The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
Field Notes

Prelude to a Hot American Summer

New York City May 30,2020. Photo: Scott Heins
New York City May 30,2020. Photo: Scott Heins

“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”

—James Baldwin1

In the unfolding of social antagonism which drives human history there are spectacular moments when a hitherto-invisible threshold is crossed and great masses who have long appeared to suffer in silence thrust themselves onto center stage to claim their place as breakers of chains and makers of history. The 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was one such event. The 2016 plan to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline across sacred indigenous land and water was another. Now, the police murder of George Floyd, played and replayed millions of times around the world, has set alight a great wave of struggle the likes of which the United States has not seen in a half-century. Racist violence and oppression is not a new feature of American society; it is intrinsic to American capitalism, which is to say, intrinsic to the country itself. George Floyd is only among the latest in a pantheon of victims whose lives ended at the deadly nexus of racist exploitation and violence that holds the country together. So, why George Floyd, and why now?

In a better world than ours, any death as callous and senseless as Floyd’s murder would spark scenes of righteous indignation like those we have seen in the past month. But in the contemporary United States, defined as it is by a banal daily spectacle of pointless, slow violence and wasted life—especially the lives of working-class Black people—the events set in motion by the murder of a regular working-class man on a nondescript American street require a closer look. In particular it is worth exploring how a rebellion against police violence and systemic racism has taken root during a global pandemic, pushed into the mainstream the hitherto marginal movement to divert police funding to much-needed social services, and opened new horizons—unimaginable just weeks ago—for liberation and recuperation.

In the months leading up to George Floyd’s murder, COVID-19 brought much of the global economy to a halt, placing at least 36 million Americans on some type of unemployment, while laying bare the shocking inadequacy of American public infrastructure to protect vulnerable people, especially Black people, from the physical and economic ravages of COVID-19. “The old African-American aphorism ‘When white America catches a cold, black America gets pneumonia’ has a new, morbid twist:” writes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “when white America catches the novel coronavirus black Americans die.”2 But the disaster extended far beyond Black America. As COVID-19 ravaged the world economy, many Americans who previously considered themselves secure or even middle-class were confronted with the specter of interminable joblessness, a dire lack of hospital beds and health services for all but the super-rich, and the startling fragility of a world market upon which we are all forced to depend for subsistence. Meanwhile, politicians and business elites openly debated the magnitude of human sacrifice necessary for the cause of getting the economy moving again. But this kind of macabre calculation is nothing new. For decades, the US ruling class has shirked the brunt of sluggish profit rates, capital flight, and recurring economic crisis by stripping away the standard of living for working people, replacing the proverbial carrot of wealth redistribution with the stick of policing and incarceration.3 Recent national strike waves in education and nursing as well as behind prison walls—including a recent strike at Rikers Island in protest of New York City’s disastrous handling of COVID behind bars—have demonstrated that many sectors are ready to fight back against a society whose central figure of social reproduction is the policeman’s club.4

Alongside the fear of impending death lurks the prospect of a life of poverty, as Americans watch their livelihoods crumble, bills amass unpaid, mortgages and rents come due and past-due, and the most substantive relief come in the form of one-time $1,200 checks. Is it any wonder that the horrific sight of a man slowly choked to death while pleading for his life has found such widespread resonance? Thus, while building upon the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the long tradition of Black radicalism that came before it, the unfolding rebellion against racist policing in the United States is inextricable from the COVID crisis, its lethal consequences, and the picture it has emblazoned on many Americans’ minds of a capitalist society in decline. Perhaps we have at long last reached the breaking point. “When history is written as it ought to be written,” wrote C.L.R. James, “it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which [people] will wonder, not their ferocity.”5

Get in the Zone

Shoutout to my friends at home on the couch! I did it! I’m here! I’m the man!

–Protester outside the burning 3rd Precinct, 5/28/206

In this moment of great upheaval, one thing certain is that American cities are no longer ghost towns. “COVID is over!” declared a shirtless-yet-masked protester, pumping his fist amid the flames of Minneapolis.7 Tens of thousands of people march on previously deserted boulevards and highways, weaving along and crisscrossing the overpoliced streets of New York, Chicago, DC and Philadelphia, but also along the main streets of smaller cities and towns across America. Groups of demonstrators at once jubilant and enraged move through streets made impassible to auto traffic, scattering into meandering snake marches, reconverging by accident amid cheers of joy. These street scenes have furnished an organic anarchic environment for a wide range of tactics, whether they be anti-cop graffiti, expropriation of goods, pitched battles with the police, or simply feeling the power of shutting down the streets without permission. We've seen COVID mutual aid networks immediately repurposed to provide food, water, and masks to sustain protesters throughout the course of long marches, while these practices are also taken up by individual people announcing their free wares with signs on their backpacks or cars. In Chicago, cars park along march routes, distributing hand sanitizer through the driver's side window. Simultaneously, “car blocs” provide a safer way for people vulnerable to COVID to participate—and snarl traffic in the process, often with passengers protruding through sunroofs, waving signs and dancing. Anyone with a social media account and a few followers can call a demonstration, and while the would-be middle-managers of utopia might bemoan the amateurism of it all, countless young people are learning by doing. In many places these youths are proving braver and more tactically ingenious than old guard organizers who follow the familiar peaceful protest script.

In the US, unpermitted marches and infrastructure blockades call to mind the BLM movement at its post-Ferguson peak.8 But unlike the previous wave of BLM protests, we have seen far more violent police confrontations. We have also seen police cars set on fire, businesses targeted, and goods expropriated in cities big and small. In Minneapolis, fire consumed the city for days. The now-infamous Third Precinct, home to Derek Chauvin and his accomplices, was set afire alongside an AutoZone, a Target, a liquor store, other local businesses, and a luxury condo under construction.9 Nearby, protesters worked out inside a ransacked Planet Fitness. Locals were spotted mowing their lawns in gas masks. For a time, police were nowhere to be found. Afraid and outnumbered, they awaited relief from the National Guard. According to one poll, over half of Americans believe that the burning of the Third Precinct by protestors was justified.10 In Greece, demonstrators hurled firebombs at the US embassy in Athens in solidarity with those protesting the death of George Floyd. Clashes with police have also marked anti-police actions in Mexico and in England;11 a statue of a prominent slave trader was torn down and consigned to Bristol harbor, formerly a key node in the Atlantic slave trade.12

