For Every Action

Good news. Governor Cuomo (people remember our savior from April?) has announced a “Say Their Name” reform agenda, so I think we’re all set on the protests now…

A week ago, I wrote – of my experience as a (naive, confused, but committed) participant in the movement in Oakland that rose up in response to the police murder of Oscar Grant in early 2009 – that I was involved “from the time of the initial explosion of anger, through the cooptation of the movement, and to the point of its eventual suppression under withering assault by militarized police and a politicized judiciary.” When we see Andrew “#PAndrew” Cuomo moving to usurp the rhetoric of the moment, and when Al Sharpton is eulogizing George Floyd (nothing against the Reverend, but he has a way of materializing whenever popular anger over police brutality and killings boils over; he was there after Oscar Grant was murdered, just as he was there after the police killing of Michael Brown), you know that the status-quo-preservation machine is whirring away as it’s meant to. Whether or not its successful is another matter, but people ought to remain vigilant about what’s real and what’s not. (Campaign Zero put out a thorough, robust program for police reform in August of 2015; where was the Governor then?)

Speaking of not real, if you saw reports (say from The Daily News, Fast Company, CNBC, the New York Post…) suggesting that there were no new confirmed COVID-19 deaths in NYC on Wednesday, they were misinformation. Sadly, David Dayen (whose Unsanitized newsletters I often reference) and Tech:NYC (whose COVID-19 newsletters I, at least, receive) both referenced this claim without fact checking. Here’s what I wrote to David:

Re: the Daily News reporting on “zero confirmed deaths” on Wednesday the 3rd, this is more of the same smoke and mirrors that innumerate (or dishonest) reporters have been engaging in since March. A quick visit to the official NYC COVID-19 data portal will show that: 1) at the top of all the graphs, it clearly reads, “Due to delays in reporting, recent data are incomplete”; and 2) now, three days later, the City is showing what looks like at least dozens of deaths on Wednesday. (I checked the spreadsheet, and current Wednesday numbers stand at 7 confirmed, 18 probably; usually, the numbers aren’t finalized for at least a week, and they also still reflect an undercount as you’ve addressed repeatedly.)

Against the backdrop of the mass protests and COVID-19 amnesia/delusion, this misreporting can be quite dangerous.

See the bottom of the page for screen captures that document this point. On the positive side, I thought Dayen’s take on epidemiologists overstepping their mandate was spot on:

It’s possible and even reasonable to say that systemic racism is an ongoing health threat and therefore worth risking COVID-19 to fight it. But an epidemiologist shouldn’t be in the position to make that call. This continues a troubling run: the wild swings in modeling expected deaths despite a lack of data, the initial claim that masks don’t work unless you’re a doctor, and now this.

Epidemiological warnings against outdoor gatherings were widespread when there were “reopen the country” rallies. I’d prefer my science come unfiltered. If the evidence is that it’s hard to spread this virus outdoors and people who wear masks should be fine, say that and leave it there. To editorialize risks the integrity of scientific study, in my view.

The Intercept reports that the Pentagon war-gamed, in 2018, a “Gen Z Rebellion” scenario dubbed “Zbellion”; the short synopsis of the scenario, drawn from the Pentagon’s own FOIAed strategic document, makes for interesting reading. The Wire – an independent media outlet in India – writes, “The diversity of the [never before seen] protests [in the US] is similar to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act marches in India.” And this demonstrator playing the Star Wars “Imperial March” as riot police troop by still has me laughing.

People may appreciate these long Twitter threads from Leo Gertner (summarizing his findings from a law school capstone paper on “police union contracts & the use of force”; I’ll highlight this line, “All that said, the problem of police unions shouldn’t be an invitation to attack public sector unions”); andi zeisler (dismantling the concern/question: “But if there are no police who will go after RAPISTS???” by outlining for just how much sexual violence police themselves are responsible, and pointing to how dismal the record of the NYPD has been, in particular, on “Systematically Undercount[ing] Rapes”); and Hannah Shaw, a former staffer in Mayor de Blasio’s office who “was arrested by NYPD for violating @NYCMayor’s curfew while participating in a peaceful protest, and then questioned by the FBI” about her political beliefs. (Such FBI questioning has, apparently, been widespread.) This damning satire of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s response to police brutality unleashed on peaceful protesters also merits a watch, and I’ll recommend again the latest episode of Glenn Greenwald’s System Update – I found comments on goals, strategy, and tactics for the uprising from Benjamin Dixon especially illuminating.

As I’m now hearing helicopters directly overhead again, and a demonstration starts at Washington Square Park soon, I’ll take the noise as my sign to wrap and head over there to socially-distantly get involved.

Postscript: As promised, screenshots from NYC’s COVID-19 data portal follow:

IMG_5674
Obviously, things have improved dramatically since April
IMG_5672
But if you examine the long tail, you’ll see there are indeed deaths (both probably and confirmed) for Wednesday, June 3rd. As is clearly indicated above, there are simply “delays in reporting”
IMG_5673 2
Here’s the spreadsheet – as of the morning of Saturday, June 6th – showing the City’s official daily COVID-19 death counts. Note, in general, these numbers aren’t finalized for a given day for at least a week after it has passed. All told, it took me about 30 seconds to confirm that the reporting of many major news outlets was inaccurate and deeply misleading…

The Daddy State

We can’t let the pessimism/cynicism engendered by past experiences blind us to the possibilities and opportunities of a new and different future. Briefly, here’s what I hope:

That owing to cross-immunity or some other as yet unidentified factor(s) (which an article shared with me by my friend Frank in the UK refers to as COVID-19 “dark matter”), the pandemic does not resurge in New York as I fear it might, and that, across the country and around the world, the toll of COVID-19 proves far less deadly and catastrophic than the most dire prognostications suggest it might.

That the mass uprising across the United States marks a watershed moment which commences a sharp turn away from the politics of neoliberalism, a stark rejection of rising neofascism, and a shift towards democratic socialism or something like it.

That in the wake of pandemic and owing to the political breakthrough/transformation about which many of us have long dreamed, it becomes possible to initiate drastic, holistic, Green New Deal-style (or, perhaps even better, Red Deal-style) action to address the global climate crisis which, no matter what you may have read, continues to escalate even with the modest pandemic-related emissions reductions. (Think about it like this: You’ve fallen off a cliff. You’ve been accelerating. (Ignore critical velocity for now, if you would.) But then, mid-fall, a painful insect bite or something causes you to cup your hands, which, you realize, are now catching the air and slightly decreasing your downward acceleration. Great! But… you are still accelerating towards the ground as you fall off a cliff.)

And here are a few anecdotal reasons why I continue to have deep misgivings:

The sign I saw at a demonstration at Stonewall earlier this week reading, “We fought COVID-19. Now we are fighting police brutality.”

The knowing half-joke I overheard at a demonstration at Union Square yesterday that, “We should definitely all get COVID tested.”

The message I received from someone asking to reschedule a FaceTime call because of the “race riots.”

The comment I overheard yesterday from inside a Thai restaurant on West 4th Street (where people stood in the doorway picking up their takeout) that, “It’s a race war, so you can drink outside.”

Where these big hopes and small reasons for big fears may meet is yet to be seen, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a significant national spike in COVID-19 cases, then hospitalizations, then deaths starting around the end of next week.

Brief Twitter roundup – as I’m sure most of you are aware: Police (who are tired) have continued bumrushing, beating, and arresting nonviolent protesters (in Brooklyn); arresting essential workers while they work (in Manhattan); nearly killing peaceful old men (in Buffalo); dragging away non-violent demonstrators and leaving others incapacitated in pools of blood (in Williamsburg); and randomly shooting pepper balls at moving vehicles that contain pregnant women (in Denver), among other brutal outrages.

