‘Something has changed in the power dynamic’: interviews with anarchists from Minneapolis and NYC

On 25 May George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This immediately resulted in protests on the streets in half a dozen cities in the United States.

By the end of that week, every city in the United States – and many around the world – saw vocal, determined, well-attended demonstrations to make it plain that black youth in particular had had enough.

Enough of oppression in the form of murder, violence, organised and persistent racism – and in many more ways – by police forces across the country which are racist to the core.

Other communities oppressed by the élites quickly and peacefully made common cause with the black youth around the country.

We asked members of two groups of those at the forefront of these uprisings – in Minneapolis and New York – to use their own first-hand experience (in the interests of accuracy) and perceptions (in the interests of arriving at thoughtful analyses) both of events and their significance for black and brown people in the United States, and the wider community.

Here are those contextualised accounts and analyses. Their predictions. Their and energetic rejections of gradualism, reform, pacification and deceptive co-option and ‘buying off’ of some of those protesters.

Above all, the extent to which they are increasingly encouraged by the support they are getting in re-imagining something different which could also become possible.

What these discourses present differs so starkly and unambivalently from the narratives of the mainstream propaganda in the United States that they repay repeated attentive reading as tonics for the future.

Our thanks to those who took the time and trouble to prepare answers to our questions. Freedom wishes them well!

Minneapolis

Q: How significant are the current protests in the big picture?

A: The current protests are significant in that – after multi-generational resistance to white supremacy – the ruling élites are finally being forced to face the wrath of people who have for so long been oppressed by a racist system.

The resistance is now at a critical crossroads and must decide to either continue fighting as a popular resistance front to achieve tangible goals toward liberation or continue to be oppressed by white supremacy and capitalism for generations more.

This recent wave of resistance to the status quo began with thousands of poor and oppressed Americans feeling extremely hopeless and making little gains after generations of constant racial and economic oppression. The death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department, along with thousands more people of colour who were murdered by police in recent years, was the catalyst that caused tensions to boil over into the streets.

Q: What will you feel most satisfied/proud to have achieved?

A: In Minneapolis, working-class people of all colours are now coming together in the streets and utilizing various forms of direct action to apply pressure on those in power to abolish the police department. After the first few days of intense urban conflict across the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul), the community is now coming together to support the basic needs of their neighbours. The area in South Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered, is now blockaded and occupied by the community who are providing various services for free to those in need, such as food and medical care. Police patrols throughout many parts of the Twin Cities have drastically decreased since the uprising began. While the siege of the 3rd precinct was successful at getting the police to leave the community, the most satisfying achievement is how the community is coming together to develop alternatives to the oppressive policing methods that have plagued it for so long.

Q: Where and how do you see events going and growing?

A: The Twin Cities community has already seen multiple high profile police murders of individuals over the last few years. In 2015, Jamar Clark was murdered by police while he lay on the ground, execution-style, by pistol, at close range, just one block from the 4th precinct. The protests which followed saw a multi-week siege on the 4th precinct that culminated with Molotov attacks on the police station and other skirmishes between protesters and police. During that time, white supremacists showed up to the area and shot multiple Black Lives Matter activists.

Then in 2016, police in the Twin Cities shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop while he sat in the passenger seat of a car with his partner and child, who streamed his last moments live to Facebook as he bled out. The protests which followed the murder of Philando Castile saw highways blocked by protesters and escalated tactics, including firing mortar fireworks into police lines.

These public lynchings by police, along with thousands more in recent years across the United States, are only a small part of the much larger historical context of what led to the uprising over the police lynching of George Floyd. If the current uprising across the United States fails to create real and immediate substantial change then the conflicts seen across the country in recent weeks will continue to escalate rapidly and possibly spill over into a full-blown civil war.

People of colour are rising up and confronting their oppressors in part due to the fact that there is a high statistical probability they will be murdered by police regardless of whether or not they fight back. Put simply, there is no fear in the people to fight back because there is no hope and no future in doing otherwise.

Q: To what do you attribute the huge scale and durability of the protests?

A: Police in the United States kill and imprison more people than any other developed country in the world. Millions of non-European origin Americans have already endured generations of systematic oppression, from the genocide of indigenous people to slavery, and so much more. Communities of colour are exhausted from peaceful protests that achieve little to nothing. The crumbs of freedom are no longer enough to pacify the oppressed masses. Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, poor and so many others are unifying in the streets to fight for an end to the police terror which has reigned over their communities for decades.

