Community Control over Police

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This moment in which we find ourselves- urban rebellions in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee and elsewhere moving people into action- has been building for years in response to the criminalization of low-income Black communities. While social movements develop over long periods of time, this one turned on August 9th, 2014 as the Black community of Ferguson, MO rose up in brave and brutal, heroic and wanton, long simmering and entirely spontaneous urban rebellion that shook the city, county, state and entire US government.

The Ferguson rebellion marked a qualitative shift as the system was dealt a consequence for taking a Black life. As unplanned expressions of outrage, however, urban rebellions burn hot with a limited life span. The lack of political direction, coordination and organization inherent in spontaneous action produces unpredictable results because those rebelling are unable to dictate the terms of peace.

For better or worse, the social justice movement descended on Ferguson and helped define a list of social ills endured by Black people in the US. As a result, the general outrage against Mike Brown’s murder that found expression in urban rebellion, funneled into the articulation of clearly defined injustices opposed by the social justice movement: police terrorism; the criminalization of Black communities; the school to prison pipeline; targeting the LGBTQ folx; the unwillingness to prosecute killer cops; and so on.

Organizations and individuals mobilized against the prescribed social ills in protests, rallies, direct action and community forums. By developing a narrative, as opposed to merely expressing outrage, the social justice movement transitioned the persistent outrage from the urban rebellion phase into mass mobilization. While a primary characteristic of urban rebellion is raw outrage, a primary characteristic of mass mobilization is a clear definition of what protesters oppose, usually in the form of specific policies, laws or practices.

The mass mobilization against police violence, and related issues, spread like wildfire across the country, as powerful and poignant protests, in city after city, saw everyday people put their bodies, and their freedom, on the line to bring attention to the terror leveled against Black communities in the US and, ultimately, across the globe.

While opposition to the shooting or strangling of unarmed Black men has been articulated, the collective outrage and mobilization is unevenly piqued. For example, ‘state violence’ has been defined through a patriarchal lense that centers the violence of shooting, tasing and fighting over the violence used to to carry out sexual assaults against Black women and queer folk. This selective outrage exposes the limits of mass mobilization based on a list of social ills.

In the end, history will not judge this movement by the list of social ills it opposes, but for it’s ability to identify and articulate a vision of the new world we insist is possible. If this moment has already undergone one evolution- from expressing raw outrage (urban rebellion) to defining what we oppose (mass mobilization)- in order to successfully shift power, it is time for a second evolution: evolving from defining what we are fighting against to envisioning and articulating what we are fighting for.

To oppose a law, policy or practice, protesters must pressure those in power to change their behavior and, therefore, we mobilize. However, building a new world, with power centered in the hands of Black communities, requires us to share the same vision, adopt a plan for realizing that vision and forge a resolve to execute that plan. The pursuit of common visions or objectives- what we are fighting for- requires organization.

For those pursuing reforms to a system that is fundamentally good, this “Movement Moment” is approaching its apex and is poised to leverage concessions from the powers-that-be. The indictment of six Baltimore cops for the murder of Freddie Gray never would have happened without the mass mobilization, even as the dropped charges reveal another layer of power to contend with.  

For those who consider the system fundamentally flawed, beyond the capacity for redemption by reform, and are poised to shift “all power to the people,” this Movement requires an additional evolution: transitioning from defining the list of things we oppose to articulating the vision for the future we support. This is an evolution from mass mobilization to organization.

While this process has already begun, with organizations publishing policy papers and vision pieces, the evolution to organization can only complete with a solid analysis of the underlying economic and social power dynamics at play, the fundamental issues at stake, a common set of objectives and principles and strategies and tactics that can achieve those objectives. The failure to evolve from mobilization to organization dooms us to lose this historic opportunity and condemns the victims of police terror to endure further abuse.

To the brave valiant young people leading the charge, do not settle for reforming the police when your mission is clear: shift power to the hands of African people. Win Community Control over Police.

 

 

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