You may have also seen that: New York County Supreme Court Justice James Burke has effectively suspended habeas corpus in New York; full-grown (non-police white) men are evidently assaulting little (white) girls to prevent them from calling for justice for George Floyd; and Lin-Manuel Miranda may not be the hero of racial justice some people thought he was…

Also, a friendly reminder, people say a lot of things on the Internet, but not all of them are necessarily true. Not sure if “Kett[l]ing was created by the Israelis to contain the Palestinians,” and confident that we, here, in New York City are definitely not “in the occupied West Bank,” but part of the point is well taken, as it is undeniable that the NYPD, and many US police forces, have trained with the IDF for years.

If you want to experience a brief, painful descent into Left infighting and the vagaries of “culture war,” “identity politics,” and a whole lot of other phrases I’d scarequote because I’m not actually sure how to name what’s going on here, you can retrace my steps from Doug Henwood’s Tweet regarding the right-wing media embrace of journalist Michael Tracey (who may or may not be “progressive” or “left-wing,” and apparently was both opposed to the Russiagate hysteria from the left, but is also sometimes a darling of the alt-right) who defends Intercept reporter Lee Fang, for whom I have a lot of respect, who’s been attacked for sharing a video interview – with a (Black) protester in Oakland – in which the protester seems to draw a false equivalence between police murder of Black people and so called “Black-on-Black crime.”

(I actually agree – as my previous posts have made very clear – with Tracey’s alarm about the sudden about-face, including by many epidemiologists and public health professionals, regarding the importance of taking measures to prevent the explosive spread of COVID-19. (I think about-face is one of those military metaphors that has insinuated itself deeply into our language/culture.) However, when Tracey shares cherry-picked articles about journalists being “sucker-punched” by protesters, he’s being statistically dishonest, to say the least.)

Ross Barkan – who points out that “[c]alling for Bill de Blasio to resign is cathartic but isn’t actually going to change anything – has an excellent piece up on “Why […] the NYPD [Is] So Powerful.” I’ll note that I have called for de Blasio to resign relative to his persistently disastrous handling of the pandemic, and based on my view that, for most of his second term, he’s been absentee when the City could really use/have used an engaged, present, competent executive. Regarding the uprising, police brutality and unaccountability, etc., I agree with Barkan; I’d be happy to see de Blasio resign regardless, given what a disaster his mayoralty has become, but fear that his resignation would be perceived as a “victory” by some when it would do little or nothing to address the underlying structural factors which account for the frightening power of the police, many of which Barkan outlines in his piece.

I hope Murtaza Hussain is correct and that “Protests Over George Floyd’s Killing [Have] Exposed [The President] as a Lame-Duck Authoritarian,” but we’d do well to recall that, throughout the nearly four years of this Presidency, as people have railed against, mocked, and derided the kleptocratic buffoon in the White House, he/his Administration has overseen a far-reaching and highly effective program of tax cuts, deregulation, installation of young, Far Right judges, etc., etc. Just yesterday, the President issued an executive order (which will be challenged in court, and will likely not hold up), attempting to use pandemic-related emergency powers to make it harder for sub-national governments in the US to block fossil fuel pipeline projects. (For a counter point to Hussain’s take, I recommend Mehdi Hasan’s conversation with scholar of fascism, Ruth Ben-Ghiat; they are in agreement that we dismiss the threat posed by our President at our own peril.)

Finally, it’s not only Twitter (or social media more broadly) where one encounters spurious claims online. This Washington Post article asserts that the “U.S. spends twice as much on law and order as it does on cash welfare.” This claim, narrowly, may be true, but it’s highly deceptive. Most people don’t have the savvy to differentiate between cash welfare, and the other immense – if insufficient and deeply flawed – social welfare programs (chief among them, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) that the Federal Government administers. Here’s an excellent (long, paywalled) piece from Catalyst that shows that the US:

spends roughly $250 billion a year on prisons, police, and the courts, at all levels of government. This is considerably more than any other state in world history. Yet it also spends upwards of $3 trillion on social policy. Even if we count only that fraction of social policy which is spent on the poor (i.e., roughly that fraction which could strictly be tallied as part of the state’s war on the root causes of crime), the figure is at least $1 trillion. To wit, the US government spends at least four and perhaps as much as twelve times more on programs that fight the root causes of crime than on repressing its symptoms.

The article, entitled “The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration,” goes on to show that, while the US trails more or less all its OECD/rich country peers, often by a wide margin, it still has (as the numbers above would suggest) a more than 10 / 1 ratio of “Social Spending / Penal Spending.”

To get things right going forward, and to not simply get fooled again – because a mayor resigns, or a police budget is marginally cut, or a few unenforceable rules are put in place, or a pandemic preparedness plan is produced then shelved to gather dust and left unfunded, etc., etc. – we need to be deep in the weeds of how the system actually works and what it would mean to actually change it. As is often the case, Glenn Greenwald offers an especially nuanced take, this time on the disagreements on the Left regarding goals, strategy, and tactics in the midst of the nationwide uprising unfolding across the US.

Wish I could say I have a clear sense where all this is headed, but I don’t; for me – as I suspect is the case for many of you– hope and fear, inspiring dreams and harsh realities are at loggerheads in my heart.

Postscript: This note is more for posterity, but I just noted that, in the midst of all this, the Dow Jones was up more than 800 points today and stands above 27,000 again. The Fed money cannon is clearly doing what it was intended to, the rest of the country and the world be damned.

Night without Helicopters, Like Day without a Rain of Rubber Bullets

In New York City, we are witnessing in real-time the much-warned-about abuse of draconian pandemic-justified emergency powers. Having rallied the full might of the billionaire class to his aid, and under cover of suppressing looting, Governor Cuomo now seems intent on playing the not-so-petty tyrant. For those of us in New York and engaged with the uprising, or even just to anyone paying attention on Twitter, it’s been obvious from the outset of this cycle of mass peaceful protest and ever-more-brutal police repression that hand-wringing from authorities about property destruction has been a canard meant to distract from the unrelenting attempt to suppress the mass movement in the streets.

How can one easily discern this fact? Countless time-stamped videos from the past week show looting – which I’ve made clear elsewhere I think is counterproductive tactically – ongoing in SoHo and Herald Square, while, at the same time, other time-stamped videos show massive police mobilizations against peaceful protesters elsewhere in the five boroughs (though primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn). If it’s really about preventing property destruction, etc., then why not focus on the amply-documented looting and leave the obviously peaceful protesters be? Clearly, because it’s actually primarily about suppressing the uprising, even at the cost of drastically curtailing civil liberties about which our useless Mayor and autocratic Governor obviously care very little.

Okay, going to speed through some references: Doubt what I’m asserting above? Read this Twitter thread from Frederick Joseph – the Big Brother-style digital billboard of Cuomo, and the police hunting down of protesters speak volumes.

What else? As mentioned previously, white vigilante gangs have patrolled the streets of Philadelphia with bats and clubs (they “beat the shit” out of this reporter). Reporters also keep getting attacked by police, though, who, across the country, continue not to hesitate to tear-gas, beat, grope (and then beat) and shoot demonstrators. (Meanwhile, the “US Bureau of Prisons pepper-sprayed a man to death […] at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park” in Brooklyn yesterday. As Ross Barkan Tweets, the same “progressive” politician to whose post I link in the previous sentence was “supportive of an effort in 2015 to hire 1,000+ new police officers, one year after Eric Garner was killed in New York City.”) There may be Blackwater-style mercenaries patrolling the streets of Washington DC, and, at very least, the practice of police obscuring all their identifying information has, against the backdrop of the national uprising, now become commonplace, but the fucking assholes who run our City and State believe, as Mayor de Blasio put it this morning, that the NYPD has used “as light a touch as possible,” and, as Governor Cuomo put it this morning, that it is a “hyper-partisan political attack” to claim that NYPD officers were “bludgeoning peaceful protesters in NYC with batons,” which, as much of the world has now seen, they were.

