Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How to stop police murder

Police were just legally cleared of criminal conduct by a grand jury, of murdering yet another unarmed African American, Eric Garner, a New York city man who was choked to death by an illegal chokehold. Cops were encountering no physical resistance from this poor man, choked out on the sidewalk while he was being filmed saying plaintively, "I can't breathe." This was clearly murder to any objective person viewing the horrific nightmarish scene of 17 July 2014. Garner was unarmed and unresisting; his murderers are unindicted.
Unarmed, unresisting, pleading for a simple breath--Eric Garner murdered by NewYork city cop
The various groups demanding justice for this seemingly sickening unending number of outright murders of unarmed citizens (who have been mostly African American men, some African American women, and some people with mental health presenting problems) seem to be dividing amongst those who favor "working within the system" and holding legal vigils, or, those who favor rowdy demonstrations confronting cops, and starting to use some minor violence. The latter seem now to be working up many justifications for self-defense violence, signaling a possible escalation, since cops have been violent all along.

Those who are violent will lose. Those who only hold legal demonstrations will lose. Rather than these two proven losing strategies, what might actually gain some ground?

First, the principles of strategic nonviolence, in general and some more specific:

  • Commit to absolute nonviolence (you don't want to have to continually revisit this).
  • Commit to victory.
  • Initiate the campaign with a small group of strategic thinkers.
  • Decide how to decide (again, you do not want to endlessly change how you make decisions).
  • Begin inviting leaders and independent individuals into your strategic circle, refining your campaign to a goal you can all support and one you all believe you can win in three months or faster (after which you declare your next goal and repeat).
  • Once your base coalition is large enough to impress the public, announce it and invite others to join.
  • A victorious campaign will be a multipronged campaign, not just public demonstrations (e.g. civil court, criminal court, legislative, executive power, cultural events).
  • A victorious campaign will seek to cause loyalty shifts amongst the police, not cause them to close ranks and ramp up violence out of fear. 
  • A victorious campaign will ceaselessly train to be sure nonviolence is a tactical commitment that is constant and steady and cannot be thwarted by provocation from police (or their agents).
  • A victorious campaign will work harder on media than on the actions themselves. Each action will get much more positive exposure by a major commitment to media work (mainstream, social, alternative, print, digital, radio, television). 

High risk actions taken by a handful of people with great numbers of supporters can boost recruitment.
Violence done by any party will backfire. Violence done by the movement will excuse the violence done by cops, even if the cops start it. Violence done by cops will backfire if it is met with complete and documented nonviolence. Is it fair that cops have a lower standard than do movements? Of course not. If it were all fair, no struggle would be necessary.

The idea behind refusing to use defensive violence has nothing to do with justification. By normal American values, it's fair, excused, and justified. It will never be portrayed as such and never accepted by the wider public as justified. Acceptance by the wider public is key, especially when it's time to activate another prong of the campaign.

High risk actions undertaken by those with outstanding nonviolent discipline will reveal the powerful contrast between violent police and nonviolent movement people. When you have determined that sympathy is high, launch the low risk elements. Perhaps a work slowdown, or a symbolic walkout, or a consumer boycott, or a sick day--some mass action that carries little or no risk as you have calculated it. Take advantage of the outrage felt by the general public when they first consider the shooting or choking or beating of your initial unarmed victim, then the additional outrage they feel when you are dignified in your civil resistance and still get arrested for occupying the mayor's office. That is the time to call for simple, doable, low/no risk mass participation.

It is at that crucial time you start to win. You cause a divide in the elite, which used to look like a monolith but now is divided, since your mass action is costing a portion of them increasingly. That is when they call you to the negotiating table and you can make serious gains.

This formula is not new. Gandhi used it. The Danes used it to withstand Nazi occupation, as did the Norwegians. The Gold Coast masses used it to evict the colonizers and rename their country Ghana. Southern Rhodesians used it to create Zambia and freedom for all. The Filipinas used it to evict the US, depose the US puppet Marcos, and stop a civil war that was about to launch. Rosa Parks and the bus riders won in Montgomery using this method and black South Africans won their freedom using this method. None of these struggles were identical in any way except they broadly followed this method. So when I hear, "It's not your grandmother's Civil Rights Movement, " I know they need to assess if they are stating the obvious--no two struggles are identical--or if they have chosen another losing strategy.

Please, let this movement win. Each time police murder another unarmed person it is just heartbreaking and feeds more pain, fear, hatred, and possible retaliatory violence. For this movement to win, it must grow. For it to grow, it needs to follow this general, proven path to victory. If anyone wants to lead us toward this, please sign me up and invite me.

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