In New York City alone, at least 47 police vehicles have been damaged and at least 13 of them torched by protestors.13 Broken glass lined the streets of Fordham Road in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, and Manhattan’s SoHo.14 In Chicago, roughly 100 police cars have been taken out of service, and friends report spotting them out on patrol with broken windows and anti-cop graffiti.15 In Atlanta, protestors climbed the sign in front of CNN headquarters, spray painted anti-police messages, and waved the Mexican flag.16 In Philadelphia, protesters tore down a statue of the notorious Frank L. Rizzo, an enduring symbol of police abuse and racism.17 In Nashville, protestors set fire to the courthouse.18 Police departments and courthouse buildings were targeted by protestors in other cities including Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, and Portland.19 In Denver, protestors smashed the windows of the Colorado Judicial Center.20 In Portland, protestors smashed windows and set fires inside the Multnomah County Justice Center while correctional staff manned the first floor.21 In response to police violence, protesters have tossed bottles, bricks, and Molotov cocktails, and have returned volleys of tear gas cans, have shot fireworks, and—following the examples of Hong Kong and Santiago—have used lasers to impair cops’ vision, even forcing a helicopter to retreat in Minneapolis.22 In Seattle, protesters have beaten back police and opened a cop-free “autonomous zone.”23 Even the “hands up, don’t shoot” tactic pioneered in the streets of Ferguson, often misunderstood as a symbol of pacifism, can in fact be a confrontational tactic when facing down a police line, as it was in the siege of the Third Precinct.24

Municipal governments’ firing and pressing criminal charges against police murderers—a central demand of the original Black Lives Matter movement—has been unable to slow the rebellion’s momentum. After the Minneapolis police took the rare step of firing four of its own and the District Attorney took the even rarer step of filing murder charges against them, the rebellion continued unabated. Three days after George Floyd’s killers were charged, the streets of Washington DC erupted in flames. The headquarters of the AFL-CIO, a defender of the police unions in its ranks, was smashed and defaced.25 Afraid of the potential and looming danger to the White House, as protestors clashed with police and set the guardhouse on fire, officials turned off the exterior lighting and President Trump hurried off to hide in a bunker.26 That same day, the National Guard was called in to Washington DC, Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah.27 At least 13 protestors have been killed thus far and hundreds more injured by police tear gas and rubber bullets.28 While chemical agents are prohibited by the Geneva Convention, American police deploy them domestically. In Louisville, the Kentucky National Guard shot and killed David McAtee, an owner of a barbeque restaurant known for giving cops free meals.29 In San Jose, police-fired rubber bullets maimed a local activist who worked to educate cops about their “implicit biases.”30

Interviews with Minneapolis protesters reveal growing frustrations over the inability of so-called police reform to stop police murders. One young Black protestor pointed to the fires consuming the Third Precinct as he stated: “We are living through hundreds of years of discrimination and a bunch of stigma that we face every day. We tried peaceful protesting, we tried every different direction, and this was our last resort.”31 While Democrats and non-profits call for “reform,” the recent history of Minneapolis, where the rebellion began, in fact provides us with front row seats to the tragicomedy that this entails. Beginning in 2012, Janeé Harteau, the city’s first female and openly gay police chief, vowed to overhaul the force and embraced change along lines advocated by the Obama administration.32 In 2015, in the aftermath of the Ferguson rebellion, Minneapolis was selected by the Department of Justice as one of six cities to undergo reform efforts as part of Obama’s national My Brother’s Keeper initiative. In three years, $4.75 million dollars was spent to collect data and come up with a list of evidence-based practices to repair community-police relations.33

The result was Harteau’s MPD 2.0: A New Police Model aimed at shifting the MPD to so-called community policing. The initiative was widely resisted by rank-and-file police officers. Two years later, a damning report by the Department of Justice accused the MDP of failing to discipline officers charged with misconduct.34 The MPD found loopholes to avoid police suspensions and other forms of discipline and instead sent its officers to “coaching sessions,” which amounted to reading the police manual out loud.35 In 2016, the MPD rewrote its policy regarding the use of force and instituted new rules which required police officers to intervene in moments where fellow officers were being abusive.36 Other changes were introduced, including training on procedural justice, implicit bias, and crisis intervention.37 Yet these changes were never embraced by the rank and file. A year later in the wake of the MPD murder of 40 year-old Australian-American Justine Damond, chief Harteau was asked to resign her post.38 In 2018, the MPD was lauded for leading the nation in terms of embracing procedural change despite yet more public outrage over a police killing, this time of a 31 year-old Black man named Thurman Blevins.39 Since 2000, the MPD has killed 195 people, most of them working-class, and disproportionately Black.40

Don’t Believe the Hype

These people who judge us should take a city bus or a cab through the South Bronx, the Central Ward of Newark, North Philadelphia, the Northwest section of the District of Columbia or any Third World reservation, and see if they can note a robbery in progress.

–Kuwasi Balagoon41

Philadelphia, Saturday May 30, 2020. Photo: Caleb Gallus
Philadelphia, Saturday May 30, 2020. Photo: Caleb Gallus

Aided by their mouthpieces in the press, state officials have done everything in their power to divide the rebellion between “peaceful protesters” and “rioters”—the latter portrayed as looters and opportunistic riffraff out to destroy the fabric of communities. In this lexicon, many tactics in which no human body is harmed are classed as “violent,” including the destruction of inanimate objects, the expropriation of commodities for their use, and self-defense against police, who have in fact been initiating violent encounters all over the country. Befitting a society which privileges the value of private property over that of human life, so-called looting has proven to be a particularly divisive issue. Interestingly, however, debates around expropriations, as with those around arson, have focused almost solely on the targeting of small businesses, with a noticeable lack of sympathy for chain stores like Target and Wal-Mart. Similarly, during the 1965 riots in Watts, Black small business owners painted “Blood Brother” on their storefronts. While the term is no longer in vogue today, signs declaring businesses “Black-owned” have sprung up across cities like Chicago and New York.

“I grew up around these buildings,” a protester in Minneapolis proclaimed as the blocks around the Third Precinct went up in flames. “Fuck these buildings. I used to get tacos here. Fuck them tacos. Fuck this shit, man. Fuck it all!”42 Despite widespread evidence of rebellion by local residents, the timeless racist myth of the outside agitator has been resurrected once more.43 Claims of outside agitators in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Sacramento, DC, Houston, and Miami—to name a few—were contradicted by arrest data, which showed the militant street tactics to be largely conducted by locals.44 Additionally, proponents of this theory have yet to explain how outside agitators can be present in nearly every city simultaneously. Patronizing rumors have swirled that a single white outside agitator “started the riot” in Minneapolis, as if one person could force thousands to adopt militant tactics when they weren’t already good and ready.45 A still more effective fabrication pushed by liberal politicians and the mainstream press builds off the minimal presence of white supremacists on the fringes of these massive street actions, to argue that legions of undercover white supremacists are driving all confrontational tactics. This racist narrative, which denies agency to non-white people and forecloses their ability to take radical action, functions alongside a bevy of misinformation spread by cable talking heads and sensationalist scholars like University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew, who float reckless conspiracy theories that ascribe Black agency to white people, such as the debunked stories about “bait bricks” left by police to lure hapless rubes into breaking the law.46 The conservative counterpart to these canards is the similarly unproven invocation of Antifa lurking behind every transgression of respectability and law, echoed by President Trump himself.47 Those spreading disinformation are aided by a lack of information discipline in activist circles, where outlandish rumors are spread at fever-pitch, often free of factual substantiation, creating needless panic.