As one Twitter user put it, “Trump holding a Bible upside down in front of a church he’s never been to surrounded by peaceful protesters being tear gassed by military police is absolute surrealism.”

As another put it, “Am I having a stroke or did the paper of record just publish a call to crush a popular uprising by turning the American military against the country’s citizens[?]”

This thread mocking de Blasio, at least, is very funny, and I’m heartened to see #8cantwait (“Data proves that together these eight policies can decrease police violence by 72%.”) trending, though fear the proposed reforms miss the heart of the matter – the outsized power, outsized budgets, and utter unaccountability of the police, which tend to undercut the usefulness of laws meant to check their abuses (and even the efficacy in seeking justice of video documentation of their crimes). Still, the eight proposed reforms would represent real progress if implemented widely (I’d say at a national-level, but it seems that these would mostly require police department by police department implementation and enforcement given our localized system of policing), and to some extent answer the plea, made by Steve Randy Waldman in this excellent post, “that all sides take into account the very real risk of mass [COVID-19-related] death that attends the path that we are currently on, and find ways to deescalate from epidemiologically dangerous tactics without betraying causes and values that are inviolable.” He further expresses hope, mirroring some of my own, that “the movements on the street coalesce around […] concrete demands that won’t be sufficient to remedy centuries of white supremacy, but […] will address […] urgent concerns and allow them to declare this battle won.” I don’t share his hope that the “police revert to a strategy of accommodate, protect, and deescalate” for the simple reason that I think that’s utterly wishful thinking out of step with objective reality, and, while I continue to feel that having clear legislative and policy demands is a good idea tactically, I fear that the escalations in state violence in recent days make it nearly impossible to step back from the ledge of martial law and opposition to it.

On the pandemic (still a thing, and rapidly escalating in Brazil, Egypt, India, and elsewhere around the world), my friend Frank in the UK pointed me to a study from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology suggesting that ~40-60% of unexposed [to COVID-19] individuals” may still have some level of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 owing to cross-immunity “between circulating ‘‘common cold’’ coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2.” If these results are confirmed through further research, they would, of course, be great news, and radically lower the threshold for reaching herd immunity (pending other factors, chief among them, that exposure to SARS-CoV-2 provides meaningful/lasting immunity in the first place).

The White House keeps lying about everything (but especially Antifa). Doug Henwood provides clear graphical evidence that “NYC has way too many cops.” Insurgent left-wing Democrats won encouraging local and state-level victories all across the country this week. Please do read up on the Poor People’s Campaign, if you haven’t already. And while you’re at it, you may want to continue to make connections between our struggles for justice within the United States, and the many struggles for justice globally, often against United States policies and imperialism. Also, it’s the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre (another incident of massive, well-documented state violence that no amount of denial can erase), and police have pepper-sprayed protesters in Hong Kong during a tribute to the massacre victims.

But to circle back to where I started, the police have been hunting protesters in the streets of New York, and I think we need new responses to their violence. I’ve only been at day-time protests in my own neighborhood, and have not witnessed any of this round of police brutality personally, but many reports online detail police preventing protesters from accessing – so as to be able to head home in advance of the curfew – Subway stations, only to then hound these same protesters (and, of course, those who had no intention of going home early in the first place), seeking to divide large groups into smaller ones and surrounding and cordoning off protest marches before eventually brutalizing and arresting people, and generally taking a predatory and military-style approach to the nonviolent demonstrators. While images and videos of the brutality may be swinging public opinion nationally and globally in favor of the demonstrations, I’m not sure how long that effect will hold against the propaganda apparatus that is the corporate media (see the Tom Cotton letter in the New York Times), and I question the wisdom of continuing to allow ourselves to be hunted, beaten, locked up, etc. except to the extent that this is explicitly our intention (a la the 1963 Birmingham campaign of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

Is this what we’re doing? I can’t really tell.

Let me explore this further, lest my position seem contradictory. To the extent that an SCLC-style appeal to public and political conscience is our goal, we should probably explicitly oppose looting (unless, cynically, we hope the looting will actually encourage more police brutality against non-violent demonstrators, thus amplifying the popular emotional appeal of witnessing them being brutalized; even then, the looting serves to undermine the moral position of the movement as a whole, nor do I think the occurrence of looting is necessary to trigger police violence – the former only serves to justify the latter), and yet, it seems almost a point of doctrine on the Left that opposition to looting is reactionary because: Private property. Jeremy Scahill – whom I admire – spoke of “pearl clutching” on this front (without differentiating between the looting of corporate brands and small businesses) and Decolonize This Place, in their anti-capitalism, is explicitly in favor of property destruction as one along a spectrum of revolutionary tactics.

On the latest episode of Intercepted, Scahill’s guest, Dr. Keisha Blain – whose comments on the “Red Summer” of 1919 and the life and legacy of Ida B. Wells, I found especially illuminating – clearly struggled to address the question of property destruction, but eventually seemed to settle on an all-of-the-above framing of what makes mass uprising politically effective, and yet, it’s very clear that the simultaneity of mass peaceful demonstration and a certain amount of looting/property destruction is being used, cynically, by politicians like our President, Governor, and Mayor, to justify the brutal crackdowns. Corporate media, already not a friend to Left/progressive mass movement, then further muddies the water through both-sides-ism in their reportage, seeming to suggest that the occurrence of any looting at least partially justifies the police brutality. (Readers who have followed corporate media coverage of “the Israel-Palestine conflict” will be intimately familiar with this form of journalistic sleight of hand.)

For 50 years, mass urban uprising as undisciplined melange of protest, burning, looting, and all the rest, has patently failed to win meaningful victories in this country – limited counterexamples exist, but the very fact that we are here, today, facing these circumstances more or less makes my point for me. People on the Left don’t want to oppose looting because they fear their stance will be interpreted as reactionary and might serve to divide the movement, but a wedge is already clearly being driven by those in power – a distinction being made and exploited – and, as again evidenced by Twitter, many everyday people, including many sympathetic with calls for justice, are disgusted and outraged by instances of looting of small businesses (videos of which are, of course, being circulated and exploited by enemies of the uprising for their own reasons which have little to do with the destruction of mom-and-pop’s life’s work).

An undisciplined movement will eventually be divided, worn down, and crushed, just as past such movements/uprisings have been, and what feels like principle – in affirming the understandability, the justifiability, the inevitability, etc. of looting – is actually just laziness and fear of confronting the question: What would it actually take to organize and win?

A march that crescendos with tens or hundreds of thousands of participants can end with a few scattered and isolated groups of tens or hundreds of courageous individuals, afraid, alone, and picked off one by one by the police. If our hope is that protest-porn videos of outrages and brutality will so transform the conscience of the country that, at last, real political progress becomes unstoppable, then I guess we should keep doing what we’re doing, but even then, one has to wonder: What will make this go-around different than all the others past? Perhaps the answer is the scale, the duration, and the intensity of the uprising, or simply the unique – and uniquely, terrifyingly fraught – historical moment at which it comes.

We can hope.

