March 20, 2015

Shooting Cops In Ferguson

When I saw, last week, a news bulletin announcing that two cops had just been shot in Ferguson, MO at the end of a demonstration, I thought, “Fuck. This could get really ugly, really fast.”

My fears have not been borne out, I am happy to admit. The cops both went home after a day or two in the hospital. The dude arrested for doing the shooting, Jeffrey Williams, reportedly said, and there’s other evidence, that he wasn’t even aiming at the police.

Still I was a bit puzzled by the low-key approach to the whole thing taken by the mainstream media and even moreso by the rather limited stir it caused in the fairly revolutionary corner of Facespace where I spend too much time.

Even as I noticed this, I was reflecting on some lessons from the incident, lessons that folks may have missed because there was relatively little attention paid.

The Ferguson Movement Continues to Amaze and Inspire

Most of all, it showed how astounding the movement in St. Louis has become. Even as it sparked the first real nationwide, as opposed to localized, movement against racist police violence ever in this country and triggered the reawakening of the Black Liberation Movement, it has remained the epicenter of the struggle, despite murders even more shocking than that of Mike Brown, like those of Akai Gurley in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Consider the March 12 protest which the gunfire ended. It was the community seizing on important victories it had just won and pressing the offensive. With the damning US Department of Justice report on racism in the St. Louis county police and court system, several perpetrators were fired or resigned, including a judge. That very day, the chief of the Ferguson PD resigned.

In the evening, 500 people gathered at Ferguson Police Department headquarters, where most of the protests take place, facing off against a couple hundred battle-dressed cops. They were celebrating by demanding the resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles as well.

Reports indicate there were disagreements, sometime heated, among the protesters over tactics, particularly blocking traffic on South Florissant, the main drag in front of the cop shop. Some of it evidently arose when the core who have been keeping the protests alive month after month tried to school newbies and irregulars who came out for this action in how the struggle has been built and conducted,
 (I saw this dynamic myself acted out when I was among the couple thousand folk from around the country who answered the call to #FergusonOctober last fall. The way in which the organizers and the marshals on that weekend recognized and provided productive outlets for young militants, locals and visitors alike, to challenge the system and the police in non-approved ways without threatening the united front that had been built for the demo was a marvel of political astuteness.)

The fifty or so protesters who were left on the scene at midnight when the shots rang out were themselves terrified. And well they might have been. With two cops down and many others with weapons at the ready, a massacre could have easily resulted.

Despite this, the protesters returned the next night, 50 strong, around the norm for the frequent protests over the winter, to
show their determination to keep the momentum going and to keep demanding that Knowles be ousted.

Guns In This Movement

Some of the comments I saw in the Zuckosphere threads in the following days, mostly from young’uns, blithely hailed what seemed to them to be a dramatic escalation in the struggle against the police.

They surely would have rallied to the defense of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the guy who shot two cops dead in their patrol car in Brooklyn, and did so in a gigantic rage at the murder of young Black men by the police. By shooting himself when cornered, he saved the movement a season of bitter debate and division. Even so, the deaths put the brakes on a massive wave of protests in NYC around the exoneration of the cop who choked Eric Garner to death, live on video, an upsurge with huge popular support.

Similarly, Williams, the accused Ferguson shooter, denies any connection with the movement, and both his girlfriend and regulars at the protests say he was never an active part of the struggle. He also appears not to be the sharpest pushpin in the corkboard. Anyone who hangs on to a .40 caliber pistol that might be connected to the shooting of two police officers is certainly not a rebel mastermind.

We don’t know anything—yet--about the role that government provocateurs may be playing in the movement, but a news report yesterday showed that the entrepreneurial right wing is in there pitching. A staffer for online “journalist” and all-around sleazeball James O’Keefe quit when his boss told him to pressure a Muslim underling to announce at meetings he had infiltrated, “'Sometimes, I wish I could just kill some of these cops. Don’t you just wish we could have one of the cops right here in the middle of our group?'

One Big Lesson

All this leads me to reiterate a lesson that was learned, at considerable expense, during the late ‘60s and the ‘70s: Don’t escalate the struggle past the level of a significant section of the masses to carry it on. (This is independent of strategic critiques of revolutionary paths featuring urban guerrilla warfare under various names.)

The Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army and similar groupings are the poster children for this lesson. All wound up not single sparks starting prairie fires but fizzles, isolated (and, J. Sakai and others argue, encapsulated—entwined in a mesh of unseen surveillance and informers).

I am not arguing against taking up arms under circumstances short of a revolutionary crisis or insurrection. In situations of urban rebellion, like those of the ‘60s, it definitely played a significant role. In the union battles in the Appalachian coalfields, it was an essential tactic of struggle for decades.

Ironically, the best example of the strategic role of armed violence is the very movement we are so often taught was guided purely by love and non-violence, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. As several recent books, most notably We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement by Akinyele Omowale Umoja, document, the threat of organized armed retaliation helped stymie the combination of state and Klan terror which had maintained the savage regime of Jim Crow for many decades, thus permitting the peaceful organizing. Thousands participated and they had the support of a big chunk of the Black community.

I am not addressing ethical or moral questions here, nor those of tactics. Revolutionary strategy must be guided by the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and not emotional responses to the crimes of this blood-drenched system. And it must be based on the masses of people, like the Black folk in the Lou who have organized and persevered for half a year now, and have kicked off a movement that may well, if we are indeed strategic, continue to reshape this country in directions we can only dimly sense now.

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