Downtown Chicago, May, 31, 2020. photo: Jarrod Shanahan
Downtown Chicago, May, 31, 2020. photo: Jarrod Shanahan

The counter-insurgency strategies we have seen are largely nothing new. In the time since Watts and the birth of Black Power, entire urban political machines have been erected to prevent Black insurrection, with police forces “diversified” and Black and Brown radicals either bought off, marginalized, incarcerated, or murdered.48 Novel in the post-1968 moment is the growth of the third party sector or nonprofits as the managers of working-class misery.49 The proximity of these community-based nonprofits to large foundation money and Democratic Party coffers helps them fund programs that offer meager support to working-class people, and mostly positions them to broker relationships between working-class residents and employers, landlords, and carceral state officials.50 Key to this alliance is keeping the peace with the cops, even though this is mostly a one-sided deal. It is no coincidence, then, that the most confrontational direct action in Minneapolis was taken outside the power of the local politicians, faith leaders, and nonprofits, or that we have seen considerably less confrontational direct action where these forces have gained control of the movement.

In the present rebellion the task of mediating antagonisms between police and the policed has largely proven impossible. Not even the most liberal cities have been able to control their cops. Thanks largely to social media, Americans have seen police use all tools at their disposal, including stun hand grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets, and even police vehicles to attack protesters. Dangerous projectiles like tear gas canisters and rubber bullets are fired directly at protesters’ heads, in contravention of their intended “non-lethal” use. Police brutality has also not spared so-called peaceful protestors, even when they are white, nor has meting out brutality been limited to white cops.

Things Falls Apart

Everybody’s trying to shame us. The legislators. The press. Everybody’s trying to shame us into being embarrassed about our profession. Well, you know what? This [badge] isn’t stained by someone in Minneapolis. It’s still got a shine on it, and so do theirs, so do theirs. Stop treating us like animals and thugs, and start treating us with some respect! That’s what we’re here today to say. We’ve been left out of the conversation. We’ve been vilified. It’s disgusting. It’s disgusting.

–Mike O'Meara, president of the NY State Police Benevolent Association, June 9, 2020.51

In 1968, Richard Nixon could count on large numbers of white Americans, the “silent majority,” to heed his calls of “law and order.” Today the geography of recent protests shows many rural, majority-white areas as the scene of spirited and at times confrontational BLM protests.52 This is significant, as the past four decades the growth of a massive security and carceral state in tandem with the destruction of the post-war welfare state53 has relied on the assent of a critical mass of the working- and middle-class white people who form the popular base of this “law and order” coalition with the US ruling class and leading politicians of both parties.54 The predominant role police play in many domains of social life—education, drug addiction, mental health, homelessness, sex work, and the list goes on—derives in large part from the success of this coalition, which alongside the hallowing out of the welfare state has fueled the rise of what we today call “mass incarceration.”55 In 2017, Black Youth Project 100, Law for Black Lives, and the Center for Popular Democracy compiled an overview of police budgets across American cities to demonstrate how massive investment in law enforcement has gone hand in hand with diminished investment in social safety net and basic infrastructure in working-class communities of color.56

The present recalls another pitched moment of austerity: the urban crisis of the 1970s, when this coalition solidified. Just as the rug of post-war prosperity was pulled from beneath the feet of working-class people, a critical mass of white Americans threw in their lot with the forces of police and prisons against the threat of Black and Brown radicalism.57 Simultaneously, police and prison guards, as custodians of the law and order coalition, were able to maneuver and secure a comfortable position for themselves in exchange for overseeing the imposition of austerity with brute force. Since then, generations of Americans have seen their pensions privatized and taken away, the public sector being the first on the chopping block of liberal mayors’ budgets, community programs offering free services shut down, public housing obliterated in all but a handful of major cities and homelessness now a permanent feature of working class life.58 Today, even in the most liberal cities, COVID-19 is already providing the ruling classes with the opportunity to further cut job security, housing, services, and youth programs. Police budgets, on the other hand, are already seeing an increase—no doubt anticipating the fiery potential that a growing immiseration of the working class can translate into. It should hardly surprise us that amid the ravages of COVID-19, animosity toward the police as the central figure of social reproduction for the American working class, especially its most violent forms, is on the rise. In New York City, this hostility has assumed a catchy slogan.

“NYPD Suck My Dick”

Tension is high, man these niggas is irate / You can see it in they eyes, they wanna violate / Screaming out “Oink! Oink! Bang! Bang! Gang! Gang! Gang! Gang! Murder! Murder!” / Murder they mind state

–Vic Mensa, “16 Shots”

Central to the present rebellion is open and bitter hostility toward the police. “Mom, I have to go,” a young Minneapolis protester was overheard saying on the phone. “Fuck the police. Mom, OK, fuck the police. I’ll call you later. Fuck the police.”59 The classic anti-police slogans “Fuck 12” (numerical slang for police) and “ACAB” (all cops are bastards), derived respectively from hip hop and punk subcultures, have escaped these niche lexicons and become ubiquitous on protest signs, shop windows, city walls, and even cop cars, coast to coast. The most popular chant in New York City—“NYPD suck my dick!”—is driven by Black youth but embraced by all but the most puritanical. On Chicago’s South Side chant leaders evoke local rapper Vic Mensa’s anti-cop anthem “16 Shots” by counting to eleven, at which the crowd rejoins “Fuck 12!”

The rebellion’s banner victory thus far was the overtaking and destruction of the MPD’s Third Precinct. Credit for whatever reforms follow in the weeks and months ahead is due in no small part to the revelers who put this building to the torch. We imagine it will be difficult, moving forward, for reformers and radicals alike to sit through endless municipal budgetary meetings and community town halls after Minneapolis has demonstrated how effectively a critical mass of pissed off people can cut through the red tape. It remains the most significant fact of the entire rebellion that the people of Minneapolis found it suitable to skip these niceties and simply destroy the building where Derek Chauvin suited up the day he killed George Floyd. The Third Precinct was also where Chauvin and his accomplices later filed a falsified story about Floyd perishing of natural causes, which was passed along by their superiors to the press, and would likely have passed as truth had the murder not been caught on tape by a courageous Black teenager named Darnella Frazier.60 One can only guess how many such falsehoods have been cooked up within the precinct walls that the good people of Minneapolis decided were no longer fit to stand.

The siege of the Third Precinct contrasts profoundly with the events of 2015, when the MPD murder of Jamar Clark spurred an 18 day occupation outside of the officers’ precinct.61 This action was effective, and befitted the political moment when it occurred. But we are in a new era. This time around, within three days of George Floyd’s murder, the offending precinct was up in smoke. The popular slogan of the 2016 Parisian uprising, tout le monde déteste la police (everyone hates the police) far better encapsulates the tenor of the present moment than clichés about “bad apples,” a cliché which begs the question of why the good apples don’t just blow the whistle or quit.