Final thoughts: My partner commented the other day, in reflecting on lessons from the anti-CAA protests in India, “New York needs a Shaheen Bagh.” At the time, I couldn’t quite imagine what this would look like, but as the Post reports that the “NYPD faces first major budget cut in decades” (with City Council leadership asking “the NYPD for a list of proposed cuts equaling 5 to 7 percent of the agency’s budget by Monday after [NYPD] brass offered to eliminate just under 1 percent”), and as the City faces multi-billion-dollar budget shortfalls, perhaps the place for New York’s Shaheen Bagh – which is to say, it’s standing occupation of public space to demand political action commensurate to the scale of the targeted problem – is City Hall itself. Already, de Blasio has introduced $2.7 billion in budget cuts – in large part from programs benefitting young people, schools, and the environment – and yet, isn’t the NYPD budget nearly $6 billion per year?

I can imagine a standing, 24-hour-a-day occupation of the entire, large, triangular block with contains City Hall, a round-the-clock occupation for “the city that never sleeps” demanding that the Mayor and the City Council drastically reduce the NYPD budget, slash the size of the force, and take other steps within their purview to increase police accountability. (I’m being intentionally vague here because many of the relevant steps probably have to be taken at the state level, and, of course, the point can be made that past such occupations – in the US and outside of it – have failed just as past mass uprisings have.)

Immediate, foreseeable pitfalls will be that police – if their budget is threatened – will move to make life in the City harder than it already is. After years of organizing led, at last, to bail reform last year in Albany, we witnessed an immediate backlash and concerted public relations campaign to make it seem as if these modest reforms had led to a massive city-wide crime wave. And that was just bail reform. Think back to the early days of de Blasio’s time as mayor, when he took a stand – in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s murder by NYPD officer, Daniel Pantaleo – that was viewed, by the NYPD writ large, as “anti-police,” and then two police officers were murdered, for which de Blasio was, by the NYPD writ large, blamed. Take note that one police officer was stabbed last night in Brooklyn and two others shot. Now imagine the public relations push and campaign of police subversion of basic municipal functioning that would likely follow if a few billion dollars came out of that bloated NYPD budget.

We have an impossible struggle on our hands, but it looks very much like the fight for the future. We don’t make it easier for ourselves by repeating old mistakes, nor do we strengthen our position by making ourselves easy prey to a militarized and predatory opponent eager for any opportunity to pounce.

Post-script: In the face of all the white flailing, the “listening,” the absurdity of #BlackoutTuesday, the long lists of unsolicited “recommendations” from white people, I’d like to again quote my partner (“People in this country don’t even know how to bandh right.”) and to point to a tremendous Insta post from Queens rapper, lyrical virtuoso, and my former student, Archduke Redcat, in which he points out that #BlackoutTuesday was “created literally yesterday” but has “[m]illions more […] posts” than #BlackLivesMatter, and that, “People publicly stating my life, and many others, matters is meaningful,” while #BlackoutTuesday is just “an instagram trend.” He goes on to urge people:

Now again, there is a link in my bio for things you can do, even if you don’t have any money, even if you need to avoid coronavirus, even if you posted a black square, do something. For once. Do something. Anything. Link in my bio and make something happen. Being silent for a day is LITERALLY the opposite of the goal here. Solidarity isn’t take a break to think about black people, it’s doing anything to rectify the wrongdoings of this nation’s dominant populace. and btw KEEP DOING STUFF. Keep reflecting, keep thinking, keep protesting, keep donating, keep sharing, keep learning, keep informing, keep on keeping on. #protestsafely and happy pride.

Please, go check out his post, and after you have, go check out his music as well and consider making one of the things you do buying an album or two by this rising star out of Queens. Redcat EP and I still Wanna Have Fun are two great places to start.

The War on America

I went for a short walk this morning and had multiple telling conversations.

On West 4th Street, a Palestinian-Jordanian “essential worker,” with whom I’m friendly, opined of the demonstrations, “People will exhaust themselves soon. Yesterday was quieter. By Monday, this will all be over.”

On the Hudson River Park esplanade, a Doe Fund worker with an accent from the islands explained to me that the commotion – signaled by the presence, on the West Side Highway and the esplanade itself, of multiple vehicles of the FDNY, NYPD, and Parks Department and the gathering by the River of perhaps fifteen officers and employees of the same – centered on the attempt, by all these representatives of municipal power, to clear the belongings (which I could see scattered indiscriminately) of two (white, male) homeless men who’ve been residing in the Park. The men, both of whom I recognized (in fact, I saw them feeding geese from their makeshift bed – a comforter spread on the grass and stacked high with scavenged pillows – just yesterday morning) were understandably incensed – shouting, stalking about, and wildly gesticulating – as the dispassionate city employees encircling them looked on.

After some humane, perfunctory conversation between us about the City’s failure to provide for needs of the unhoused even during the best of times (“It’s very easy to become homeless in America.”), the immense human suffering brought on by the pandemic, and what alternative forms of housing might look like, the Doe Fund worker volunteered, “You know what I think about the virus, though?” and then went on to confide in me that he believed that SARS-CoV-2 (like HIV, Ebola, and Chikungunya before it) had been created in a lab to “test” and “thin” the population. He was about my age, the worker, and a very sweet guy.

A white lady jogger – turned back from her intended route by two Parks employees waving hands and redirecting her to the bike path – injected herself emphatically, mask-less, into our conversation to assert that it was terrible, because obviously the men needed a place to sleep, but on the other hand, “We don’t want homeless people just living in the park.” I had a pressing obligation to my partner and hadn’t budgeted time to disabuse people of conspiracy theoretical conceptions or utter lack of politics, so, reluctantly, I excused myself and left.

On Twitter, last night, I saw multiple posts about a police killing in Brooklyn. I almost thought this was more online misinformation, so surprised was I to not find the incident trending this morning, but it evidently happened. I will withhold further comment for now, as I have no meaningful information about the incident, but it seems clear, at least, that a man was killed in a hail of police bullets in Crown Heights. One could see this driving an explosive escalation in the protests here.

This is the information and political environment in which we’re operating. As Steve Randy Waldman Tweeted this morning, “[I]t’s hard to keep your bearings in a world where everything you see is because somebody wants you to see it.”

Mayor de Blasio, whose political career is over, Tweeted last night, “At Barclays Center now. Very calm situation. So far, the curfew is certainly helping, based on everything I’ve seen in Brooklyn and Manhattan over the last three hours.” Comedian Kate Willett replied, “The police murdered someone in Crown Heights tonight and more than a 1000 people were illegally detained.” For real comedy though, I suggest you read the replies to de Blasio’s patronizing Tweet, from 8:34 PM yesterday evening, that began, “It’s time to go home now, New Yorkers.”

Anyway, enough of Twitter. My State Senator, Brad Hoylman, listed a number of bills which he introduced, sponsored, or is carrying. Don’t consider this an endorsement (I’ve found Brad very nice in our limited interactions), but his links may be helpful, as he calls:

 [To] repeal 50-a […] that helps to shield police officers’ disciplinary records from public scrutiny[;] […] [pass] the Police STAT Act, which for the first time would require police departments across New York State to record and report information on who is arrested and ticketed, what race they are, where it happened, and how many people are dying in police custody[;] […] repeal the “walking while trans” ban[;] […] [pass] legislation to offer an automatic parole hearing to elder incarcerated New Yorkers; [pass] legislation to ban the NYPD’s rogue DNA database, which endangers New Yorkers’ civil liberties; and [pass] the Protect Our Courts Act, which would restrict ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants in and around New York State courthouses. [He] also co-sponsor[s] the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which would make it a class B felony for police officers to cause serious physical injury or death to a person using a prohibited chokehold maneuver.

I invite any reader interested in doing so to create (and share with me, please!) a list of action items, legislative and other, as having a clear public repository would be helpful. If no one takes me up on this, I’ll try to do it myself this week.

