Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Now Open Letter to the East Bay Express

To the Editors, East Bay Express,
It wasn’t enough to be faced with your cover editorial of July 7-13 implicitly equating (as “errors”) the killing of an unarmed and prone African-American man at the hands of a white BART cop who “lost his cool” with the breaking of business and automobile windows by protesters who “reacted in anger” to what has recently been deemed involuntary manslaughter. Let’s leave aside how precisely you believe people on the receiving end of routine police harassment are supposed to express their outrage at yet another in a seemingly endless series of extrajudicial—of course we mean accidental—murders.

No, that wasn’t bad enough. Now readers are treated to Robert Gammon’s “Seven Days” column of July 14-20, in which he repeats—almost verbatim from the discourse of OPD and the future bureaucrats of Youth Uprising—contemptuous red herrings as part of a wider de rigueur anti-anarchist frenzy being aided and promoted by mainstream and so-called alternative media. Perhaps anarchists should be grateful that at least you have finally dispensed with the cumbersome and paternalistic qualifier “self-described,” as if journalists who are thoroughly ignorant of the history and philosophy of anarchism could possibly be the arbiters of who authentic anarchists are and what we do.

Ridiculous and hackneyed stereotypes abound in Gammon’s scribblings. First there are the ever-present “angry white anarchists” “bent on violence.” This presumes that non-white anarchists don’t exist, inside or outside of Oakland. And yet there are anarchists all over the world, not only in the US. Some of us are even People of Color. It also presumes that “violence” is primarily a question of breaking windows and setting dumpsters on fire. As if the mere existence of police is not violent, as if the relationships of domination and economic exploitation that characterize industrial capitalism weren’t violent or oppressive. The State reserves for itself an exclusive monopoly on the so-called legitimate use of violence; that sort of violence is not to be called into question. Only the scandalous actions of the disenfranchised and dispossessed are referred to pejoratively as “violence,” while the routine bullying, arrests, thievery, beatings, etc. carried out under the cover of legality are just standard operating procedures.

OPD and many municipal politicos are intent on playing up the fact that people who live outside Oakland make up a large percentage of those arrested on the night in question. Any issue involving BART police affects all those living/working in areas served by BART. Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland, which means that it is perfectly reasonable for any demonstration calling into question the killing, the trial, the verdict, and the sentencing would take place in Oakland, with interested residents from the greater Bay Area participating. As an aside and for more context, it might be interesting to know how many people work in Oakland who don’t reside there—police officers for example?

The pairing of anarchists and looters is facile. Who’s to say that the people who looted the Foot Locker were anarchists? Anarchists usually target the windows of the symbols of capitalism, like banks and multinational corporations. Making anarchists exclusively responsible for violence and crime is an easy way to ignore the other dynamics involved in looting, like the fact that people are constantly bombarded with media images equating the consumption of commodities with happiness and satisfaction. Given the proper circumstances, why wouldn’t people who can’t afford to pay for various commodities but who want them—indeed who’ve been told for years that they need them—not take advantage of their sudden easy availability with minimal consequences?

Saying that anarchists used “the peaceful demonstrators as a shield from police” is a typical canard. The image of human shields is deliberately meant to conjure up terrorists, and the implication is clear: the police and their media pals are beginning to fabricate the equation anarchist = terrorist, the better to make the increased surveillance, eventual arrest and apprehension, and ultimate suppression of anarchists easier to stomach for a public already accustomed to extraordinary rendition and the labeling of anyone the State finds inconvenient as an “enemy combatant.”

Like all the others squawking about the ethnicity and residences of those arrested, Gammon presumes they are already guilty of whatever crimes for which the police decided to arrest them. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? Gammon knows that the innocent (in this case chess players) also get arrested, but blames that too on the anarchists.

Anarchists are accustomed to being off-handedly demonized by agents of the State (in and out of power, and those training to attain it) and their friends in the media. Elisee Reclus, a famous French geographer, who also happened to be an anarchist, had this to say over a century ago: “No reproach is too bitter for us, no epithet too insulting. Public speakers on social and political subjects find that abuse of anarchists is an unfailing passport to popular favor. Every conceivable crime is laid to our charge… Overwhelmed with opprobrium and held up to hatred, we are treated to the principle that the surest way of hanging a dog is to give it a bad name.” But being accustomed to it and accepting it without objection are two different things. The prejudices and insults being tossed around are intolerable and irresponsible, and we hope that people who value rational discourse will be able to see through the haze of irrational and parochial declarations coming from the police, politicians, and the media.

Signed, a half-dozen local anarchists (four who reside in Oakland and two who live about 50 feet from the border).


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