Today’s burgeoning anti-police zeitgeist has been aided tremendously by the cops themselves. Their brutal street tactics have reliably injected fresh impetus to the movement with each new viral video, and the conspicuous solidarity that they show one another as the tide of public opinion turns against them has made the bad apples narrative impossible to swallow. For instance, when two Buffalo cops were disciplined for brutalizing 75-year-old Catholic Worker organizer Martin Gugino, the entire riot squad resigned from their voluntary post in protest, making their allegiances clear to all.62 Police unions are also fueling the growing polarization by material necessity, since they stand above all else for the freedom of individual cops to wield violence any way they see fit, and for the boundless expansion of the police in terms of both their numbers and the scope of their power.63 By their very nature, police unions oppose efforts to chasten and downsize police departments, just as they are prone to slander the victims of police violence to help exonerate the murderers they represent. Thus, the head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis predictably dubbed George Floyd a “criminal” and his supporters “terrorists,” winning few supporters save for those presently hiding behind badges.64 Further, as politicians scramble to pass symbolic concessions to a movement which has them terrified, police and their powerful unions have largely proven unwilling if not incapable of budging an inch, besides the occasional corny “taking a knee” with protesters, sometimes as a prelude to brutalizing them.65

The Color Line and Other Barricades

Today I saw a storm at sea
Its bilious white and black
It spent its forces as if it knew
The power of its back.

-Claudia Jones “Storm at Sea” (October 1962)66

Along with opposing the police, this movement also takes direct aim at the racial violence of capitalist society which the daily violence of police perpetuates and upholds.67 Floyd’s death also came on the heels of the police murder of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman gunned down in her own home by cops executing a “no-knock” warrant, and the shooting death of Ahmaud Arberry, a Black man killed by a former cop and his son in broad daylight as he jogged down the street. These cases were only two of the latest and most high-profile in a seemingly endless cascade of white supremacist terror reminiscent of the old Jim Crow. What Floyd allegedly did to warrant a summary execution is completely besides the point, but the fact that it was the trifle of passing a counterfeit $20 bill amid a global pandemic that has rendered over 30 million Americans unemployed, provokes all the more anger. This aspect of Floyd’s case also calls to mind the stories of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, who perished at the hands of the state after trifling encounters, catalyzing the first incarnation of BLM. The limits of liberal police reform and the continuous police killings have left young people with no choice but to be “fed the fuck up!”68

West Philadelphia, May, 31, 2020. Photo: George Ciccariello-Maher
West Philadelphia, May, 31, 2020. Photo: George Ciccariello-Maher

As the cultural winds shift quickly away from the decades-long worship of police, big companies are getting in on the act, with anti-racism taking the place of the COVID-cancelled Pride Month as the flagship of corporate virtue-signaling. But young protestors know better than to wait for Bank of America to release a statement of support with the movement. Around the nation, bank windows have been broken and set on fire. In one protest photo shared on Twitter a young Black girl is posing in front of a boarded-up Minneapolis bank adorned in graffiti that reads: “This is for all the overdraft fee$.” The most powerful fight against racism and white supremacy remains in the streets, where people are taking risks in concert and struggling together to overcome the historical legacy of racism through direct action aimed at building a better world. This is also the primary site where racial divisions can be broken down, through the process of shared risk-taking magnified now even more by a global pandemic. As one piece of graffiti on a Philadelphia trash can proclaimed: “To all the white ppl out here with us: you a real nigga!” This is by no means a unanimous sentiment, however, as plenty of people have stepped to instruct white people in ornate detail on the proper ways to behave in this moment and thereby preserve their distinct social existence as white.69

If social media are any indication, people are doing important work breaking these walls down in workplaces and homes, through debates over just exactly what it will take for the American police to stop killing Black people. People are disagreeing and drawing the line with family members over dinner and all over social media. One young person tweeted: “I lost my aunt today…She’s not dead, just racist!” Conversations about racism, police violence, and white supremacy are dividing family members, causing important frictions and divides not seen perhaps since the late 1960s. White members of the Facebook Page “Black Lives Matter Tennessee” have publicly shamed family members, friends, acquaintances and local businesses who still proudly display Confederate flags and memorabilia. These conversations are importantly also happening in latinx and Asian communities. In NYC, a video showing Dominican men defending stores against alleged Black looters went viral and sparked important discussions and solidarity protests among latinx and African-Americans.70 In Chicago’s South Side, Mexican organizers sponsored a solidarity rally to bring together African-American youth and Mexican youth, and local activists organized a truce between street families, after considerable violence and tension engendered by the chaos of the rebellion.71 While tactics have remained largely street demonstrations, confrontations, and expropriations, and have yet to penetrate “the glass floor” into the abode of production, the rebellion is doing necessary work to challenge the color line in American society and lay a foundation for future offensives against capital.72 It is also important to watch the ways that multiracial struggle and collective risk-taking is destabilizing boundaries in the streets.

These questions around racist police violence and white supremacy have exposed not only American police to public scrutiny but all other institutions that reproduce white supremacy—including obvious vectors like prisons and multinational corporations, and less obvious ones like public schools, which are often defended as inherently good for working-class people of color but simultaneously abet the “school-to-prison pipeline” and other forms of racial differentiation from an early age. We imagine the swirling boardroom conversations and the anti-racist training workshops that will unfold over the next year, even if successful, will only incorporate a small handful of Black Americans into the upper echelons of corporate America and the non-profit sector. They will also do very little to stem the tide of a growing number of discontented youth who are perpetually kept out of the material comforts afforded to the petite bourgeoisie, and from whom the coming COVID Depression will likely strip whatever illusions of social mobility remain possible in the United States. Today’s young people are already the generation most hostile to capitalism and amenable to “socialism.” Many are now finding in the streets the means to this end that they failed to win with Bernie’s ballot box “revolution,” as Jacobin flails and flounders to say anything relevant to the youthful leaders of this rebellion. Today’s horizon extends far beyond voting or a more diverse 1%. Most telling in this respect is the present demand to defund the police.

“Starve the Pigs”

A lot of people in the bourgeoisie tell me they don’t like Rap Brown when he says, “I’m gon’ burn the country down,” but every time Rap Brown says, “I’m gon’ burn the country down,” they get a poverty program.