The Bronx Defenders, along with other racial justice orgs, have issued a statement “On NYPD Brutality” while the Police Benevolent Organization – “the city’s most powerful police union” – is “Poised to Tap [Its] War Chest to Shield Cop Discipline Records” through lobbying and campaign donations. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo is getting public pushback from the NYPD for stating that the police “did not do their jobs” (in a statement that was also highly critical of Mayor de Blasio). I’d expect the Mayor to be the one left holding the bag when all is said and done.

Albert Wenger has a short, first-principles post up in solidarity with the uprising that readers at the intersection of engineering and social justice may find particularly valuable. I’ll be curious if this structural approach leads him to any conclusions regarding tactics and strategy beyond what he’s already outlined.

Useful reporting from The Intercept today on the history of “US Law Enforcement Infiltrating Protests” and the NYPD’s culture of impunity, and I’m looking forward, if that’s the way to put it, to finishing listening to the latest episode of Jeremy Scahill’s podcast, Intercepted, on how “The Rebellion in Defense of Black Lives Is Rooted in the U.S. History.”

Finally, lest we forget, the COVID-19 pandemic is still a thing, as is the struggle (primarily between the US and China) over the narrative regarding the pandemic’s emergence, and a new AP report – entitled “China delayed releasing coronavirus info, frustrating WHO” – is adding further fuel to that fire. The climate crisis is also still a thing, and, unfortunately, “A billion-dollar program to protect cities from climate change is at risk of failing because of the pandemic,” according to the New York Times. None of this has stopped the President and his cronies from continuing to rob the rest of us blind.

And if you missed yesterday’s Democracy Now!, I strongly recommend you at least watch this segment with “Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law [and] William Arkin […] a longtime reporter on military and nuclear policy.” Most chilling to me were Arkin’s explanation that:

The federal government has done many things, including the monitoring of social media, the intercepting of phone calls, the intercepting of cellphones, the use of cellphones to locate people, the use of drones, surveillance aircraft, flown by the FBI, by Customs and Border Protection and by the military, including helicopters that have been flying over U.S. cities conducting surveillance missions. This has all been done in the last 24 to 48 hours. And it is a questionable use of the military force.

And Clarke’s statement that:

[The President] single-handedly seeks to deploy the military to states all across our country over the objections of state officials and with the sole and singular purpose of silencing Americans. In many ways, this is the death of democracy, because people who are out right now have one singular goal: to ensure that at this moment we not turn our backs on the long-overdue work that’s necessary to rid our nation of the scourge of police violence that has resulted in numerous deaths of unarmed African Americans.

I fear that the nationwide uprising may serve as just the pretext the President sought to pursue his goals and fantasies for domestic military mobilization (not that he wouldn’t have continued to pursue his anti-democratic and fascist agenda in the absence of mass movement). It’s not quite a coup, or martial law just yet, but we might remember Masha Gessen’s warning from 2016 in her much-read piece, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” that, “Institutions will not save you.” We’re doing a good job with, “Be[ing] outraged,” but I fear we’re a little late, and when thousands of protesters get trapped by militarized police on a bridge which, only days before, some of those same protesters had been triumphantly Tweeting about “occupying” and “taking,” it tells us that we and our adversaries are playing two very different games here. We didn’t even bring a knife to what we saw – and rightly, if perhaps tragically see – as a non-violent confrontation; our adversaries, meanwhile, are bringing tanks to what they have unilaterally defined as a gunfight.

Institutions won’t save us, and neither will fast-disappearing norms. I have no easy answer here, so am simply maintaining Gramscian optimism of will beside growing pessimism of intellect (and looking to find a copy of Machiavelli’s Prince to borrow). Since the news broke last week that Minneapolis’s 3rd Police Precinct had been overrun and lit on fire, the NYPD precinct in our neighborhood has had approach streets barricaded from all directions, officers posted on at least all-day guard duty, and a far larger than usual number of police vehicles in evidence. We may believe we’re undertaking a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience, but our adversaries – as has been the domestic norm at least since Standing Rock – have defined us “extremists”; see themselves as an occupying force in hostile territory; and believe themselves to be engaged in a righteous counter-revolution. The potential ramifications of all this are terrifying, and, again, I have no real answers to offer here, only love, support, strength, and encouragement to carry on.

How to Terrorize a City

What disturbed me most during my short stints living in Oakland and Los Angeles in the noughts was the seeming ever-presence of helicopters overhead and sirens in the night. I hadn’t understood what military occupation felt like until then. Such is the soundscape of Manhattan today. A soundscape of occupation. A soundscape of stress, fear, anxiety, and anger. There is a sense that, at any moment, the City could explode.

On March 12th, I started reading Boccaccio’s Decameron as a way of marking time during the pandemic. At first, I read 10 pages a day; then, upon noting that Wuhan had been shut for 76 days before reopening, and the book was only 562 pages long, I slowed down. Eventually, I decided to read a story a day or so, such that I’d finish on May 31st, which is what I did. I’d planned a post in reflection to commemorate, but history intervened, and so I’ll just briefly note that, most disturbing of all about the raucous, violent collection of tales, I found the book’s conclusion: After 10 days away from Bubonic Plague-stricken Florence, the ten rich young people conclude their sojourn and storytelling in the countryside, and promptly return to their “most beautiful [but still very much plageu-stricken!] of Italian cities”

A pin could’ve dropped in my mind.

Of course, 15th century Florentines didn’t have the advantage of germ theory, whereas we do, and yet we are following a very similar course. Already, with the hasty reopenings, I was deeply worried and sounding the alarm. Now with the mass uprising nationally, and the “national police riot” (to borrow Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s phrasing) which has met it, I’m quite terrified of where we’re headed. My three recent pieces have summed up my perspective on the uprising, its attendant risks and pitfalls, and the seminal struggle in which we now find ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote twice, and today, I planned not to write at all, but this daily practice has become habit and one I now find myself disinclined to break. I almost concluded yesterday by pointing to the Poor People’s Campaign as a model for how we begin to converge around demands and program. I encourage you to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the Campaign if you’re not familiar with it already.

Starting to see a lot of lists of actions and demands, including the following from: the New York Immigration Coalition; Alliance for Quality Education; and a private individual. Lots of focus (finally) on repealing the 50-a law (which shields police records from public scrutiny) at the New York State level – which repeal is apparently likely to happen soon. Kesi Foster of Make the Road NY has a good, scathing piece on Mayor de Blasio’s failure to take any meaningful action on police accountability, and always incisive Ross Barkan has a similar piece up criticizing Governor Cuomo’s long failure to act on 50-a in particular.

Much has been said about the attempt to impose a curfew on uncurfewable New York City (I had some choice words on the matter myself last night) but this, from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “While I understand impetus for a curfew, increasing police presence and adding another reason for police to make arrests only increases the criminalization of our population” was refreshing from a public official, and this – from aya tasaki on Twitter – was even more apt: “#Curfew is rapid “temporary” creation of a new crime category. […] another excuse for increased police interaction –> harassment –> violence.”

The Sparrow Project reports that the “Acting Director of National Intelligence [is] in a private DM chat group with an Infowars correspondent”; a “White nationalist group” was evidently “posing as antifa […] on Twitter” and calling for violence; the LAPD is being critiqued for focusing on peaceful protesters rather than looters; while Decolonize This Place has issued a “Communique” – criticizing the distinction being made between “Peaceful” and “Destructive Protest” – which makes the connection between “18th century Slave Patrols” and contemporary police forces in the US, and centers the role of police as “the frontline enforcers of this system” of private property. I still think that property destruction is a losing tactic and that urban insurrection alone is a failed strategy, but I respect their thinking and their work nonetheless.

