Forward from Ferguson offers in depth analysis of the recent urban rebellions and how Black communities can use human rights and self-determination to navigate these challenging times.
By Max Rameau (of PACA), M Adams and Rob Robinson.
Moving Forward from Ferguson
In the spring of 1992, Los Angeles burned for six days in what became the largest urban rebellion in the history of the United States, a country with a long and storied history of urban rebellions. Even though it served as the spark, the LA Rebellion was not caused by the video taped police brutality leveled against motorist Rodney King or even the subsequent “not guilty” verdict for the four white cops responsible. Like the Ferguson, MO rebellion nearly a quarter of a century later, and the countless before and in between, the LA Rebellion was a direct response to systematic oppression and discrimination. Few behaviors are more fundamentally human than resisting and rising up against oppression. Even when unorganized or lacking a clear set of articulated demands, uprisings happen because human beings instinctively resist oppression and pursue liberation. This is social science 101.
The math at work is just as basic: if oppression + discrimination + poverty = urban rebellion, then the only way to end the string of rebellions is subtracting oppression, discrimination and poverty. Therefore, efforts to end rebellion with community meetings, press conferences or unleashing a brutal military response to crush dissent are doomed to fail.
In the wake of the 1992 Rebellion, the national discourse focused on oppression in black urban life, including racism, poverty and the police as an occupying force (gender is also a major component, but did not make it to the mainstream of that discourse). As a result of the rebellion in Ferguson, MO, sparked by the police murder of Mike Brown, the national discourse is again focused on oppression in black urban life. What to do with this movement moment?
From Uprising to Organizing
For better or for worse, the urban rebellion phase in Ferguson is ending. During rebellions, social justice organizations find themselves in crisis mode, managing the seemingly endless series of emergencies, often to the neglect of strategic concerns. And as conditions on the ground shift, organizations must transition from crisis to organizing mode. This transition is particularly important today as instances of police violence, including murder, appear to be rising, but the demands made and campaigns waged in response to the police violence are woefully inadequate.
The criminalization of entire populations, an angry white backlash, an undefined and unending 'war on terror' and one economic crisis after the next is fueling a growing police apparatus that must justify it's existence to stave off the types of cuts that are decimating other parts of local budgets. Add to that the re-segregation and declining quality of schools, health disparities, general disenfranchisement and economic despair, and all the ingredients for a massive social explosion are present, just waiting for a spark.
The dilemma is obvious: if police abuse grows but movement demands, strategies and tactics- which have proven marginal at best- remain static, we have no hope of winning the future. While there are many reasons, peculiar and historic, so little progress has been made in the fight against police terrorism in low-income black communities, one of the factors over which the social justice movement exercises some level of control is the manner in which we frame these critical issues, the objectives we set, the demands we make, and the manner in which we plan, direct and execute our campaigns. In many of these respects we, as a movement, have not done well.
In this context, the challenge of radical and progressive organizations is not only to make bolder and more ambitious external demands, but to conceptualize new and effective anti-police abuse campaigns that accomplish at least three internal objectives:
- enhance the power of local communities;
- contribute to building a national movement, with international support, that is strong on the central issue of police abuses; and
- develop an intersectional analysis, centered on class, race, gender and sexuality, that actively encourages the interconnectivity of campaigns with related issues.
In pursuit of these objectives, and in addition to sharper campaign strategies and tactics to achieve the objectives and demands, the social justice movement must envision and develop better campaigns with at least two revamped components:
- a campaign framework, around which to build messaging and serve as a nexus for interconnectivity and intersectionality; and
- tiered campaign demands that allow for maximum local flexibility and control, support the ambitions and infrastructure of a national campaign and pushes to build a robust social movement;
The clearest way forward is for the black community in particular, and the social justice movement in general, to employ the Human Rights Framework, as opposed to civil rights or equal protection, to the issue of police abuse. And because “criminal justice” system has proven either unwilling or unable to address the killing of unarmed low-income black people by the police, our demands must reach beyonD the confines of US law and pursue, instead, a United Nations investigation into individual police killings, as well as the overall oppression of and discrimination against the black community, as violations of our human rights.