the trouble with “good protesters” and “bad rioters”

What I’m Reading Today, June 17, 2020

Minneapolis Organizers Weigh Role of Community Defense Groups/ Alleen Brown, Mara Hvistendahl

blaming outsiders is a tactic used to delegitimize dissent and justify violent crack-downs

In the days after the 3rd Precinct burned, a series of public officials inflamed the growing anxiety about outsiders. “I want to be very, very clear,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said at a press conference on May 30. “The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents. They are coming in largely from outside of this city, outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades.”

Blaming civil unrest on “outside agitators” is a tactic that has long been used to help state officials delegitimize dissent and justify violent crackdowns. Mayors and law enforcement leaders across the nation repeated the trope over the past two weeks as the protests spread. Carter and Walz were both forced to walk back their statements after reporting on jail records revealed that the majority of those arrested were from the Minneapolis area.

“A lot of these neighborhood patrols are predominantly white — not all of them, obviously — and if those white folks haven’t dealt with their own racism, their own internalized white supremacy, then they can very easily turn into a vigilante justice group,” he said. “I think it’s a kernel that could evolve into an effective form of safety in Minneapolis, and they are keeping people safe right now, but I also think they’re going to require a lot of political education and a lot of dedication on the part of organizers and members of these groups in order to make sure they do more good than harm” (Tony Williams).

Burning Down the 3rd Police Precinct Changed Everything/Vicky Osterweil

The difference, this time, is not simply in the national character of the riots, nor some other quantitative change in their ferocity or visibility. It was, I believe, the destruction of the Minneapolis Third Precinct house on the night of May 28, three days into the riots. Having just completed a book on the history of anti-police rioting and uprisings in America, I cannot recall another time when protesters took over and burnt down a police station. It was an unprecedented and beautiful moment in the annals of rebellion in this country. By seizing the cops’ home base, rioters showed millions of people that they could defeat the police. For many, it finally broke through the veil of omnipotence, timelessness, and domination that kept abolition from seeming possible. Police were returned to the realm of history.

riots are the language of the unheard (Martin Luther King Jr.)

So how did one moment of direct action in Minneapolis serve to counter years of disinformation, miseducation, and media violence? Black Panther Party cofounder Huey P. Newton, in a speech called “The Correct Handling of a Revolution,” analyzed how rioting like what took place in Watts in 1965 was politically powerful because it could not be reinterpreted by the press. In Watts, Newton said, “the economy and property of the oppressor was destroyed to such an extent that no matter how the oppressor tried in his press to whitewash the activities of the Black brothers, the real nature and cause of the activity was communicated to every Black community.” This kind of communication is what we saw in Minneapolis at the end of May. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “riots are the language of the unheard,” but rioters do not address themselves to the state, the bosses, or the politicians. Instead they speak to each other, over the heads of the media and the white establishment, with words of fire and punctuation of broken glass.

In Defense of Looting/Vicky Osterweil

Modern American police forces evolved out of fugitive slave patrols, working to literally keep property from escaping its owners. The history of the police in America is the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights. When, in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, people loot, they aren’t acting non-politically, they aren’t distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor are they fanning the flames of an always-already racist media discourse. Instead, they are getting straight to the heart of the problem of the police, property, and white supremacy.