Q: What is the aspect of your work which the mainstream media gets most wrong/understands least well?

A: The corporate media and politicians are using psychological warfare straight out of the US military’s counterinsurgency manual from Iraq and Afghanistan to cause strife between various groups in the community.

Those in power say on television that the majority of the protesters are from different cities and travelled to our communities to cause arson and chaos. This is completely untrue and proven false: simultaneous protests have occurred in all 50 states at once.

The media and politicians are also simultaneously blaming antifascists and white supremacists for causing violence toward police and burning down businesses (that antifascists and fascists would have some secret alliance is absolutely laughable). White supremacists are out near many of these protests; however, they are protecting private property with assault rifles, not black lives. Meanwhile, antifascists of all colours are marching alongside their brothers and sisters fighting to end police terror against our communities.

It is perhaps debatable which aspect the media and politicians are getting wrong on accident due to lack of understanding the historical context behind the uprising and which disinformation they are purposely pushing to cause conflict between various factions of protesters.

Q: Since May 25 how have things developed?

A: The day after George Floyd was murdered by police, protesters from the community descended on the 3rd precinct, carrying with them all the rage and hopelessness from protesting past police murders. The protesters smashed police cars as police retreated, throwing blast ball grenades and firing less-lethal munitions into the rapidly advancing crowd.

The next day protesters assembled outside the 3rd precinct once again, throwing up barricades in the streets and tossing rocks at the police station windows. Heavily armed police stood in front of the main entrance to the station with riot helmets, batons, pistols, and long rifles. Tactical units stood on high ground, along the roof of the precinct, shooting down at the protesters with less-lethal 40mm marker rounds, grenades, and tear gas.

The situation played out like a revolutionary war reenactment where police would fire volleys of projectiles into the faces and genitals of protesters, but without the protesters firing volleys back. Protesters began dropping to the ground, screaming as their eyes were destroyed, and tracheas collapsed by the high-velocity impact from 40mm marker rounds.

Medics and other volunteers carried the wounded to nearby vehicles, which quickly drove to the hospital, while others began looting nearby stores and setting fires to buildings. This diminished the strength of the police force protecting the 3rd precinct in that they had to quickly redirect multiple riot squads to escort the fire department to fires across the city.

By nightfall, the police had lost total control of the city and protesters now occupied multiple blocks around the 3rd precinct. By the following day, word had spread across the Twin Cities that police were unable to stop the chaos and looting had begun in St. Paul around noon, in broad daylight. Police from multiple jurisdictions found themselves heavily outnumbered by protesters and roving groups of looters armed with crowbars and other breaching tools. As blocks of St. Paul businesses went up in flames, protesters again descended on the 3rd precinct that evening. Multiple large structures in the area around the 3rd precinct, which had been reduced to ashes the previous night, were still smouldering.

Meanwhile, protesters wearing gas masks and helmets gathered bricks and plywood to prepare for the escalated battle against the police. Police on the rooftop continued their strategy of firing down at protesters. By now, protesters knew what tactics and munitions to expect from the police and also felt a sense of extreme hopelessness, having seen their friends suffer horrific injuries the day before. Some protesters brought Kevlar body armour, Molotov cocktails, slingshots, chainsaws, paintball markers, pistols, and even assault rifles. It was clear that this night would be different than any other night and, one way or another, the community was going to burn down the police station.

As the street battle grew in size and intensity, police soon realized that their lives were in grave danger.

Thousands of protesters advanced with shield walls through clouds of tear gas, smashing windows out of the floor while protesters in the rear covered the advance by firing mortar fireworks at police shooting less-lethal rifles from the rooftop. One officer on the roof appeared to be hit directly by a mortar firework, causing him to drop a grenade which abruptly blew up in his face. The police on the roof quickly retreated into the building as another squad attempted to flank the protesters advance on the outside of the building.

