When we say Abolish PolICE here’s what we mean

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Photo by Fernando Lopez of People’s Media Front

I live across the street from a former housing project in New Orleans. It’s now turned into “mixed income housing.” There’s a police jeep outside of nearly every major building and I’ve been told by a resident that there’s a cop that lives in every one of those buildings. That resident also told me that there’s literally a curfew and rules around how folks can gather. The first few years of living there I thought half the apartments were empty because the neighborhood was such a ghost town. I’ve never seen a Black working-class neighborhood in my city be so quiet. This is a former New Orleans project where some of your greatest (and loudest) cultural contributions come from — like bounce rap, twerking, etc. Before the projects some of these same neighborhoods helped foster jazz, second lines. But now due to paranoid fears of what the natives might do in neighborhoods that have already been stolen from them and gentrified, the people have been muted and their culture all but killed. Meanwhile, our every move is watched with a police precinct up the block (as is the case for more than one housing project turned “mixed income housing development” in New Orleans) and occupiers living amongst us. If I ever wonder what the police state and hyper surveillance looks like, I don’t have to look further than across the street.

For the past 5 years I’ve organized with a coalition called Take Em Down NOLA, committed to the removal of all symbols to white inferiority as a much-needed step towards healing the wounds of racial and economic injustice. It’s a two-sided conversation. We’re not just talking about removing stone and metal statues. We’re about removing the ideology of white inferiority that they represent. But in order to effectively do that, we have to abolish the system that perpetuates white inferiority every day through capitalism and hetero-patriarchy. We say white inferiority instead of white supremacy so we can call the disease by its proper name. We know there’s nothing supreme about a system that has to perpetuate a culture of theft, rape, mass murder and genocide in order to sustain itself. On the contrary, a system like that is inherently built on fear rooted in its own (if nothing else but subconscious understanding of its innate) inferiority, stumbles stubbornly forward in a perpetual state of insecurity and ultimately creates its own destruction.

That’s why such a system has to be protected and defended by the state and the police terror and racist violence that it sanctions every day. But that violence should come as no surprise if we understand the history of the state. The state emerges any time you have one group of people who steal or horde resources from another group of people thereby establishing a class society where one class oppresses the other. In order to protect the stolen/horded goods, the oppressor class sets up a militant force (in the form of cops, prisons, jails and the military) to control the people they stole from and prevent them from ever taking their resources back. Think: the police occupation that is my neighborhood for example. Also think: the prison industrial complex and its crown jewel of Louisiana, most specifically New Orleans, which has traditionally locked up more people per capita than any other locale in the world’s history.

That’s also why during antebellum, slavers had overseers to monitor the enslaved workers and make sure they met the production goals set for them. That’s why they had bounty hunters to steal back the human resource that was the Black body during slavery. It’s why post slavery, police were deployed to break up strikes like the 1886 Haymarket Uprising where they murdered Chicago strikers seeking an 8 hour workday as the cops fulfilled their duty to protect the private property of the rich ruling class that they serve. It’s also why as modern-day bounty hunters, the police patrol the hood like overseers to steal Black and Brown lives every time it looks like the modern day wage slave workers might rise up and take back even a smidgeon of the human integrity they deny us — god forbid the wealth they continue to steal from our labor. And if you want to follow it all the way through, that’s why every oppressor capitalist nation invests most of its budget in the military the same way so many major American cities invest most of their city budgets in the police. And we should look at that dynamic closely. Because a budget is a moral document that tells you where the values of a people lie. But since the people don’t get to determine our budget, since our budget is determined by puppet politicians who serve the interests of the rich ruling capitalist class that finances their campaigns and lines their pockets with all kinds of off the books bribery, they don’t make a budget that reflects the people’s needs and interests. They make a budget that reflects the interests of their rich puppeteers.

And what are the rich ruling class interested in? They’re interested in protecting their private property. Property that isn’t there’s to begin with. Property that was stolen from the people and maintained off the wealth and resources gained from the exploited labor of the people. And whenever the capitalist system is in disarray from all the imbalance from all the wealth gap it creates by exploiting workers, it goes into knee jerk reactionaryism and starts brutalizing and killing Black and Brown people out of some paranoid fear that we’re going to rise up and take what’s rightfully ours. This is the reason for every state sanctioned murder the world over from Trayvon Martin and Breonna Taylor right here in the divided snakes of hysteria to the recent #SARS drama in Nigeria, to Brazil where Black folks are killed by the state at nearly 8 times the rate in the US.

