Thursday, February 23, 2012

Local History: "Slavery By Another Name" and the Apartheid Police State

The website for the excellent documentary "Slavery By Another Name" created a time-line of Louisiana history related to the reinstatement of slavery in the post-Civil War era as the freedoms gained for blacks immediately after the Civil War were erased.

After WW2, the Civil Rights movement won new freedoms, reaching it's zenith with the black power movements of the late 1960s. But, since the 1970s the creation of a new Jim Crow has been under construction to dismantle those victories, with the drug war as it's main pillar and the criminal justice system as it's main tool for repealing the rights won during the Civil Rights movement.

Here is a short synopsis of local history relating to the creation of the first Jim Crow convict-slavery system, as well as how it continues today:

1865: The Civil War officially ends.

1866: Louisiana began leasing state prisoners to private companies—it first leases out forty-five men for fifty cents a day. (prison labor for private companies still exists, as well as extensive government use of prison labor, which displaces non-convict workers from job options, at least until they are forced to commit crimes and can then get a job in prison: 1, 2, 3)

1873: Colfax Massacre: In response to a contested governor's election between Republicans and Democrats, a black militia formed to protect the Republican politicians inside the Colfax courthouse in Grant Parish. Local white Democrats attacked, focusing their violence on the blacks. Three white men and more than one hundred black men were killed, many after surrendering. Though similar episodes had occurred across Louisiana and the South, the scale and savagery of the massacre brought national attention. (The murder of blacks is now largely carried out by the state in the form of death sentences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

1874: Confederate veterans who had taken part in the Colfax Massacre organized the "White League" in order to better intimidate Republicans and blacks. (There are monuments to the White League and to Confederate generals in New Orleans to this day 1, 2)

1892: Plessy v. Ferguson: In 1892, Homer Plessy and a group of activists in New Orleans sought to challenge the constitutionality of a Louisiana Jim Crow law requiring segregation on railroad cars. Plessy, who was one-eighth black, argued that his right to ride on a white car was protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. (Their descendants have commemorated the event down by Royal and Press Streets 1)

1896: The Supreme Court ruled against Homer Plessy (Plessy v. Ferguson), deciding that the Louisiana law was not in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment, and legitimizing segregation as "separate but equal." (the legal system is also the main instrument for the creation of the New Jim Crow 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

1901: Public outrage over scandalous tales of abuse helped end the practice of state leasing of convicts by the state. (Though if you watch "Slavery By Another Name" you'll see that sharecropping, debt peonage, and other forms of slavery continued. Also, private prisons in which inmates work for corporations (1, 2) for pennies an hour is essentially the same thing, and it continues today.)

Again, everyone should definitely watch Slavery By Another Name. It mentions logging and railroad construction companies as being the major convict-leasing employers in Louisiana. In the next local history post, we'll look at the Louisiana IWW's creation of America's first inter-racial union by organizing loggers. This happened about the same time as the convict-leasing loggers were enslaved, and convict-leasing was often useful for bosses in stopping union activity. That's for next time, though.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NOPD's Orange Sticker Campaign

The NOPD has announced a new idea in their desperate, futile attempt to convince people that they can solve the crime and violence problem that worries so many in our city. Of course, they can't. They are institutionally incapable of doing what needs to be done to end the cycle of violence and poverty in this city that underlies most crime.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fuck the Police : a New Orleans Protest

i. praise

When I try to analogize the New Orleans Police Department, I find myself juggling extreme comparisons-- death squads, terror gangs-- that might strike readers outside New Orleans as hyperbole.  For those of us who live here, for anyone who even reads the newspaper, for anyone who's ever had an encounter with NOPD, no analogy is necessary. We already know. NOPD is as close to primal, unleavened evil as you'll ever see, worse than the most paranoid anti-authoritarian caricature of "bad policing.*" NOPD is simply more violent-- more brutal-- more criminal-- more intransigent-- more ignorant-- more shameless-- more unhinged--  more dangerous.

NOPD, as an extreme and yet inevitable expression of a sick system, is to policing what Anders Breivik is to Christianity.

Just as the "holy" bible is rife with behavior like Breivik's, NOPD's horrifying murders, rapes, thievery, policy-level dishonesty and numberless beatdowns are not actually aberrant, not at all out of line with the fundamental tenants and principles of policing. NOPD is simply less sophisticated, less modern... more pure.