On the flip-side, Chad Loder has a good, awful round-up on Twitter of videos of police violence from all across the country. David Dayen sums up well the fiscal obscenity encoded in all this brutality:

The thing I kept thinking about was that nobody in this group had to worry about having enough personal protective equipment. Police budgets are obscenely large. There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about defunding, and you get an appreciation for the need for it when you’re confronted up close with the—I think the best would is richness—of the police presence. I heard helicopters and sirens all night: those came from our tax dollars. The batons flying indiscriminately came from our tax dollars. The tear gas cannisters and rubber bullets and pepper pellets and the rest, our tax dollars. We generously fund the terrorizing of certain people and certain communities.

Finally, DC’s mayor is “concerned about virus rebound” and so am I. Already, pre-uprising, many states and cities were seeing “[r]ising ICU bed use,” and we can expect this to get much worse soon. We should be planning for how to sustain this nationwide uprising in case public health interventions necessitate a pullback from the streets; one can already foresee how fraught those dynamics will be. I mentioned yesterday that pandemic-related measures had served to quell popular uprisings in both Hong Kong and Chile, but my partner pointed out what should have been obvious, that, in India, the explosion of anti-Muslim violence in the aftermath of the Delhi elections, followed by India’s extreme, useless nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown had also halted months of nationwide anti-CAA demonstrations. Hard to believe – given the telescoping of time since early March  – that my partner and I were in India in the early days of that movement less than six months ago.

As it is, it feels like many people in this country have half-forgotten the pandemic. The world historical maelstrom that envelops us engenders amnesiac tendencies. We can hope that SARS-CoV-2 may actually have mutated and “be losing its potency”; in the meantime, the NYC DoHMH is inviting protesters to get COVID-19 tested.

After Cyclone Amphan pummeled parts of India’s West Coast, New York’s sister city – Bombay – is now bracing for the impact of Cyclone Nisarga. As New York was the epicenter of COVID-19 spread in the US, so too, Bombay is the epicenter of spread in India. As New Yorkers are today, so too, at the time the pandemic hit India, Bombayites were up in arms protesting social injustice (against Muslims) and the authoritarianism of their national government. We might learn from the Indian example the risk to our organizing of facing further pandemic-related shutdowns/lockdowns in the midst of mass uprising; and we might further witness the extreme violence – even by our admittedly dismal standards – being carried out by US police (for example, against journalists) and wonder what other largely-respected domestic norms will soon be breached. What comes next?

We should be prepared for local internet and wireless data shutdowns, and might look to the example of Hong Kong (where protesters have previously used mesh nets to circumvent draconian restrictions on telecommunication) as we plan accordingly.

What else? I fear the vigilantism will get much worse. Already seeing lots of posts – including about a roving all-white-male mob carrying rods and baseball bats through the streets of Philly – about armed Right-wing groups and their threats of violence.

Meanwhile, incessantly as I’ve been writing, a helicopter has thrummed with dull menace overhead. Stay healthy, stay safe, stay engaged, stay sane, and stay in the streets, or on the phone, or on Twitter, as case may find you.

All In

We have now committed to fighting the most consequential fight of our generation, under the most disadvantageous conditions, at the most inopportune (and some might say idiotic) time. Perhaps there was no other option, as clearly no real “choice” was made about this, except the choice those four officers made to kill George Floyd on the side of a road in Minneapolis. The rest has proceeded like an unstoppable chain reaction – the mechanisms and institutions of our society of spectacle catalyzing the combination of long-building popular anger and resentments with the volcanic rage building as a byproduct of the catastrophic mis/handling, in this country, of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps it was inevitable, but a reaction it was, and that’s what worries me. For 50 years, the US Left has been back-footed, and has always found itself fighting losing battles, on its enemies’ terms, at the times of its enemies’ choosing, and this time feels little different. For the future, we can’t lose, and yet, we very well might, so dismal are the conditions under which we now struggle.

Lest my work inadvertently serve to demoralize though, I’ll be proactively shifting from my position of the past two days. I believe there’s no turning back from this now, so I’ll only briefly elaborate what I fear, beyond that which I’ve already elaborated upon enough.

Perhaps there was no alternative but to fight this fight now as phenomena converge that, outside film, history, and fiction would seem almost unimaginable. Perhaps this is actually our last chance to stop the fascists – or our best chance – before they rig and steal the November election and follow in the footsteps of the governments of Putin, Modi, Orban, Duterte, and so many other Right-wing, strongman-ocracies that have worked assiduously in recent years to undermine democracy. I’ve written elsewhere that we are in a now-or-never moment, more or less for the future of “organized human life on Earth,” as Noam Chomsky often puts it, and I continue to feel that way, but I couldn’t have foreseen that we’d have to fight on quite these terms. Democratic and Republican politicians alike seem largely united in using the power and force of the state to suppress the uprisings, and it seems more than plausible to me that, if the confrontations persist and escalate, we will see deadly explosions of violence not only from the police, but from their armed ideological allies in other quarters (I’m talking, of course, about the white supremacist militias and neo-Nazis). Additionally, given the high likelihood that the pandemic will soon be spiraling once again out of control across much of the United States, we’re likely to see tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of additional deaths in the coming months, but also the use – both rightly and wrongly, at once – of COVID-19 as a pretext for quelling the insurrection. We should remember that Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and Chile’s militant anti-austerity street protests were both quieted, of necessity, by the coming of this plague.

At every level, the scales are tilted against us, and yet, it’s beyond inspiring to see tens of millions of us rising. The hour is very late to be recognizing just how far along the road to police state and fascism we’ve come since 9/11 (though the groundwork had been laid long before), and, of course, many individuals and many communities have understood these truths in heart, head, and gut for a long time, but never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a cross-sectional political mobilization for justice in this country.

It’s now my conviction that we have no alternative but to attempt to see this through, and so going forward, I’ll continue to be focused on not losing what we can’t afford to lose, but without any question that this struggle will go forward as it has.

So fuck these assholes who think – after everything they’ve done (see all of my writing for the past five years) – they can curfew New York City. Fuck these assholes who think they can unleash the police to brutalize and murder people on the daily. Fuck these assholes who think they can call out the US military to suppress protests calling for justice. Fuck these assholes who think they can turn turn to the Pentagon to provide signals intelligence on people fighting for justice. And fuck these assholes who think they can deploy drones to surveil us in the streets, who thought it was right to have not one, but three helicopters hovering above a peaceful demonstration outside Stonewall this evening. No one in the world ever should’ve been subjected to such treatment in our names, and we’re at a now-or-never moment as a country, a once-in-a-civilization juncture on the planet, to steer the future away from the planned (by the powerful) and promised (by Hollywood, et alia) apocalypse and dystopia.

Death to fascism. Black Lives Matter. Here’s to a sane, just, livable future on Earth.

Postscript: Thank you to Nick Estes. When he speaks, I listen, and when he Tweets, I heed his words.

Tragedy, then Farce, then What?

Sirens and helicopters all night. We live in a crazy fucking country.

Here in New York City, we sit on occupied territory twice over: Unceded Lenape land – because we know the founding myth of the purchase of Manhattan is a Big Lie, and that the dispossession of the indigenous population of this place was accomplished through force, deceit, disease, destruction of lifeways (including through ecological violence), and fostered/forced dependence (narrowly, on alcohol, and more broadly, on Euro/settler trade goods) – and the conflicted space of the contemporary metropolis in which settlers, migrants (turned settlers), and the descendants of enslaved people alike find themselves subject to the rule of capital as enforced by militarized police.