As the sun set, fires across the city were reportedly visible from 30 miles away, in the nearby state of Wisconsin. When darkness hit, police began to evacuate the 3rd precinct. The crowd advanced on the police barricade, hurling stones toward officers and ripping down fences as dozens of police ran for their lives out the backside of the 3rd precinct. A convoy of panicking police drove their squad cars through their own locked gate, while an armoured BearCat vehicle in the rear fired 40mm marker rounds into the rapidly advancing crowd of protesters, as they drove off into the night. Muzzle blasts could be seen flashing in the night as thousands of protesters cheered and celebrated by firing off magazines and fireworks.

Protesters quickly began breaking into the precinct through multiple entrances at once, some in front and some in back. Protesters could be seen smashing surveillance cameras while others threw Molotov cocktails into the second floor windows. Protesters worked together to force open the doors to the precinct using makeshift battering rams while others used axes, sledgehammers, shotguns, and handheld circular saws. After a good amount of effort, the doors swung open and protesters stormed into the 3rd precinct. Armed protesters carrying pistols and assault rifles advanced inside with the crowd. Fires and shadows could be seen in the windows of the building as some protesters paraded outside with newly acquired police uniforms, riot helmets, Kevlar vests, and police batons. The entire precinct was promptly trashed and looted while another group of individuals carried IEDs (improvised explosive devices) inside, made from propane tanks, to blow up the building. By the end of the siege, the entire front of the 3rd precinct was engulfed in flames, with protesters celebrating throughout the streets of South Minneapolis. That night, the Governor of Minnesota called in the Army National Guard to regain control of both St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The following days were filled with rapidly escalating conflict between the community, police, and army, who had also begun carrying assault rifles with live rounds. More buildings in South Minneapolis went up in flames.

Most of the torched businesses were those which had been leeching off the poor and people colour for decades, such as pay-day loans and banks.

Groups of looters could be seen using electric saws on ATMs as others with pistols stood by and guarded the heists. During each nightly skirmish, lasers beamed back and forth between protesters and police snipers, while military UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and Predator drones circled above the city.

After days of civil unrest, the community began to regather and form a peaceful occupation at the site where George Floyd was murdered by police. There, community members can be seen handing out canned food, grilling BBQ, and discussing plans to abolish the police department.

Q: Could this be the start of a wider insurrection?

A: If nothing changes after this uprising, then the resistance will undoubtedly evolve toward deploying asymmetrical warfare against police departments in cities across the United States. However, this would also likely cause white nationalists across the United States to escalate their attacks on communities of colour and antifascists, which could quickly devolve into full-blown civil war. Right now, everyone is preparing for the worst.

Q: If so, what behaviour by the police etc have you seen to suggest how strong or effective the opposition could be?

A: This is wild west America… both the police and community have firearms and are willing to use them if they feel inclined to do so for any reason. The average American community is also more heavily armed than most police departments. There are also many soldiers within both the active Army and National Guard that support the protesters; the Pentagon is well aware of what might happen if these soldiers were asked to fire on civilians.

The only choice the government has is to wage an extensive nationwide psychological warfare campaign against the protesters in an effort to regain legitimacy.

However, the United States is currently a powder-keg with many variables at play and therefore difficult to predict what might happen.

Q: What’s your view on defunding?

A: Sadly, defunding police departments is possibly the best we’ll get at this time instead of abolition. As usual, the more centrist leftists are coming out of the woodwork to hijack all calls to abolish the police. These centre-left groups are now demanding that money, which was going toward police department budgets, be immediately redirected toward education, social services, and public safety, while simultaneously decriminalizing many of the non-violent crimes that are enforced by police. The goal is that this solution will cut down on the number of police patrols, arrests and, in general, negative interactions between police and the community. It may not be the total abolition of police but it’s a start which may actually save some lives along the way until we’re able to fully abolish the concept of policing.

Q: What has surprised you most?

A: Witnessing the real power of the people to take care of each other and fight off a terrorist organization occupying its community has been both surprising and impressive. People can create massive change in their communities if they’re prepared to fight for it.

Q: What has encouraged you most?

A: Witnessing other cities across the United States, and even the world, rise up as one resistance movement in solidarity with each other.

Q: How well are numbers of supporters growing?

A: The number of supporters is growing by the day, partially due to the fact that Donald Trump is a fucking fascist maniac that can’t keep his mouth shut and keeps dumping gasoline on the fire. On the other hand, this resistance movement has already seen 10,000+ arrested, of which many are still in jail, and thousands more have been wounded, and even died, from the use of less-lethal munitions.

