Monday, October 31, 2011
OCCUPY WALL STREET AND THE STRUGGLE TO END THE OPPRESSION OF BLACK PEOPLE
The campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to Stop “Stop & Frisk” emerged out of a strategy session held in NYC in July to discuss racially targeted mass incarceration (which some academics and activists are aptly calling “The New Jim Crow” to stress that it is a system of social control and not the result of benign crime control policies). This was a small gathering—it was attended by Cornel West, a rep from the Center for Constitutional Rights, activists from the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, several people from the People’s Media Collective, myself and a couple others.
This consensus out of this session was that mass incarceration was an extremely serious problem. (In a paper on this, I characterized it as a key feature of what could be called a slow genocide being enforced on Black people that could turn into a fast genocide. This paper is available at: http://bit.ly/soU7y9. Further we felt that while a lot of forces were doing exposure around mass incarceration and lobbying politicians for policy changes to alleviate the problem, a crucial ingredient was missing—dramatic mass resistance.
We likened it to the situation in the early 60’s when racial segregation enforced by lynch mob terror—the Old Jim Crow—was the law of the land. It took dramatic resistance that only involved a relatively small number of people at the start to kick off the movement that created the conditions in which change could be won. We thought this generation needed its version of the Freedom Riders to spearhead this struggle.
We initiated this campaign before any of us had heard about Occupy Wall Street (OWS). We began with a Call to Stop “Stop & Frisk” co-issued by myself and Cornel West that we circulated as widely as we could. A few other activists signed onto it. (This Call and its co-signers and endorsers is available at www.stopmassincarceration.
When OWS began, several of us noted that it as a very positive development. The country had been t
hru an economic wringer sparked off by a Wall Street centered meltdown of epic proportions. In my view, this was a crisis brought on by the workings of capitalism. People who felt they had secured their share of the American dream were losing their jobs and homes. Yet there had been little outcry or mass protest. It seemed way past time for someone to do something to call this out, and Wall Street was the appropriate target for the protest movement.
I also noted that the participants in OWS were overwhelmingly white and middle class. They were basically correct in addressing the misery this meltdown as something that was inflicted on the masses of people in the
and in targeting Wall Street as being responsible for this suffering. (The 99% vs. the 1%.) But they were also largely unaware of the extra misery capitalism had always enforced on Black people and other oppressed nationalities. For example when their peaceful protest was met by police wielding pepper spray against women who were doing nothing wrong, they were shocked. Many of them asked why the police would do something like that. Some of them even felt they needed to tone down their aggressiveness to avoid alienating the police. There were arguments made that the police, as working people, were part of the 99%. US
We decided we needed to take our campaign to Stop “Stop & Frisk” and the October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality to OWS. I felt people’s ignorance to the role of the police was the result of how the ruling class does its dirty work. They shield middle class white people from the terror their enforcers rain down in the ghettos and barrios across the country. So let’s hip them to the 24-7 brutality cops inflict on the oppressed, and then challenge them to join us in fighting to stop it.
We took crews down to OWS several times in the lead up to the October 21st launch of our civil disobedience campaign. At 1st we only found a few people who were open to hear what we were saying. Those few included some Black and Brown people who were down at OWS, who had their own stories to tell of being harassed by the cops and stopped and frisked. We enlisted them in our efforts to hip people to what was really going on.
One brother told of being stopped and handcuffed by cops. They frisked him and found nothing illegal. They ran his info t
hru their system and found that he had no warrants or prior convictions. So did the police let this innocent brother go free? Not immediately. A cop told him he had to do the Chicken Noodle Soup dance before he could go free! This pig meant that shit—he didn’t uncuff the brother till he had danced for him.
A growing number of people began to express 1st shock and then outrage as they heard stories like this. They could hardly believe that this kind of shit was being perpetrated, and they responded to our call that they become part of doing something about it. They formed an Oct 21st and 22nd working group and worked on making Stopping “Stop & Frisk” an official OWS activity. At times the process of getting OWS on board re the civil disobedience campaign and the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality was maddening. How does OWS go about endorsing something? What did you have to do to get to address their General Assembly? How could something get put on their calendar as an official OWS activity? Sometimes the answers to these basic questions were hard to find. Sometimes, you got different answers to them from talking to different people.
But our efforts at synergizing Stopping “Stop & Frisk” with OWS bore fruit. A grouping of about 50 people from OWS came together to
Harlem on October 21st, joining the crowd of several hundred who were there, and about ½ of the 35 people who did the civil disobedience were from OWS.
I need to add here that Occupy Da Hood, the People of Color working group of OWS, and the prisoner solidarity working group gave important support to the efforts to synergize the struggle against police brutality and Stop & Frisk with OWS.
Now the struggle is to maintain the synergy that has been created and to build off it. So far OWS activists have been strong in the house in our follow up meetings to plan for the next civil disobedience—which will be on November 1st at the 73rd Precinct in the
Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. This pig sty is infamous for stopping the most people under Stop & Frisk. And of the 20 people who have signed up to do civil disobedience, again about ½ of them are OWS’ers. (I’m writing this on October 31st, so by the time you get to read this, this action will have already happened.)
Our campaign to stop “Stop & Frisk” will go on till that racist, illegal and unconstitutional policy is ended. Already in the works is another civil disobedience on Nov 15th in
Jamaica, Queens, at the 103rd Precinct, and a day of campus action for December 2nd. OWS is also vowing to stay in the streets, so there will be more to say about synergizing these efforts.