by James Frey and Jocelyn Cohn
On March 15, Fire Next Time released a phenomenal statement on the role of city councilman Jumaane Williams and the non-profit group Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH) in repressing the activity of anti-cop black militants following the murder of Kimani Gray in the East Flatbush area of Brooklyn, NY. The piece does not just address Williams and FAITH, but also tackles the role of the state and non-profits in general in suppressing revolutionary activity and fostering already present divisions in the class along racial lines. The piece also lays out some of the tasks ahead for the revolutionary left, particularly for the young black left in the poorest areas of the country’s cities. While we are in almost full agreement with FNT’s post, we wanted to draw out a few additional points, particularly around gender and patriarchy. FNT’s post can be read here, and the following is best understood after reading “The Rebellion Contained: The Empire Strikes Back”.
This past Thursday in Flatbush Brooklyn we witnessed the events which Will describes in his excellent piece, and find his account to be consistent and the analysis superb. We have a few assorted thoughts to add and will try not to overlap Will’s account. Our piece assumes familiarity’s with Will’s, and the latter should be read first.
First, although this is absolutely implicit in Will’s piece, we wanted to point out that the activities of FAITH (Fathers Alive In The Hood) and Williams were the result of the loss of the ideological battle by Williams and by the peace-loving non-profits in general. Because Williams so clearly lost the ideological battle against anti-cop militancy, he had to resort to physical force, distraction, and intimidation to disrupt the activity–and still he was not successful in getting people to stop marching. Since they were defeated in the ideological battle, FAITH and Williams used their enormous bodies, bull horns, and aggression to literally drown out the voices of anti-cop militants, primarily women. FAITH aggressively tried to get people to stop the march to the precinct and literally commanded people to get into the church. Jumaane and FAITH were there to give the white media something to cling to, NOT to support the black militants and everyday people who are pursuing freedom.
This somewhat successful use of tactical force seems like a defeat for us but really it is a victory. Finally the non profits and politicians cannot hide their structural role and their relationship to the cops. Jumaane Williams had to resort to using physical force to try to stop people from fighting the cops. He has forever showed his role, and the hope is the antagonism between politicians/non profits and the working class has shown itself strongly enough to spread to other arenas of struggle. As Will so eloquently said, the enemy is bigger than the NYPD.
What this belies is a much larger break with the forms of organization that have held back militant political activity, especially among black and brown militants, for the last few decades. There is an emerging coalition around this issue and general anti-NYPD and hopefully anti-capitalist themes, with which many of our comrades desire to link up. How last night played out is forcing us to confront our obvious deficiencies in organizing, and our more general racial homogeneity. Many were frustrated by this experience because of the obstacles it presented, but these obstacles of course didn’t arise last week, and they point to concrete tasks facing NYC revolutionaries.
Though by no means a monolithic white crowd, the anarchists/communists Will describes were very much “the white people”. This is due in part to the severe segregation in Southeast Brooklyn, under which any white faces are very remarkable. By the time the story was written on the event’s Facebook page, all the non-black participants had just become “Occupy Wall St” and we were being lambasted for a variety of idiotic things said and done at Zuccotti Park. But it is also due to the literally centuries worth of work that has gone into creating the myth that the revolutionary class struggle and the black struggle are divergent. Despite the numbers of both black and non-black revolutionaries who have made it their work to undo this myth and to instead reveal the intrinsic nature of the class struggle and struggle against white supremacy, the history and remnants of slavery and Jim Crow; the institutionalism of radicalism in the mostly white and white-washed university; the billions of dollars spent on incarceration and harassment of mostly black and immigrant men; and the enormous pressure to work several jobs AND work at home for black, latina, asian, and poor white women has done much to serve the still present divide. On top of the institutional forces that attempt to create a separation between the struggle against white supremacy, the struggle against patriarchy, and the struggle against capitalism, these objective elements of the capitalist state take on subjective and interpersonal expressions, which make unity and class-wide struggle all the more difficult and at times downright awkward.
Finally, on a tactical level, this divide was also due in no small part to the fetishism of transparency, a definite hangover from Occupy, resulting in about two dozen cameras trained on the crowd at all times, including several live-streams. Some of the very same kids who had been engaging in street battles with the cops the previous night now found cameras pointed at them from every direction by ordinary people in the crowd. If they live in the projects or go to New York public schools, for example, surveillance is a constant and hostile experience, no doubt causing a markedly different association than the illusion of safety or civic responsibility that inspires white “citizen journalists” to stick cameras up in peoples faces when they’re about to break the law. This needs to be addressed.
Additionally, in a tantrum that seemed to be staged in advance, Sgt Thomas was incredibly physical with a small woman who allegedly yelled “kill the pigs” (which, if she even said it, she was hardly introducing this fantasy into anyone’s mind for the first time). When a white man came to her aid, Thomas instantly made it a racial issue, making for what you can imagine to be a very uncomfortable situation for white militants trying to walk softly but nonetheless intercede in a violent act against a woman comrade. The gender dynamic was completely obscured by the race-baiting discourse which Jumaane Williams had been setting in place all day regarding “outsiders”, and the aggressive men he brought in only reinforced this. This is the kind of thing we have to be more prepared for, uncomfortable though it may be.
Another issue we must point out, and which we feel is related to the minor success FAITH and Thomas had in distracting from political issues through race-baiting, is the casual homophobia and misogyny among organizers and participants. It was “faggot” this and “bitch” that, especially with regards to those who they most hated: the cops in general, but primarily Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (We find this objectionable for a number of reasons, never mind that of the two lines we heard, “Ray Kelly, you’re a racist, and your son is a rapist!” flows much more naturally than “Ray Kelly you’re a faggot and your son is a rapist!”)
We are not shocked or morally outraged to hear this kind of talk from young working class people of any color. However it represents a serious practical issue which the struggle has to face. Instead of being able to confront the patriarchy inherent in the city government and police, organizers passively contributed to this atmosphere. Instead of being able to call out FAITH for being patriarchal and very homophobic as well as heteronormative (their m.o. is preserving “family values” and the male head of household), organizers are left with only calling them out for being not militant enough. Non-profits such as FAITH are then able to strike back by saying “we’re from the neighborhood, these (both white and non-white anarchists/communists) are not (regardless of whether they are)”. A more powerful analysis, and also basis for bringing together the class, would be to show how patriarchy, white supremacy, the institution of the police, capitalism, and heteronormativity are in fact deeply connected.
We are not trying to simply be language police; the reality is equating the most hated individuals in the city with “faggots” in an otherwise militant speech itself can cause unnecessary division. Queer people and women, especially black and latinx, face intense police harassment based on gender and gender expression and furthermore have literally been leading the battle against the police not just in the last week, but historically. Therefore, the attitudes described above are not inherent to the working class but represent a division under capitalism which must be overcome in our praxis.
These are a few thoughts toward what will hopefully be a dialogue in the coming weeks. A few comrades are trying to set up a discussion forum about last night, and we’re reaching out to the organizers to engage on questions of strategy, ideology, finding common ground, etc. If you’re local and you’re interested, get in touch.
-Jocelyn Cohn and James Frey