Q: Do you see any point at all in talking about police ‘accountability’?

A: Only in the historical context of police accountability failing and the need now to immediately abolish police departments across the United States.

Photo: Stan Wiechers

New York (interview with Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement)

Q: In the big picture, how significant are the current protests?

A: This is a very significant uprising in the US. It marks a change from symbolic protest to an impetus for revolutionary social change. It also is significant in terms of the passion and fight people have displayed on such a massive scale and in so many different places. It has become normal for people to directly confront the cops, even in places that haven’t even seen any protests in decades. There is an ongoing issue of white supremacist policing across the US. People have snapped and shown that they aren’t going to take it any more.

Q: What will you feel most satisfied/proud to have achieved?

A: The amount of people coming out and the virulence of the uprisings is in itself a very good development. People were taking cues and courage from actions in other cities. When people burned down the 3rd precinct in Minneapolis and chased the police out, this marked a significant shift in what can be achieved in the streets, and you very quickly saw people in many different cities rising up with similar passion and tactics. I have never seen such fear on the faces of police as I have in this uprising. Even now many precincts are barricaded. This is an incredible moment to be a part of: to see people lose their fear and be able to enact justice in the streets. Something has changed in the power dynamic, and it has changed inside those who once lived in fear. This revolutionary power is something we can build on towards the future.

Q: Where and how do you see events going and growing?

A: Right now there are still ongoing demonstrations, some with a high level of ferocity, despite the attempted liberal take-over of much of the momentum. What is clear is that none of the liberal reforms will be able to fix the problem. At the same time the intransigence of the far right is growing, and more and more are vocally and physically opposed to recognizing the humanity of black and brown people.

The executive branch has empowered federal agencies to act with even more impunity than before. Now we can see that there is a major shift in popular response and people aren’t going to take it. Besides people discovering their own power and losing their fear, there is another important shift. The most militant aspects of this uprising have broad support, much broader than I could have imagined.

Photo: Adam Moss

This poses a problem to the state. They typically use a classic counter-insurgency strategy to stop dissent: identify and isolate the ‘radicals’ from the population and give them massive amounts of jail time to remove them as a threat. This tactic isn’t going to work in this scenario because there is such broad support. For example, I heard a grandmother who is not an anarchist or radical expressing regret that the young people who molotoved a cop car in NYC didn’t get away.

The state will have to use very violent tactics to regain control of the population. This would further discredit it in the eyes of the people. You saw this during the recent uprisings. Police reacted with violence and it only served to further radicalize people. The uprisings may have become quieter demonstrations for the moment, but since the problem is not going to be fixed, it would not be surprising if another wave erupts in the future.

Q: To what do you attribute the huge scale and durability of the protests?

A: The police force, like the entire United States, is a hold-over from the slavery era. The treatment of and attitude towards black and brown populations reflects this. When people have to deal with this constant harassment, violence, and degradation, there will be an eruption.

At this moment, people are dealing with a particularly negligent state apparatus. Many people died from COVID-19 because the federal government refused to make any preparations in advance. Even the Center for Disease Control was telling people at the start of the pandemic not to wear face masks. Additionally, police and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) used the crisis as an excuse to be even more ruthless to poor communities and black and brown people.

In NYC there was increased policing and harassment of people in the projects, for example. Finally, people are in the midst of massive financial crisis. Many people were fired at the outbreak of COVID-19, but still have to pay rent and buy food. There is no significant help from the state on this matter and people are going hungry. There was a perfect storm of degradation at the hands of the state. There is a very strong passion in the air right now. On the positive side, people have more time now, a slight relief from the burdens of capitalism. Many don’t have work to go to, and have time to attend demonstrations.

Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim

Q: What is the aspect of your work which the mainstream media gets wrong/understands least well?

A: The mainstream media doesn’t understand the situation at all. Some outlets function as mouthpieces for the Democratic Party, while others for the Republicans.

The mainstream media coverage is based on putting out political positions to try to influence how people think, instead of understanding what is happening in the country.