-Stokely Carmichael, Free Huey rally, 196973

The proliferation of police and prisons in the US over the last four decades has been an austerity measure. Bernie’s plan to reverse this trend through electoral politics came to naught. Like Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s, many of today’s young protestors have learned from the fire of Minneapolis that riots, for better or worse, are often the main pathway to forcing the state to grant real material concessions to working-class people. Before the present rebellion, the last time that New York City was placed under curfew was on the eve of the Harlem Riot of 1935, which forced Mayor LaGuardia to consider the city’s housing problem and build the Harlem River Houses, a housing project built to accommodate working-class African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Against this historical backdrop, today’s protests have moved straight for the jugular: police budgets, which are representative of the hollowed-out welfare state, the material power of police unions, and the base of the law and order coalition itself. After surveying a litany of failed liberal policing reforms that do little to reduce police power and growing working-class misery, Sociologist Alex Vitale concludes: “The only leverage that remains is to starve the beast.”74

In a move to appease protestors and piss off another D.C. resident, Donald Trump, D.C. mayor Muriel E. Bowser had “Black Lives Matter” painted in bold yellow lettering near the White House. A day later, protestors decided to add their own messaging: “Defund the Police.” The calls to defund the police have grown louder and have become a dominant political voice, drowning out liberal demands like Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait program, which proposes a list of procedural reforms promising “to bring immediate change to police departments,”75 another way to build a more efficient police power. Abolitionists have called such liberal demands “dangerous and irresponsible.”76 A basic abolitionist criterion for non-reformist reforms is the litmus test of whether they strengthen the power, social scope, and funding base of the police—which most liberal reforms like #8CantWait surely does.77 Following the groundwork laid by organizations like Critical Resistance, Black feminist theorists, and the tireless work of police and prison abolitionists who have shown time and time again the limits of police reform, the campaign #8toAbolition has released a set of demands to defund the police. Defunding the police is only one part of a broad agenda that includes their removal from schools and other social welfare institutions, the channeling of resources towards free and accessible public transportation, health infrastructure that supports free care and treatment services for low-income residents, cancelation of rent without burden of repayment during the pandemic, ban on evictions, removing police from shelters and other social welfare institutions, repurposing empty buildings to provide shelter to the homeless, and more bread-and-butter redistributive policies. In short, the #8toAbolition campaign sees defunding of the police as part of a bigger struggle to redistribute resources and redefine society based on need, not the profits amassed from exchange.

One of the most significant developments of the present rebellion has been its embrace of this hitherto marginal demand. The fact that a large number of protestors can today imagine a world without police, instead of yet another quixotic movement toward “police reform,” is an important political development that deserves our unyielding support. No other anti-police protest in past or recent history has offered up the demand to defang police in favor of building what can be seen as a move toward social democracy for Black America. Every anti-police riot in American history from 1919 to the present has ended with an acknowledgment of the material conditions shaping police violence against Black Americans, but has arrived at two main solutions: police reform and the promise of job opportunities for Black youth. Today such crumbs are too little, too late. Going back to work today only means confronting more death. And no amount of police reform seems capable of stopping police from killing Black people. Trump’s response to the protest movement has been to beat the war drums demanding a reinforcement of law and order reminiscent of Nixon in the late 1960s. His attorney general William Barr, had no qualms about sending the military to respond to protestors outside the White House.78 The breaking ranks of the US ruling class on how to respond to the rebellion represents a rare opportunity to push a radical agenda into the mainstream. And by taking aim at police budgets, the vanguard of the anti-police movement is launching what could potentially become the opening salvo against the capitalist social order which makes police necessary.79

Politically, the defund demand is an example of how the more radical tendencies of BLM have seized the moment and dealt a successful blow to calls for still more police reform along these same old lines. After the first wave of BLM protests dissipated and channeled into liberal talking heads and Democratic Party cheerleaders, smaller BLM groupings began to direct their energy into local organizing. This coincided with a wave of DSA chapters springing up in major cities electing young progressive candidates to defeat Democratic Party machines in city council, senate and local district attorney offices. In Minneapolis, three BLM organizations have been pushing local city council members to reduce police budgets and invest that money into a social safety net. MPD150, Black Visions, and Reclaim the Block have argued for more funding allocated to working-class communities of color as opposed to police, jails and prisons. During Super Bowl weekend, Black Visions Collective members blocked and shut down Metro Light Rail, which was only accessible to ticket holders and out of reach for low income Black residents.80 In New York City, the No New Jails NYC campaign against a plan to expand the city’s jail system created important networks and publicized a broad vision for prison abolition in New York City, rooted in defunding police and prisons and investing in public services for working-class communities of color hit hardest by the scourge of mass incarceration.81

Minneapolis and New York City are not the only city where debates about defunding the police are taking place. On the heels of the Minneapolis city council decision, Chicago democratic socialist alderman Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez penned an op-ed demanding that similar measures be taken up in Chicago.82 In Los Angeles, the local Black Lives Matter chapter has been pushing for the defunding of the police department and has taken this opportunity to win more public support for its work. In response to Campaign Zero’s #8Can’tWait, LA Action Network drafted a document calling it out as an example of “superficial reform” and demanding for the defunding of the police. Like many city councils around the nation, LA has been overseeing budget cuts to various social service programs and departments while increasing the scope and size of the police force. Amid the protests, the Mayor agreed to increase the budget cut to the LAPD to $150 million, which would be redistributed to the city’s various non-profit agencies. Organizations like LA Action Network argue that this is a drop in the bucket for the kind of investment that is needed in working class communities of color. Part of the struggle waged by abolitionists will be to prevent defunding and other non-reformist reforms from being hijacked by liberal non-profits seeking to absorb the gains of the movement and secure lines of funding for their own urban poverty programs. This is not the defunding vision that is advocated by abolitionists like Ruth Wilson Gilmore and the organization Critical Resistance. Yet the tension between a social democratic horizon and communist vision remains one which the protest movement will have to grapple with. Even within the present rhetoric of revolution, defunding can easily become about taking from one sector of the capitalist state to benefit another, which falls within the horizon of capitalist social democracy. In the pursuit of non-reformist reforms, abolitionists must continually check in with themselves: have we simply become left-Keynesians?

Toward a Long Hot Summer

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

–commonly attributed to Vladimir Illych Lenin

Not since the late 1960s, when the Black Panthers enjoyed widespread popularity and chants of “Off the pigs!” echoed in demonstrations across the US, have the American police been forced to adopt such a defensive posture. Fifty years of right-wing politics and Hollywood copaganda have worked tirelessly to paper over the contradictions between the cops and the people they police which are presently laid bare. The cancellation of the dehumanizing TV show COPS is the perfect bellwether of the mythos of “not all cops” going up in smoke before our eyes.83 This is a moment for radical change, not piecemeal reform. “Action speaks louder than words, bro” a masked Black youth told reporters as they stood outside looted burning stores in Minneapolis. “Fuck all that talking.”84 The expropriation of commodities, especially when they have involved large chain stores with little connection to the neighborhoods they exploit, have garnered more sympathy among ordinary Americans than during the 2014-2015 wave of protests. The sentiment that human life is worth more than a bank or a Target store is indisputable especially amid a global pandemic. After all, who can blame anyone for looting toilet paper from Target when we face higher than ever rates of unemployment, evictions and the risk of death to just show up at a minimum wage job with no health benefits? But this tactic has already seemed to run its course, revealing a series of potential limits awaiting those who aim to push the struggle further.