On Monday, we protested police violence. 30-50 people, including multiple sympathetic strangers we picked up en route, marched through the French Quarter carrying placards showing the faces and names of some of those NOPD has murdered, and holding signs denouncing NOPD as an armed gang.

Mass protests of the chanting, sign-waving kind almost always leave me feeling demoralized and depressed. I think "well, so that was it? That's where we're at? Shouting our own righteousness to the wind and waving kooky signs... like people did against the Iraq War, by the millions, with no result..."

But I left Monday's march feeling pumped up, empowered and enthusiastic. When I eventually broke away from the march to go run errands, so did another marcher, a random person who'd been sitting at one of the coffeeshops we marched past. He was just as pumped up as I was. "That was beautiful," he said. "That really was great."

Why did the two of us feel so flushed with possibility, rather than despair? Because Monday's march was militant. It was transgressive, it was shocking. Rather than stopping at generic, nebulous demands for "justice," rather than being limited to denouncing specific violent actions by specific police, the march's tone was a clear, thoroughgoing rejection of policing itself-- of police as an institution. "Cops, Pigs, Murderers," we chanted. "Fuck the Police."

The people we marched past were startled-- some were appalled, some were dumbfounded, some were thrilled, some joined us.

I'm sure there are those who would have liked bolder action, and I know there are those who would have liked a more moderated and nuanced critique (see below), but for me, Monday's march hit the sweet spot. I was happy to be a part of it, and I can't remember the last time I felt that way about a protest.

ii. critique?

In the boundless twilight hellscape of the internet, the misnamed American "left"** fixedly and endlessly excoriates itself, a million mostly white-male chair-bound voices of outraged expertise railing against and piously bemoaning every action and every group... for each falls short of Platonic perfection, each is messily inferior to the shining ideal actions and groups within the internet expert's imagination.

To me, especially to me as a man, groups founded without my explicit approval & actions taken without consulting me are always going to be foolish, wrongheaded, misguided, threatening, dangerous, counterproductive, tools of the state, etc. etc. etc... because their autonomy suggests my own brittle opinions may not be as important as my social conditioning had led me to believe.

Given that context, I'd like to emphasize again how great I thought Monday night's march was.

Talking to a couple pals last night, I learned not everyone found the march's stridency as exhilirating as I did. One of my comrades felt that dehumanizing all police was an oversimplification of a complex situation. While NOPD is hopeless, she argued, surely there are other places where police can or could do some good in certain situations. Surely police as individuals can be reformed.

I denounced her as a liberal and unfriended her on Facebook. No! Just kidding!

Police are humans. They are classically, quintessentially human: violent, bigoted, clannish, petty, paranoid, dishonest, and deluded by moral surity. Police, NOPD particularly, are the best arguments for anarchy imaginable-- they are living proof against themselves, perfect bad examples of what happens when capitalism grants some human beings coercive authority over others.

Nevertheless, the notion of an unpoliced existence, of life without an external paternalistic enforcement authority above one's head, can be challenging even for anarchists. The notion that just a phone call away there's "help," or at least an easy way to make a frightening or bad situation someone else's problem, is seductively reassuring, even if we know intellectually and rationally that, in the case of police, it's a lie.

For those less imperilled by police, for those who benefit from the status quo, e.g. white people who own property, the concept of a police safety net or something directly analogous can be hard not to believe in-- just as, for those raised in a religious context, "god" can be a hard idea to get free of. It's part of the only social order most of us have ever known.

Oftentimes too the people who find it easiest (in abstract) to reject policing entirely are those whose lives have spared them situations in which the police would typically be called -- people shielded by race, patriarchy, class, even just good luck from the worst excesses of the police state and the brutal interpersonal violence produced by poverty.***

Not everyone's on the same page, and not everyone feels comfortable saying "Fuck the police." Speaking for myself, I felt uncomfortable with (short-lived) chants about "the rage inside" and "total freedom"... to me, those are abstractions meaningful to almost no-one. I mention this nit-picky criticism just to make it clear I'm every bit as narrow-minded and unconstructively micro-judgemental as the next anarcha. Gotta maintain my scene cred!!

But, in contrast to weird chants based on abstruse philosophical concepts or adolescent individualism, I feel "Fuck the police" is direct, accessible, and universally understandable. It's unambiguous and provocative. It translates easily into other languages.