But the irony is, as the state takes preemptive strikes against the people in fear of us rising up, we haven’t even asked for all that’s owed us. If we did, then we’d have to line the streets with the bodies of our oppressors the way they’ve been doing to us for centuries. All we’re asking — demanding now in the middle of a global pandemic — is that the people be given the basic needs of food, housing, clean water, healthcare, education, and, the livable wage and PPE we need to survive. And for that simple ask — all of which, mind you, we’ve earned a million times over during the last 500 years of European colonization of the globe — we’re aggressively stomped out by the state’s henchmen, the police.

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Photo by Elvitra MIchelle of People’s Media Front

Yet here in New Orleans where I live, the redistribution of wealth can easily be started by taking the 63% of the city budget allotted to the state (cops, jails and reactive measures) and replacing it with the 3% and 1% that is presently given to children and families and job development respectively. In short — flip the budget! It can be done. Los Angeles recently defunded their police by 100 million dollars on the strength of consistent gathering in the street for weeks. After weeks of protests, Seattle just defunded their cops by 3 million dollars. And in Minneapolis, after the people’s collective ire fumed to boiling point as a police precinct was burned to the ground*, the city council finally moved towards abolishing the police altogether. It can be done.

Police abolition has been talked about for decades and it’s finally being actualized. But only on the strength of the massive uprisings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the power of the people that has shown up since. But if that is to happen in my hometown of New Orleans (or anywhere else for that matter), it’s going to require the politically engaged amongst us to continue hitting the streets and raising the consciousness of the people. Because the powers that be won’t give us anything we don’t fight for. “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Frederick Douglass told us that. He would know. He would have never known freedom if he didn’t steal his body back from his oppressors. “Dare to struggle. Dare to win. If you don’t dare to struggle, then damnit you don’t deserve to win.” Fred Hampton told us that. He would know, he dared to give his young 21-year-old life to the struggle and millions of our lives are better for it to this day.

As the prison capital of all the world’s history, we’ve got our homework cut out for us here in New Orleans. That’s what a history of intentional oppression gets us. We went from one of the number one ports for slavery hundreds of years ago, to the number one spot for keeping the offspring of the enslaved still enslaved to this day. And it goes past the jails. Before we ever make it to a prison cell — which some 1 out of 4 Black men are said to see in their lifetime — we are economically enslaved. More than half — 53% of us — live in poverty off of subsistence wages. One of out of every two Black men are unemployed and the same ratio applies to the number of Black children living in poverty. Meanwhile, Black women in this city make less pennies to a white man’s dollar than any other demographic in this country.

All this in a city that brings in some 8 billion dollars a year in tourism money mostly on the backs of said Black women. Not to mention all this state makes off of oil money that never trickles down to its workers (as the city government has the nerve to try to take even more with amendments in this recent election that aid corporations and rob the people). And yet — because of maneuvers like the aforementioned — we can’t get the funds for decent schools, grocery stores, housing — only 40% of us own our homes here. But when we respond to our material conditions the only way we know how, by getting it how we live as we like to say here, or what the state likes to call crime, then they penalize us and lock us up. They spend $40 million on surveillance cameras that still fail to solve murders done in plain view of the public.

Which brings me back home. To the former projects across the street from me. Where our every move is anticipated and preemptively struck against by the visible menace of both marked and unmarked police cars. If the people were given what they need in the first place, there would be no need for worry about so-called crime. The people of this majority Black city could provide for ourselves, conditions that would allow us to experience Black joy, Black love, Black power and pride with no need to rob Peter to pay Paul because both of them would be paid in the first place. When we flip the budget, we can flip our lives inside out for the better. It, not merely voting alone, is one of the most primary ways that a system rooted in our enslavement can begin to offer tangible means of escape from the material conditions of our modern-day enslavement to low paying jobs and inferior resources.

The other route — the one already in place, of withhold and deny, of austerity and subjugation, of defund our lives and fund our violent oppression — leads towards a self-cannibalizing working class that eats itself instead of the rich that’s eating us. This process of the working class eating itself is what many have wrongly referred to as Black on Black crime. Which is a mere myth rooted in racist propaganda as a false explanation for the effects of horizontal violence born of capitalist oppression. Which is to say people kill where they live regardless of race, and even more so when they’re marginalized with basic needs kept from them. When we learn who our real class enemies are, we will stop fighting ourselves over the crumbs left from the mountain sized cake the capitalists have stolen from our labor.