Expropriation and property destruction on the local scale, for starters, has clear limitations: once you empty a box store, it will not be refilled until order is restored. When you burn down a (non-carceral) piece of infrastructure, you foreclose its reappropriation for prosocial uses. The tactics that have arisen in this moment, while far more militant than those of previous cycles of struggle, have yet to take hold of the supply chains that will keep goods flowing to help reproduce a sustained insurrection. On the other hand, social reproduction arising within long marches, such the organized distribution of food and water, along with street medics, and the short-lived Minneapolis hoteltaken over by protesters and used to house the houselessare examples of experimentation in reproducing the movement for an extended horizon, which must be built upon moving forward.85 Similarly, manifestations of this movement in workplaces have thus far been relegated to questions of diversity of staffing and the ideological racism of individual bosses, which are important components of everyday anti-racist class struggle, but lag far behind the building of autonomous counter-power presently unfolding in the streets.

These limitations are only exacerbated by the prospect of cooptation by the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), especially organizations operating under the aegis of the Ford Foundation, a counter-insurgent force battle-tested in the 1960s Black Power movement.86 The abolitionist sidelining of Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait, discussed above, represents an important early victory in the war of position against the forces of NPIC recuperation. But history warns us that the money and seats at the table which become available to grassroots organizers in times of great upheaval are a perennial risk to the movement. Thus, the most pressing limitations of the present rebellion present themselves in the tactical divide between temporary street militancy and sustained social reproduction of the rebellion, on the one hand, and between reform and revolution within the growing abolitionist ranks, on the other. The degree to which these barriers are overcome will depend on militant struggles within workplaces, alongside struggles within and against labor unions and non-profit organizations, which will play out against the backdrop of heightened austerity.

On this last point, it is worth keeping in mind that reducing police budgets to zero across the country and appropriating all of this money to improving the lives of working people would still be a drop in the bucket toward redressing stark class divides and differentials of power which defines class society, especially where class intersects with the color line. And this says nothing of the demands of indigenous people for sovereignty and the return of stolen land, or the pressing necessities demanded by the underdevelopment and political turmoil of vast areas of the globe wrought by American imperialism. In short, we should not kid ourselves that a simple redistribution of funds from one sector of the state to another is adequate to realize the project of human emancipation, or even to meet the moral imperatives of the most basic internationalist anti-racist praxis. The wisdom of decades of abolitionist activism instructs us that demands such as defunding the police are means to a broader end of class struggle against the very existence of class society, and not ends in themselves.

Recent critiques of defunding the police, however, have argued that reducing policing will only gain mass working-class support if it is part of a broader social-democratic fight to expand the social safety net.87 Yet this fails to account for how four decades of austerity measures have relied on not just prisons and police, but also the welfare functions of the state to punish and discipline the poor and the unemployed.88 While we join those who advocate shifting resources from police and prisons toward more redistributive state functions, we must not romanticize the welfare state under capitalism, and never forget that white supremacist punitive power has shaped the logic of all governing institutions, including social work, homeless services, education, and far beyond. For a working-class person, the threat of incarceration and the disciplinary imperative to complete a mandated program at the local welfare office to meet workfare requirements serve the same punitive function. Moreover, for the past four decades, police and prisonswhile expensive at face valuehave proven a whole lot cheaper for the ruling class than guaranteeing the basic demands of free healthcare, housing, and education, and other minimum demands for a comfortable and dignified life, which capitalism in its present moribund state is almost certainly incapable of providing.89 Thus, while reducing the penal arm of the state in favor of rebuilding robust welfare is laudable, this horizon must by necessity be broadened toward a more generalized attack on class society itself, which aims not just at economistic redistribution but the conquest of power, means of production, and the land itself by the working class.

With these perils in mind, we recognize with great hope that the mainstreaming of the abolitionist vision speaks to a growing disenchantment with liberal police reform and a popular acceptance that working-class people have very little to show for their blood sweat and tears except for well-equipped local police departments. In New York City, as a million people face evictions amid COVID, police officers show up at peaceful protests brandishing their new “turtle uniforms” (riot gear) and expensive shiny toys. In this moment abolitionists wisely embrace non-reformist reforms like defunding the police as a challenge to conspicuous police consumption and power amid large scale working-class immiseration. The campaign #8toAbolition advances a platform dedicated to creating free public transportation, mental health and other healthcare services for low-income New Yorkers, a ban on evictions amid COVID and many other social goods.90 But again, we would be remiss to not remind young revolutionaries of the lessons from the historical defeat of the last mass movement of the present magnitude, that of 1968. To paraphrase Kristian Williams: counterinsurgency doesn’t only come dressed up in riot gear, it also comes as your friendly neighborhood community-based non-profit organization.91 In the coming months and years, many revolutionary-minded individuals within the NPIC will likely have to choose between their structural position as mediators of the class struggle and their political commitment to advance this struggle.

As the US ruling class grapples to contain and redirect the militant energy driving the present rebellion, we should do everything in our power to make this task impossible.92 Facing a horizon of stagnant capitalist growth, a global health pandemic with no vaccine in sight, looming austerity cuts, and the daily persistence of racially disparate police violence, what kind of normal can we expect to return to besides the outcome of a class struggle decided in favor of one or the other contenders? In its process, we envision protest movements underway and ahead providing ample opportunities for working-class people to continuously do the experimental work of claiming their emancipation. Current and future protest movements will, in Marx’s words, “have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and [people.]”93 To this effect, our role is to participate in these societal transformations, to fan the revolutionary fires, and to help a new generation sharpen the contradictions between reform and revolution.


1. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, New York: Vintage, 1993, p. 76.

2. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “The Black Plague,” The New Yorker, April 16, 2020,

3. Loïc Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009; Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 2009; Cedric Johnson “The Panthers Can’t Save Us Now,” Catalyst, Spring 2017,; Mark Jay, “Cages and Crisis: A Marxist Analysis of Mass Incarceration,” Historical Materialism 27, no. 1 (2019) pp.1-42l; John Clegg and Adaner Usmani “The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration,” Catalyst, Fall 2019,

4. David Campbell, “Stick-Up at Rikers Island,” Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, May 1, 2020,

5. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, New York: Vintage Books, 1963, p. 138.

6. Unicorn Riot, Livestream, May 28, 2020,

7. Crimethinc., “The Siege of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis: An Account and Analysis,” June 6, 2010,

8. See: JF, “The Old Mole Breaks Concrete,” Unity and Struggle, December 11, 2014,

9. Unicorn Riot, Livestream.

10. Matthew Impelli, “54 Percent of Americans Think Burning Down Minneapolis Police Precinct Was Justified After George Floyd's Death,” Newsweek, June 3, 2020,

11. Sergei Klebnikov, “Floyd Protests Go Global—From Mexico, London, Germany And France—And Sometimes Violent,” Forbes, June 6, 2020,

12. Rob Picheta, “Protesters Tear Down Statue of Slave Trader as Anti-Racism Demonstrations Take Place Worldwide,” CNN, June 8, 2020,; Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolia Press, 1994.

