the police’s comments of “I really wish I didn’t have to be doing this,” as an indication that they side with us. The fact of the matter is if they really did side with us they’d refuse their orders. Otherwise they’re simply using their basic training to de-escalate the situation by telling us what we want to hear while they take concrete steps to end us. For example, the sheriff who comes to your house and says he really wishes he didn’t have to evict you as he kicks you out, isn’t siding with you. He’s blowing hot air at you as he fucks you over. In certain cities sheriffs have put moratoriums on evictions, and even though the sheriff’s department will have to do a lot more than that (probably nothing shorter than ceasing to exist) before they are forgiven, steps like that point towards what actual sympathetic actions might look like.
The ridiculousness of this politicking, hot-air support was made farsical by the mayor writing a letter of “support” that essentially said, “I wish I could do more, but I can’t. Follow the law or suffer the consequences.” Followed by a letter of “sympathy” from the the police chief that said the same thing. The police department and the city government aren’t an autonomous collection of individuals that have to make decisions as a group. They’re like most of society and have a clear hierarchy, that has a clear chain of command. And guess what? The mayor and the police chief are at the top of it. They’re saying they wish there was more they could do and hoping that no one points out they’re the one’s that actually make the call. Where do we think the command to evict us is coming from? Certainly not the rookie cop putting plastic cuffs on people.
Also, there was a lot of talk about “when the police get violent” which I assume is trying to describe over the top physical violence, but it’s important to keep in mind that showing up with the threat of violence is a violent act itself. It’s not a question of when they get violent or when they start repressing the occupation, because both those things are happening everynight.