And this same analysis can be applied to the racist crimes that have been perpetrated against Black folks in this country since its inception. Before this country was even founded, Black and white folks right along with whichever indigenous folks that hadn’t been killed by genocide and displacement, were all forced into slavery or indentured servitude by the rich ruling class. But when it was discovered that all three groups were, in some instances, willing to work together to escape the plantations and their exploited labor conditions, the rich ruling class used legislation to create a racial caste system and give white workers privileges Black workers didn’t have. This divide and conquer strategy has been deployed in different versions ever since. From the ways in which strikes were broken during early industrialism up to the Great Depression to the right wing propaganda of Trumpers to this day.

A few months ago, some comrades and I went on a motorcade to a town in Louisiana called Pine Prairie to protest an ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) concentration camp located there. We went to stand in solidarity with 40 African migrants (mostly Cameroonian) that had been hunger striking on and off since March. After they met our bullhorns and chants with pepper spray and violent attacks, the ICE cops told us we should hurry up and leave before the Trumpers showed up. Sure enough, on the way back we contended with white folks with huge Trump 2020 banners, armed to the tee with assault rifles ready to take whatever kind of action they wanted on us. Anyone confused about the role of the state might find it odd that the police would assault a group of unarmed, law abiding citizens while standing by passively in the face of other citizens who were clearly prepared to break the law and inflict violence if not take lives.

But if you understand the function and the role of the state, especially as it operates under racialized capitalism, then you’ll understand clearly why the ICE cops and Pine Prairie police aligned themselves with racist aspirant vigilantes. Because they are both defenders of the private property and interests (in this case an ICE concentration camp) of the white “supremacist” ruling class. Only the cops get paid pennies to do it and the white workers are either employed by ICE (as many are in Pine Prairie) or are willing to do it for free. That’s how sufficiently the propaganda of white “supremacist” capitalism has hypnotized them. They’re willing to self-deputize themselves in the interest of an agenda that serves them crumbs if not nothing. The same way they’re willing to elect a tyrant into office that violates even all the bourgeois law they claim to believe in, so long as he rides on the heels of white “supremacist” propaganda with empty promises of preserving their unearned privilege.

This is why working-class people of all nationalities and ethnicities must unite in our efforts to abolish the state that upholds the tyranny of the capitalist class. The longer we fall prey to their divide and conquer tactics, the more room we make for fascistic behavior like what I saw in Pine Prairie, like the world saw in Charlottesville 3 years ago, like what recently almost happened in Michigan or Portland. (Where, in either case, racist vigilantism was literally upheld and supported by the federal government, while in the latter case, a citizen who stood up against this racism — a white man no less — was extrajudicially murdered on sight by the Department of Homeland Security.) This means white working-class folks have a job to do in their communities and in their families — to de-arm their racist friends and family members of their false ideology and if they’re going to keep their guns, teach them where to aim them. It means in the so-called progressive communities and amongst all communities, there remains the work of uprooting anti-Blackness from its root and throwing it into the trash bin of history.

When I talked to the head of the Cameroonian American Council, she was irate at the lack of support that has been shown on an institutional level amongst the progressive and non-profit community for her Cameroonian comrades as opposed to what’s been done for other non-black migrant groups. The deportation rate for African migrants is about 20%. That’s twice as much as Latinx folks even. When Cameroonian migrants make their way across the several borders that they have to cross to get to the U.S., they often find that due to the anti-Blackness in Mexico for example, that they’re some of the first turned over to ICE agents before they can even seek asylum in the U.S. While this is most likely the act of bourgeois governments, their bureaucrats and the state that enforces it all, we on the ground have a duty to form such firm solidarity that we recognize that when they come for one of us — African, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQIA, disabled or any demographic — they come for us all.

