On Organizing Against Police Violence
“Organization is the weapon of the oppressed.”
– Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael)
Racialized working-class communities and individuals and Indigenous peoples in North America know the daily reality of police violence and containment. We do not need the intervention of civil liberties organizations, critical criminology courses or the exposure of police violence at a G20 Summit to become conscious of the fact that when the police serve and protect, we are not included within that protective cloak.
Based on our experience of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalist exploitation, we are quite aware of the fact that the police serve and protect the interest of socially dominant groups. We have the scars, memories of loved ones and comrades maimed or killed or the presence of the police in our communities as an occupation army as objective and wise teachers of the true role of the police in an oppressive society.
The killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, after a trial in Florida, inspired outrage and mobilization among Afrikan people and others of good conscience across North America.
On July 27, 2013, a Toronto cop killed 17-year-old Sammy Yatim in a case that reeks of unwarranted and excessive use of force against this racialized and mentally distress child. The killing was caught on tape and widely circulated in the media. This killing has mobilized many of Toronto’s youth and others in the street and on blogs, Facebook pages and walls and twitter.
However, mobilizing around each case of police violence and sitting down when the issue in no longer showing up in our Facebook news feed and in the mass media will not tackle this oppressive behaviour. We need to organize on a 24/7 basis against police violence. It can only be done through organizations and the accompanying programmes and projects that check the action of these agents of violence.
The following actions are offered as a path to organizing the community against police violence and they ought to be executed as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach:
1. Form local community-controlled organizations that organize, educate and mobilize against police violence. In the past, we have neglected to organize local communities and equip them with the knowledge, skills, attitude and material resources to tackle police violence.
2. Develop “Know Your Rights” educational programmes so that the members of the community are aware of the full range of their rights and the information that they can legally withhold from the police. Often-times members of our communities consent to the search of their person and possession as well as give the police personal information out of ignorance of the dictates of the law.
3. Organize Copwatch programmes that visually record the interaction of the police with members of the community. The Black Panther Party was the originator of the practice of observing and recording the action of the police. We should acquire the audio-visual resources to document acts of police violence. The negative reaction of many cops on being filmed interacting with the public is an indication that they might have something to conceal from us.
4. Create smart phone applications that record acts of police violence. The New York Civil Liberties Union has created a “stop and frisk” phone application that films police action, alerts users to the location of an incident of police violence and generates a survey to document the details of the contact with the police.
5. Organize a creative and sustained public education campaign. There has been a decline in Canadians’ confidence in the police. Police accountability organizers should use this development to educate the people about the structural nature of police violence. The police are the guardians of the systems of privilege and social domination and we need to make this reality a self-evident truth in the consciousness of the people.
6. Develop a roster of human rights and criminal defense lawyers. The names and contact information of these lawyers would be widely circulated on wallet-sized cards with “Know Your Rights” information. These lawyers would serve as first responders when one is detained or arrested by the cops. The Law Union of Ontario could be a source for the recruitment of lawyers to defend people against police violence. You would search for progressive lawyers in your community, if there is not an association of social justice-oriented lawyers.
7. Sue the police in small claims court. We would educate and support people who are victimized by police violence to seek financial compensation in small claims courts for certain types of violation of their rights.
8. Use human rights tribunals to make police violence financially costly. Some complainants have used human rights tribunal to win financial awards or settlements from city governments and/or cops. The wide-scale and successful use of the tribunal might force the city to reign in the violent behaviour of the police.
9. Link our work against police violence to the mass incarceration of indigenous and racialized people. The class, gender and racial implications of the prison industrial complex must be exposed, challenged and eliminated.
We need to join or create organizations and build a mass movement to fight police violence and the prison industrial complex.
Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an organizer with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity and the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.