To see forty people shouting "Fuck the police" makes the hypothetical apolitical passer-by wonder: why in the world would someone be so angry at the police? This is an important question. People need to hear criticisms of policing that go beyond reform,  beyond the "bad apple" bullshit. People need to hear the truth.

This returns to my own positive experience of the protest. Beyond being tactically sound, "Fuck the police" is also a legitimate and honest expression of feeling. I hate the fucking police, for a thousand reasons. Fuck the pigs-- fuck 'em all. It feels good to say. It feels good to tell the truth.

* Scare quotes, to acknowledge redundancy

** Chris Hedges: get cancer.

*** Of course, the existence of poverty is key to the social order the police enforce; if there were no desperately poor people, what would the ruling class use to scare the general populace into pacifism?

And, as another writer so excellently put it, "The bargain that the ruling class makes with police is that they can act above the law, be sadistic and violent, have relative impunity, make a make a middle class salary, and enjoy 'heroic' status through their portrayal in the corporate media in exchange for enforcing the unjust laws of the ruling class's system upon the poor."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oakland solidarity/APB March

Monday night a group of about 40 marched through the French Quarter to show solidarity with the 400+ arrested in Oakland on January 28, and to protest the continued existence of police in New Orleans. Beginning on the neutral ground with a friendly Food Not Bombs canteen, participants ate and talked about the situation in Oakland as well as local police brutality. Then, with signs showing the faces of Henry Glover, Adolph Grimes III, and Ronald Madison and James Brissette (of the Danziger Bridge massacre) the march took to the streets, serenading the Quarter with anti-police chants.

This should serve as a reminder to NOPD and the Sheriff's Department  that people are becoming more and more fed up with their crookedness. But contrary to the reform that some officers recently proposed for NOPD in an anonymously written letter addressed to "citizens", those oppressed by police will find no relief in a more efficient, better staffed force. Rampant police brutality exists in every city, regardless of how fat officers' salaries are or how many cops are employed. This tells us that corruption is endemic to the field. Everywhere they exist the police are nothing but armed thugs loyally maintaining the ruling elite's status through a monopoly on violence that permits them to decide who receives the benefits of the title "citizen" and who does not--and precisely because of this our freedom will never be theirs to decide.

Here is a personal account from the march: Fuck The Police: a New Orleans Protest

Update: As of this writing, local blog Nola Defender has posted about yet another man being shot and wounded by an unnamed NOPD officer, this time in an abandoned building in Central City. The article says Darrius Williams, 20, pointed a gun at the officer as he came into the squat, leading one to believe the officer was able to fire off a shot right in the nick of time, narrowly avoiding being shot himself. In fact Williams very well could have been the unarmed victim of a trigger happy officer. Assuming the investigation into the incident even turns up a weapon, it very well could be a "ham sandwich"--cop code for a planted gun--and no one would ever know. Considering that it's just the word of a 20-year old squatter against that of an officer of the law, we can be sure that we will only ever hear one side of the story.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Local History: Adolph Archie, Tortured and Killed by NOPD in 1990

Adolph Archie, murdered in an extra-judicial killing by NOPD in 1990.
article courtesy of HRW: On March 22, 1990, Adolph Archie, an African-American man, was accused of killing a white officer, Earl Hauck, during a shootout downtown. On the way from the scene of the shooting to the hospital, the police transporting Archie, who had been injured during the incident, took twelve minutes to travel seven blocks. When they arrived at the hospital, approximately one hundred officers were waiting for them after hearing that Hauck had died. 

During this period, officers were broadcasting death threats against Archie over police radios. Those transporting Archie, including a close friend of Hauck's, stated later that they thought there could be a lynching at the hospital where the officers continued to threaten Archie. The officers transporting Archie decided not to enter the hospital, but instead of following department policy and taking him to another hospital, they drove him to Hauck's police station. 

At the station, officers claimed there was a scuffle with Archie, and that he "slipped and fell." The station's sergeant denied ever seeing the officers or Archie and did not raise questions about the bloodstains that appeared on the floor; instead he simply ordered an inmate trustee to clean them up.(9)

By the time Archie got to a doctor, he had been beaten severely. His skull was fractured and his teeth had been kicked in. Most of the bones in his face were broken. His larynx was fractured. And there was severe hemorrhaging in his testicles, yet no officer was held accountable then or later.(10)