Which makes what was done in Pine Prairie that much more important. And what 80 Cameroonian women did with their hunger strike at an ICE concentration camp in Tyler, Texas that sparked similar solidarity equally important. These battles haven’t won the war. But they’re significant blows against the belly of the beast. The ICE agents in Pine Prairie were so shook by it they deported two of the detainees to a whole other camp in fears that they might do it again. And it must be done again and again until a people’s victory is won and every ICE camp in Louisiana is shut down. As it stands, Louisiana is the #2 locale for ICE camps in the world, with Texas being the first. This has taken the stead of our state usually being the #1 prison locale. The local branches of the prison industrial complex just traded out the prisons for ICE camps and they’re doing it all with our tax dollars. That’s unacceptable and the people can’t afford to passively allow it. It’s unacceptable that African migrants, Latinx migrants, Asian migrants, are all fleeing to this country based on parasitic policies that our government has waged on their homelands. It’s unacceptable that our blindness, our lack of awareness around global state repression of the working class allows this to persist. We have a moral obligation, as people that benefit off other countries’ labor and resources, based on exploitation from our government and US corporations, to stand in the gap for our fellow workers of all nations. They’re only in this country due to what capitalism and imperialist war has done to theirs. A great revolutionary once said that when your capitalist nation starts an imperialist war, it’s the duty of the revolutionary to start a civil war. So the only question remaining is where are today’s real revolutionaries? In Portland, they recently shut down the ICE offices after weeks of gathering in the streets in protest. And the same thing can happen — must happen here as much as anywhere.

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photo by Tina Orlandini

A couple weeks ago, the New Orleans People’s Assembly, an affiliate org of Take Em Down NOLA, held 7 days of action in front of the ICE offices at 1250 Poydras Ave. The actions were held in solidarity with women, folks and families as inspired by the recent onslaughts against women via the miscarriage of justice for Breonna Taylor, forced hysterectomies on women in a Georgia ICE concentration camp, and too many other injustices to name. These seven days were an entry point into understanding the ways in which we are complicit, in our silence and compliance, with a system that locks people up in literal concentration camps in 2020. The last night of action rounded into my neighborhood with an impromptu march in response to a cop shooting a Black man in the head the previous night. And just like that, all the dots were literally connected.

From the offices of an imperialist imprisonment operation in the Central Business District of our city designed to lock up Black and Brown people from overseas, to the vice-gripped streets of an occupied territory of a neighborhood right here at home. State sanctioned repression from a global to a local level of operation right in our front yards. As the old adage goes — think globally, act locally. That night we did both and then some. But the work has only scratched the surface. How long will it take before we all see that we share a common bond as enemies of the state? Before we come to fully recognize the rich ruling class puppet masters behind these armed forces and human cages? Before we realize that the puppets controlling us come disguised as both Democrat and Republican because they both vote for the same budgets that fund state repression — from over $800 billion on a federal level for the military to over $400 million on a local level for cops, prisons and jails.

A comrade recently reminded me that power is rooted in awareness. Imagine how much more powerful it will be when applied. Consistently. Till victory. Till every badge is melted down into filler to plug up the city’s potholes, the uniforms shredded and rewoven into school clothes for the unhoused students that make up so much of the student body in New Orleans. Till every prison is emptied of the stolen bodies of the masses, destroyed and replaced with homes and community centers for those the city budgets never considered. With only one prison left to contain the remnants of the lecherous rulers that have horded from the people for so long.

Till then, we will continue to make the streets the respite for all the knowledge the schools and the churches failed to deliver. And my comrades and I — many former or present educators ourselves — will continue to make class conscious classrooms of the corner, revolutionary church of public parks. Till the knowledge blooms awareness. Till the awareness blossoms power. Till the power is the people’s and the people reap a harvest of incessant action that ultimately yields liberation. Our oppressors plan our subjugation centuries into the future to secure their ill-gotten gains. They organize against us around the clock, and even as we sleep. They’ll begin to disappear the day we learn to do the same.

*It’s been recently revealed that the burning of that police department was done by a member of the Boogaloo Boys, an alt-right group self-deployed into the otherwise peaceful protests against violence agenda of stoking literal flames to ignite confusion and an eventual (race based?) civil war. While this is the case, it’s also true that the BB wouldn’t be in position to do the work of acting out against the state if it weren’t for the collective uprising of the people. The Boogaloo Boys (nor any alt-right group) are not allies. But the burning of a police precinct is a win for the people, indirectly earned by the people.

The Ellisonian Basement is a collection of my writings on Blackness & visibility in the post-modern world, OR Duboisian double consciousness under surveillance.

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