13. Azi Paybarah and Nikita Stewart, “Symbol of N.Y.C. Unrest: The Burning Police Car,” New York Times, May 31, 2020.

14. Emily Witt, “Protesting Past Curfew in New York City,” The New Yorker, June 4, 2020,


16. Fernando Alphonso III, “CNN Center in Atlanta Damaged During Protests” CNN, May 29, 2020,

17. James Stephens and JJ McAffee, “In the Streets of Philadelphia,” Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, June 14, 2020,

18. John Bowden, “25-Year-Old Arrested for Allegedly Setting Fire to Nashville’s Historic Courthouse,” The Hill, May 31, 2020,

19. Allison Pries “These Are All the Cities Where Protests and Riots have Erupted Over George Floyd’s Death,” NJ.COM June 2, 2020,; Saja Hindi and Sam Tabachnik “Denver Businesses Assess Vandalism, Looting Costs after George Floyd protests,” The Denver Post, May 30, 2020,; Matt Galka “Unrest in Downtown Phoenix Amid Protest Over Deaths of George Floyd, Dion Johnson; Two Arrested,” Fox News 10 Phoenix May 30, 2020,; Aaron Mesh, “Video: Portland Protesters Smash Windows and Set Fires Inside Multnomah County Justice Center,” Willamette Week, May 30, 2020,

20. Jesse Paul, “Police Arrest 83 for Curfew Violations, Denver Mayor Calls After-Dark Mayhem ‘Reckless, Inexcusable and Unacceptable,’” The Colorado Sun, May 31, 2020,

21. Aaron Mesh, “Video: Portland Protesters Smash Windows and Set Fires Inside Multnomah County Justice Center,” Willamette Week, May 30, 2020,

22. Crimethinc., “The Siege of the Third Precinct.”

23. Hallie Golden, “Seattle Protesters Take Over City Blocks to Create Police-Free ‘Autonomous Zone,’” The Guardian, June 11, 2020,

24. Crimethinc., “The Siege of the Third Precinct.”

25. Brandon Conradis, “Clashes, Fires Near White House as Protests Escalate,” The Hill, May 31, 2020,

26. Molly Olmstead, “White House Goes Completely Dark as Protests Rage Outside,” Slate, June 1, 2020,

27. Ryan Browne, Alicia Lee and Renee Rigdon, “There Are as Many National Guard Members Activated in the US as There Are Active Duty Troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan,” CNN, June 1, 2020,

28. Tim Balk, “These 13 Protestors have died since George Floyd Protests Started Last Week,” Daily News, June 3, 2020,

29. Brakkton Booker, “Louisville Hosts Public Viewing For David McAtee As Details Of His Shooting Emerge,” NPR, June 12, 2020,

30. Jennifer Wadsworth, “SJPD Mains Activist Who Helped Train Officers About Implicit Bias,” San Jose Inside, June 6, 2020,

31. All Gas No Brakes, “Minneapolis Protest,” June 8, 2020,

32. Randy Furst, “Minneapolis' Janeé Harteau Breaking the Mold as Chief of Police,” Star Tribune, November 28, 2012,

33. Peter Callaghan, “The Professors and the Police: How a Minneapolis Project May Change the Way Cops Everywhere Relate to the Public,” Minn Post, August 27, 2015,

34. Libor Jany, “Justice Department Releases Report on MPD "Early Intervention System,” Star Tribune (blog), January 28, 2015,

35. Jamiles Lartey and Simone Weichselbaum, “Before George Floyd’s Death, Minneapolis Police Failed to Adopt Reforms, Remove Bad Officers,” Marshall Project, May 28, 2020,

36. Minneapolis Police Department, “Use of Force Policy,” June 28, 2016,

37. Minneapolis Police Department “Progressive Police Initiatives,” Inside MN PD, October 2016,

38. Libor Jany, Andy Mannix and Eric Roper, “Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau Resigns; Protesters Shout Down Mayor Betsy Hodges” Star Tribune (blog), July 22, 2017,

39. “Minneapolis Police Department 2018, “Focusing on Procedural Justice: Internally and Externally,” Inside MPD June, 2017,

40. Jeff Hargarten, Jennifer Bjorhus, Mary Jo Webster and Kelly Smith, “Every Police-Involved Death in Minnesota Since 2000,” Star Tribune (blog), May 31, 2020,

41. Kuwasi Balagoon, “Brinks Trial: Closing Statement,” in A Soldier's Story: Writings by a Revolutionary New Afrikan Anarchist, Kersplebedeb Publishing, 2003.

42. Unicorn Riot, Livestream.

43. George Ciccariello-Maher, “Blaming ‘Outside Agitators’ Is a Centuries-Old Ploy,” Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2020,; Editorial Board, “This is a Public Service Announcement (Without Guitars*),” Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, June 2, 2020,

44. Sanya Mansoor, “Local Officials and Trump Were Quick to Blame Out-of-State Agitators for Minneapolis' Violent Protests. Arrest Records Suggest Otherwise,” Time, My 31, 2020,; Eric Flack and Jordan Fisher, “Nearly 90% of People Arrested for Riot Crimes and Vandalism are from DMV, Police Say” WUSA9 News, June 8, 2020,; Ted Oberg and Sarah Rafique, “13 Investigates: Most of Houston's Protest Arrests Were Locals,” ABC 13 Eyewitness News, June 2, 2020,; David Krowman and Lilly Fowler, “‘Outside Agitator’ Narrative Not Supported by Data,” Crosscut, June 3, 2020;; Michael McGough, and Dale Kasler, “Sacramento Leaders Blamed Recent Havoc on Outsiders. Nearly All arrests Were Locals,” The Sacramento Bee, June 3, 2020,”; Monique Madan, Joey Flechas, and David Smiley, “Miami Chief, Mayor Deride Arrested Protesters as ‘Outsiders’: But 30 of 57 are from County,” Miami Herald, May 31, 2020,

45. Oliver O’Connell, “Questions Raised Over Masked White Man with Umbrella Seen Calmly Smashing Windows Before Minneapolis Riots,” Independent, May 29, 2020,

46. Katie Kim and Lisa Capitanini, “Extremist Groups May be Infiltrating Protests,” NBC Chicago, June 5, 2020,; EJ Dickson, “People Claim Authorities Are Intentionally Planting Bricks to Bait Protesters,” Rolling Stone, June 3, 2020,

47. Neil MacFarquhar, Alan Feuer, and Adam Goldman, “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protest,” New York Times, June 11, 2020.

48. This is discussed at length in Cedric Johnson’s Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007 and Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor, “Black Faces in High Places,” in From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016. For an account of American ruling class elites worked to build counterinsurgency across borders, see Stuart Schrader’s Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing Berkeley, University of California Press, 2019.