I’m going to engage with some constructive feedback on my piece from yesterday – “Rage Is Not a Strategy” – and get into the rapid evolution of my own thinking in view of changing circumstances, but first, a brief, somewhat random overview: In Minneapolis, authorities announced they were “contact tracing” people who had been arrested during the uprising and at first claimed that “outside forces” (which is to say, outside agitators, for those familiar with the ugly historical usage) were responsible for most of the violence in the Twin Cities – hinting that white supremacist groups or organized crime might have been involved – before significantly stepping back these assertions. Evidently from DC, video circulated of protesters tackling and turning over to police an agent provocateur who’d been smashing the sidewalk with a hammer. In Atlanta, police in body armor smashed the car window of two black college students and dragged the young people from their vehicle, tasing and beating them, with no provocation. From Dallas, a doctored video was circulated that had been “edited to remove footage of a white man who was beaten [first] charging at black protesters with a machete before they pummeled him” – pointing, as Robert Mackey of The Intercept opined, to “the danger of relying on fragmentary video clips posted on social media by politically motivated witnesses to news events.” In LA, at least one journalist was shot in the throat with a rubber bullet. In NYC, one such “fragmentary video clip” seemed to show an NYPD officer making a white supremacist hand gesture in Union Square, and organizers urged against looting, but, in spite of their exhortations and a massive police presence, SoHo luxury stores were looted for a second straight night anyway and another police vehicle was torched, leading Mattilde Bernstein Sycamore to quip, “Meaningful art has returned to Soho, at last,” while on CNN, former National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, explained to Wolf Blitzer, regarding the protests, “This is right out of the Russian playbook as well.”

Fuck. As my partner put it, “It’s impossible for any one person to make sense of all this,” but to lighten the mood, here’s a funny Tweet from the “President and CEO of Antifa.” Enjoy.

The police, meanwhile, continued to brutalize people all across New York City as the Mayor – who’s daughter was apparently arrested protesting on Saturday night – live-Tweeted a bizarre stream of blithely journalistic reports of his whereabouts and what he was seeing – “Just checked on situation around the Barclays Center. Lots of protesters moving around and plenty of police presence. On my way now to check on Lower Manhattan” – and was met with a wall of pure ridicule and calls to resign.

Jeremy Scahill Tweeted:

DeBlasio had an opportunity to be on the right side of history. Instead he chose to align himself with the brutality and injustice. He chooses to further empower the militias with badges and guns who ram SUVs into crowds of civilians. Through his actions, he stands with Trump.

Travis R. Eby Tweeted:

We need very specific questions for @NYCMayor tomorrow about why the NYPD m.o. is to repeatedly charge people with their hands up and then beat the shit out of them, and we need to know why he’s ok with that. This is a pattern, and it is fucked up.

In linking to video footage of a brutal arrest, evidently “sparked by a tossed water bottle,” Josh Fox Tweeted: “This is my fucking neighborhood right now,” although not long before this very brutal arrest and outbreak of renewed police riot in the vicinity of the Barclays’s Center, police kneeled in unison with protesters and did some hand holding kumbaya.

Corporate media continue to be friendlier than usual towards the protests, while still hedging in the direction of both-sides-ism. Headlines in the New York Times this morning include: “Overnight Mayhem Follows Peaceful Rallies”; “N.Y.C. Protests Turn Violent: Large crowds of demonstrators clashed with the police throughout the city”; but also “Facing Protests Over Use of Force, Police Respond With More Force“; while Crain’s headlined: “Day of peaceful city marches gives way to chaos after dark.” On the NY Times op-ed page, Philip and Thenjiwe McHarris call for “No More Money for the Police: Redirect it to emergency response programs that don’t kill black people,” while in the LA Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls for “not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice” in his op-ed entitled “Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge.”

Andrew Yang wants a “George Floyd Police Misconduct division of the DOJ with a budget of $6 billion a year,” while John Legend wants to “[t]ake away police funding and reroute it towards community needs.” Kanyi Maqubela has a helpful “mini-thread on police unions.” (Spoiler: They’re regressive and pose a problem for Left supporters of organized labor.) Scahill further points out:

Police forces have regularly attacked and arrested journalists at protests in this country [but] unfamous journalists [link is my insertion] from non-corporate outlets, so no one paid attention to it. Now, the police are deliberately & consistently attacking corporate journalists too.

Lots of imagining what it would be like if US corporate media covered these domestic uprisings as they do uprisings elsewhere in the world (e.g, by calling them, “The American Spring… [or] The Minneapolis Intifada…”), and Ari Weil has a great post up on the evolution of “vehicle ramming attacks” as a tactic embraced by “1) the American far-right, 2) mainstream conservatism, and 3) US law enforcement over the last 5 years.”

Okay, that was a lot, but coming back around to feedback I received yesterday, it was mostly positive and all constructive, for which I’m thankful. One brief point of clarification: In spite of my own deep misgivings about the likely epidemiological consequences of the uprisings, I did participate in protests on both Saturday and Sunday, but only to the extent that they passed through the area to which I’ve confined myself since March (a roughly 5-block radius around my residence, as I’ve written elsewhere). It’s been super moving to see these large, peaceful, as-socially-distant-as-possible marches in the streets of New York, and I wish circumstances were such that I didn’t feel duty-bound – in view of the mass death and illness in NYC in March and April – to remain peripheral to all this.

On the feedback, one childhood friend offered – on Twitter, and with a great GIF from Sidney Lumet’s Network: “Counterpoint: First, you have to get mad,” to which I replied, “With you. And been mad. But what if you keep getting mad every few years for half a century in the same fashion and w/the same (lack) of results?”

Another elementary school classmate of mine wrote, on Instagram: “[W]e as white people don’t own this rage and that makes it not our place to denounce,” before qualifying that that’s “not necessarily what you’re doing in this piece but I don’t know if I would have gotten that had I not read the full article.” She also makes some acute points about Killer Mike’s class positionality, and about the meaning of the fact that he’s a son of a police officer.

Other friends wrote about how the “wry Zizek and Lacan quotes align with my misgivings about all of this”; about concerns regarding the “the useful idiot contingent of “anarchists” allowing these protests to function as a release valve of the organic pressure building on the state,” “the level of “revolutionary” posturing on Instagram,” and that “the police laid a trap to escalate the violence a la the strategy of tension and it worked”; and about “hearing way too much boyish laughter in these videos (oftentimes where dangerous shit ends up going down).”

Impossible to sum up all my responses, but in one instance, I wrote back, “I find the spirit of all this very thrilling, the timing impossible, and the implications inscrutable and fraught,” and more broadly, I hope it is now clear that I do not “denounce” the rage, the protests, or the looting – the last of which I see as understandable, predictable, and counterproductive, but about which I don’t moralize – and that I’m committed as ever to racial justice in this country, but also sick of losing in these struggles.

For more than 50 years – since the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. – sporadic urban uprisings of this sort (that seem to follow a logic different from, but in some ways analogous to, the fluctuations of our financial markets) have “rocked” the United States. In those 50+ years, we’ve seen voting rights gradually undermined; the widening of the racial wealth gap; the rise of a system of race-and-class-based mass incarceration; and, of course, plenty of progress when it comes to racial justice, although relatively little of it at the legislative or policy level. We’ve also witnessed the terrifying rise of increasingly militarized police apparatuses across the country, and the expansion of the internal surveillance capacities of local, state, and national governments – capacities which were already fearsome in the mid-twentieth century as the example of COINTELPRO makes clear. (I believe there’s a through thread from the militance of the Black Panthers – which was crushed through murder, infiltration, and politicized imprisonment – to the quixotic and ineffectual terrorism of the Black Liberation Army and the secessionism of the Republic of New Afrika, to the Reaganite counterrevolution (most clearly symbolized by the bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia in 1985, that I think definitely ended the long ’70s of fringe liberationism), the so-called War on Drugs and its accompanying gang wars, and the resultant void of leadership which Black Lives Matter came to fill, though this is necessarily a highly reductive sentence.)