The intention of the liberal media during the uprisings was to reel people back into a version of civil society where we continue to function as before, but with some small reforms to the system. Their coverage predominantly vilified looters and anarchists, and attributed the ‘violence’ to people who wanted to hijack the movement. The Democrats are trying to move into a position where they can use the demonstrations as leverage in their ongoing negotiations with the right. Right-wing media outlets vilify everyone and blame the unrest on the Democrats. However, in this case, Trump also wanted to use the opportunity to try to root out anti-fascists, so this became one focus of media ire.

Q: Since May 25 how have things developed?

A: The intensity of revolt that began this time in Minneapolis has since spread across the country like a wildfire. The widespread level of generalized revolt, the intensity of the resistance, and a complete loss of faith in reform and patience in the system are unlike anything I have ever seen in my lifetime.

Q: Could this be the start of a wider insurrection? How well are the numbers of supporters growing?

A: Anarchists and antifascists have participated from the beginning of these rebellions. The movement has explicitly focused on policing, prisons and its appendages for quite some time now. So this moment of rebellion is very special for us.

But we should be clear: this wasn’t an uprising sparked by anarchists. The rebellion is driven by black youth who are tired of being dehumanized and murdered.

Anti-black violence and white supremacy is the cornerstone of US political, economic and social life.

It is so entrenched that reform is impossible. We as anarchists have long held this position and have fought and organized to destroy this situation, but we are just one of many political tendencies that have been taking part in this insurrection.

Around the world the most important thing for anarchists to do is to intensify political and economic pressure on the US and contribute to local tensions and resistance against police.

Target anything and everything that makes the United States function and makes it powerful, while further generalizing and empowering the discontent that inspired the uprising to begin with; targeting local racism, the police, and other appendages of domination and exploitation. The US is incredibly weak now and the weaker it gets the better it is for us here and for people around the world in general. Additionally, any act of solidarity gives strength to those of us in the streets.

Solidarity is strongest in a shared attack that knows no borders!

Q: If so, what behaviour by the police etc have you seen to suggest how strong or effective the opposition could be?

A: In the past few weeks, we have accumulated experiences that amount to decades of learning. In doing exactly what we previously thought was impossible, we have exposed this country for what it truly is: nothing more than a fragile paper tiger. Tearing at its massive technological police state, the black people of America have demonstrated that they will from hereon refuse to ever be intimidated by a power structure upheld by white terror and violence.

In its desperation, the State is now propagating the falsehood that this rebellion is being led by white outside agitators. We’ve all heard these lies before, most prominently in their history books, where they trot out fictional narratives about how Lincoln freed the slaves. This is nothing other than a more recent instalment of an old paternalistic trick by the white supremacist establishment to deny black people the intelligence, the spirit, and the autonomous will to direct their own rebellion and free themselves.

As the history of this miserable nation repeats itself once again, what has become clearly evident is that black people have been and will continue to be the only revolutionary force that is capable of toppling the oppressive status quo.

Everywhere the pigs have lost their will to fight. Their eyes, which only yesterday were windows to empty hatred and contempt, now display stultifying self-doubt and cowardice. For once, their behaviour portrays their weakness as every step they take back is marked by hesitation.

Q: What’s your view on defunding? Do you see any point at all in talking about police accountability?

A: No. Defunding and accountability mean reform, and reform means the continuation of this fascist state. We fight for abolition – the total destruction of the American plantation and those who run it: the police, prisons, courts, military, politicians, and corporations. Our central text goes into detail about how we can enact this.

Today’s rebellion is driven by black youth who are very knowledgeable about abolitionist politics. The youth have dismissed patience and hope for reform, focusing only on immediate and direct action.

A lot more people also seem to realize that reformism is a dead-end this time around.

The level of intensity is extraordinarily significant. The fact that people burned down a police precinct in Minneapolis, chased the police out running for their lives, and continued as the military was called in, is unprecedented.

The other fact that the majority of the country supported burning down a police station and the plague of pacifism has lost its foothold on protest, has really reshaped the type of dialogue we are used to in the states. Support of insurrection and riot from unexpected groups and individuals is shocking at times to the say the least. Predatory fence riders are essentially being forced to come down and pick a side. Are you a racist, or are you an anti-racist?

Interview by Louis Further

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Main photo: Lorie Shaull, CC BY 2.0

Photos: Hungryogrephotos, Public Domain, unless otherwise stated.