49. For a historical account of the role of criminal justice non-profits in wider counterinsurgency strategies of NYC ruling class in the late 1960s, see: Jarrod Shanahan and Zhandarka Kurti, “Managing Disorder in the 1960s: The New York City Model,” The Gotham Center for New York City History (blog), January 7, 2020,

50. Miller Reuben. 2014. Devolving the Carceral state: Race, Prisoner reentry, and the Micro-politics of Urban

51. Mike O’Meara, Press Conference, June 9, 2020,

52. Grante Schulte, “George Floyd Protests Spread to Smaller, Mostly White Towns,” ABC News, June 7, 2020,

53. Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 2009; David Garland,. The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007; Cedric Johnson “The Panthers Can’t Save Us Now,” Catalyst, Spring 2017,; Mark Jay, “Cages and Crisis: A Marxist Analysis of Mass Incarceration,” Historical Materialism 27, no. 1 (2019) pp.1-42l; Jack Norton, “Cut the Carceral System Now,” New York Review of Books June 6, 2020,

54. For a global context, see: Stuart Hall, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, London: Palgrave, 1978. For the US context more specifically see Jordan Camp, Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016; Timothy L. Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

55. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in An Age of Color Blindness, New York: The New Press 2010; Adaner Usmani, “Did Liberals Give Us Mass Incarceration” Catalyst, Fall 2017,; Alex Vitale, End of Policing, London: Verso, 2017.

56. The Center for Popular Democracy, “Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities.” June 4, 2017,

57. Jordan Camp, Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016; Timothy L. Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. For an account of this counterinsurgency across borders see, Stuart Schrader’s Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing Berkeley, University of California Press, 2019.

58. Across the country a large section of the working class is homeless. See: “Working While Homeless: A Tough Job for Thousands of Californians” NPR, September 30, 2018.; D. W. Gibson, “Eight New Yorkers Explain Why It’s So Hard to Stop Being Homeless,” New York Magazine March 2017

59. Unicorn Riot, Livestream.

60. Press Release Desk Minneapolis Police Department, “Investigative Update on Critical Incident Concerning Minneapolis Police,” May 26, 2020,

61. MPR News Staff, “Timeline: The Jamar Clark Shooting, Aftermath,” MPR News November 30, 2015,

62. Maki Becker, “57 Members of Buffalo Police Riot Response Team Resign After Shoving Incident,” Buffalo News June 6, 2020,

63. Rebecca Hill, “‘The Common Enemy Is the Boss and the Inmate’: Police and Prison Guard Unions in New York in the 1970s–1980s,” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas 8, no. 3 (2011): 65–96; Jarrod Shanahan “Solidarity Behind Bars: NYC Correction Officers Benevolent Association” The Brooklyn Rail, September 2017, Association; Jarrod Shanahan “‘White Tigers Eat Black Panthers,’ New York City’s Law Enforcement Group,” Gotham Center for New York City History (blog), March 21, 2019,

64. Chris McGreal, “Anger as Local Police Union Chief Calls George Floyd a ‘Violent Criminal,’” The Guardian, June 1, 2020,

65. O.H. Groth, “Don’t Fall for the Copaganda: They’ll Take A Knee, Then Tear Gas Thousands,” Left Voice, June 3, 2020,

66. Carol Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

67. Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in An Age of Color Blindness, New York: The New Press, 2010; Muhammad, Khalil Gibran, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America, Cambridge Massachuesets: Harvard University Press, 2011

68. Kayleigh Skinner, Kelsey Davis Betz, and Aallyah Wright, ‘Fed the f— up’: Why young activists are organizing protests across Mississippi,” Mississippi Today, June 5, 2020,

69. For further discussion of this theme, see: “Accomplices Not Allies,” Indigenous Action, May 4, 2014,; The Fire Next Time Collective, “The Flatbush Rebellion,”

70. Anna Quinn, “Uptown Calls for Unity After Protest Confrontation Goes Viral,” Patch, June 3, 2020,

71. Jacqueline Serrato, “Abandoned Communities Arrange Black and Brown Truce,” South Side Weekly, June 9, 2020,

72. Theorie Communiste, “The Glass Floor,”

73. Cited in: TZ, “Burn Down the Prison,” Unity and Struggle, December 11, 2014,

74. Zachary Siegel “‘Starve the Beast’: A Q&A With Alex S. Vitale on Defunding the Police,” The Nation, June 4, 2020,

75. Campaign Zero, “#8CantWait,”

76. #8toAbolition, “Abolition Can’t Wait,”

77. Critical Resistance, “Abolish Police,”; Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003; Incite! The Revolution will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, Boston: South End Press, 2007; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalising California, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007; Dan Berger, Mariame Kaba, and Dave Stein, “What Abolitionists Do,” Jacobin, August 24, 2017,; Tyler Wall and David Correia, Police: A Field Guide, London: Verso, 2018; Michelle Brown, “Transformative Justice and New Abolition in the United States,” in Justice Alternatives: edited by Pat Carlen and Leandro Ayres França, New York, Routledge, 2020; Mariame Kaba, “Yes We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” New York Times, June 12, 2020, ; Brendan McQuade, “The Camden Police is not a Model for Policing in the Post-George Floyd Era,” The Appeal, June 12, 2020

78. Barr has been waiting for this moment since 1968, when as a freshman at Columbia University he joined the “Majority Coalition” to combat New Left protesters. See, Paul Cronin, “The Time That Bill Barr Faced Down Protesters — Personally,” Politico, June 7, 2020,

79. Mark Neocleous, Fabrication of Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, London: Pluto Press, 2000.

80. Hannah Jones, “Black Visions Collective: Meet Some of the Protestors that Shut Down Pride,” City Pages, July 2, 2018,

81. No New Jails NYC, “Close Rikers Now: We Keep Us Safe,”

82. Chicago Sun Times,“Cutting Funding for Police Could Lead to a Better and Safer Chicago,” June 8, 2020,

83. Nicole Sperling, “Cops,’ Long-Running Reality Show That Glorified Police, Is Cancelled, New York Times, June 9, 2020.

84. All Gas No Brakes, “Minneapolis Protest.”

85. Julia Lurie, “They Built a Utopian Sanctuary in a Minneapolis Hotel. Then They Got Evicted,” Mother Jones, June 12, 2019,

86. For the counter-insurgent history of the Ford Foundation, see: Robert Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America, excerpted in INCITE!, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, Boston: South End Press, 2009; Karen Ferguson Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013; Shanahan and Kurti, “Managing Urban Discontent.”

87. Eric Levitz, “Defunding the Police Is Not Nearly Enough,” New York Magazine, June 12, 2020,

88. Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor, Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 2009.

89. NYC's homeless crisis costs over $3 Billion a year and is managed largely through collaboration between the state and third party sector. Melanie Grayce West, New York City’s Spending on Homeless Hits $3.2 Billion This Year,” The Wall Street Journal May 22, 2019.


91. Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, Chico: AK Press, 2004.

92. On this imperative, see: Kali Akuno, “From Rebellion to Revolution,” Viewpoint, June 11, 2020,

93. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1970, p. 73.


Jarrod Shanahan

Jarrod Shanahan is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Governors State University.

Zhandarka Kurti

Zhandarka Kurti is an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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