I think the strategy of urban uprising, the unfolding of which we’re now watching and/or participating in today, is a failed one. I believe it is too-easily coopted by provocateurs who are next to impossible to control in a mass context (in view of their cooperation with police who are all too eager to violently suppress peaceful demonstrations); it generally lacks coherence in its political demands and organization; it too easily devolves into looting which – moralizing aside – undermines credibility and moral standing even while it may frighten certain subsets of the ruling classes; it tends to fizzle out of its own accord (“the release valve,” to which my friend Dan referred above); and it makes especially easy the violent police repression and judicial persecution that will confront even the most well-organized social movements for racial justice. Plus, the perception/mischaracterization of the uprisings as violent can serve, dialectically, to reinforce the social and political position of the police.

Rick Perlstein has a good piece in Mother Jones – entitled, “Will Urban Uprisings Help [the President]? Actually, They Could Be His Undoing.” – in which he argues that “it is simply incorrect to argue that mass political violence inevitably spurs a backlash that benefits conservatives” and suggests that anti-incumbency on top of the President’s open racism may lead to his electoral defeat in November. I hope he’s right. Yesterday, I pointed to some examples where it seemed such “backlash [had] benefit[ed] conservatives” while qualifying that it “is well beyond the scope of this piece to examine if correlation implies causation”; Perlstein points to some counterexamples (Stonewall, chief among them), but also opines that “[the] politics of riots are complex, ambiguous—and especially, in our present circumstances, unpredictable.” Time will tell.

In NYC, I was pleased to see an “[o]rganizer explaining the movement’s goals: legislative change, making demands of [our] representatives”; I hope momentum builds around a coherent set of demands.

Now, some closing thoughts before I end this long post: New York State and City budgets are already under immense pandemic-related strain. The uprisings will likely delay NYC’s reopening and lead to a temporary deterioration of our progress in confronting COVID-19. Police officers also get paid overtime when the entire force is called out to violently suppress peaceful demonstrations for racial justice, which is a sad irony.

Always perceptive, my partner points out what seems to be obvious, in the process, uncovering its underlying significance: “Things always seem to escalate at night.”

We all know that night brings out different energies, but there may be forces more quotidian at work in the escalations. Birthworkers, like my partner, are familiar with the “Friday Evening C-Section” phenomenon, in which an obstetrician – eager not to miss a dinner reservation, or to make it out to a house in the Hamptons on time – pushes a birthing person into an unnecessary Caesarian. The mandate of the police is to protect capital – and in particular, private property and the public infrastructures (like roads and bridges) which make its accumulation possible – from damage, disruption, or expropriation. As a byproduct, the police can’t go home until the demonstrators do. One can imagine that, at the end of a long day, having been yelled at a lot, operating within a culture of violence and impunity, and with no meaningful mechanisms of accountability in place, police might simply decide they’re ready to go home and that attacking protesters is the best way to bring standoffs – rooted in dynamics that extend far beyond street confrontation – to a temporary conclusion that will allow the officers to go home and go to bed.

I don’t know. It’s interesting/horrible that so much effort and public money was expended by and on the police over the weekend, and so much senseless violence perpetrated by them, and yet, SoHo was still looted. Twice. Doesn’t make much sense, but perhaps it’s that there’s a limit to what even 40,000 officers can do in a City of 8 million residents (that’s a 1/200 ratio)  when a sizable percentage of those residents are mad and take to the streets. This relates to what the organizers, whom I admire, of Decolonize This Place (DTP), call “becoming ungovernable.” I fear, again, that this strategy is unlikely to lead to long-term gains (witness the 50+ year collapse of the US Left during a time when urban uprising has served as the primary “release valve” for social discontent), but smart and principled people will disagree, and some of that will no doubt be based in relative degrees of privilege. The DTP organizers believe in actual revolution, the overthrow or collapse of the United States, and in literal (rather than vague, metaphorical) decolonization; under our current circumstances, and occupying the position I do, I’m in favor of radical incrementalism, if such can be said. I love New York in spite of its brutal contradictions. I believe things can get a lot worse if we allow the decay/destruction of our core infrastructures (witness our current public health crisis); fail to meaningfully address/prepare for climate crisis; or lose what remains of our democracy, and I don’t see a path to a non-catastrophic transition to a post-US configuration.

What do I think will happen? Ross Barkan, who takes my perspective a step further to argue that “nonviolent protesting is both morally correct and tactically correct” while opining that “setting fire to businesses isn’t forwarding the movement against police brutality,” has elsewhere Tweeted that calling for de Blasio’s resignation without calling for Cuomo’s is nonsensical. I don’t disagree with him, but while the President hides in his bunker and the Mayor live-Tweets the end of his own political career, New York’s all-powerful and until-recently-omnipresent Governor has suddenly disappeared from the scene, while his (black, female) Attorney General, Letitia James, is suddenly front and center in the State’s response to the “unrest” in New York City. Say what you will about Andrew Cuomo, he’s a masterful politician – his deftness, inversely proportional to de Blasio’s daftness, even as the two men share in common their immense moral cowardice.

Should events continue to unfold as they have in NYC, I’d say it’s likely that the Governor uses his emergency powers, still in effect, to more stringently reassert the stay-at-home order (still in effect, also), though not before a sufficient period of career-ending humiliation has passed for de Blasio and sufficient epidemiological evidence has accrued of the harm to public health being done by the massive demonstrations (which are very much in contravention of the prevailing guidance about best practices).

Is this unfortunate? Terribly. Do I want it to happen? Obviously, not. Should it come to pass though, by the time it does, SoHo will be devoid of watches and shoes, and the demonstrations will have cost our City – already tilting, once again, towards receivership – a great deal of money, but it’s unclear to me that we’ll have made substantive progress towards ending police brutality or beginning to root out the inordinate power of the police in our City or our society (and in the meantime, we may have reinitiated significant community spread of COVID-19). The police are uniquely positioned to wreak havoc on a politician’s career, which is no doubt why de Blasio – having, early in his years as Mayor, clashed with the NYPD – is now so bizarrely standing by his police force in defiance of all the facts, and unless these days or weeks of rage fuel a sustained, policy-informed mass movement, I expect we’ll get fooled again. Maybe the Mayor will actually resign, and his resignation will be hailed as a victory, which it won’t really be. Maybe a few gestures towards police accountability and budget cuts will be made, even as our public schools and healthcare systems are subjected to massive austerity. It’s easier to get upset and take to the streets than it is to build a popular culture of understanding what’s actually happening in City Hall, Albany, and DC, but if we don’t accomplish the latter, we’ll keep getting screwed.

What will it take to actual root out this reactionary, often explicitly white supremacist institution – the police – from the strategic position it now holds? That’s probably for another post, and we can hope the seismic shift we’re witnessing now in public opinion is a real and lasting one, but we should have space to strategize beyond anger and slogans, unless the plan is really to carry this to revolution, or to fully shutdown New York until our demands are met, in which case, I’ll see you out there. In the end, I supported the uprisings in Hong Kong, and Chile, and Puerto Rico, and Lebanon, and Algeria, and Sudan, and this uprising here in New York, I support it, too. I’d just like to see us win for a change.

Post-script: Regarding the pandemic, case counts are rising in a number of states (as this Imperial College study previously estimated); “One Of The First California Counties To Reopen Is Closing Again“; and even this conservative effective reproduction number tracker now shows ten states with values at or above one, including both Texas and California. Things are not going well.