Something happened on May 25th, 2020, when George Floyd’s heart stopped, something revolutionary. As the whole country watched helplessly while a clearly psychotic police officer murdered a bound and incapacitated human being before a captive audience on a Minneapolis street, something snapped. Something in all of us. After decades of watching the police in this country slaughter unarmed Black people with total impunity, America said enough. By the end of the day, Minneapolis was on fire, by the end of the week the whole country burned. The George Floyd Uprisings of the summer of 2020 were an unprecedented moment of collective insurrectionary upheaval. It was about race but it transcended race. Unlike the riots of 1968, this wasn’t just a Black thing, this was a revolutionary thing. People of all races, classes, ages, genders and political persuasions joined each other in the streets in a massive outpouring of rage against the state in general and the armed thugs in blue who ruthlessly defend it in particular.
Cop cars were flipped like nickels, police stations burned to the ground, six city blocks in Seattle declared themselves to be an autonomous zone and essentially seceded from the United States. Protesters laid siege to a federal courthouse in Portland like Dien Bien Phu for over 100 days straight, weathering nightly barrages of teargas, rubber bullets and flashbang grenades until the feds backed down and abandoned their post in defeat. This state of existential panic among the authoritarian class reached all the way to the top. As an increasingly unhinged President Donald Trump unleashed caravans of anonymous federal agents in unmarked cars to disappear protesters in Portland, their comrades in Washington DC checked the commander in chief where he slept, surrounding the White House and shaking its gates like a cage as the most powerful man on earth cowered in his bunker. The illusion of state omnipotence had officially been shattered. People finally really did have the power.
The sharper powers at know what they had to do. Law and order would only accent their weakness and stoke the nation’s righteous indignation. In order for the state to survive, they would have to give the crowd what they wanted, or at least the temporary illusion of it. Suddenly, across the country, wealthy white liberals felt our pain. The pissed-off people on the bottom of this country were showered in promises. Overnight the seemingly radical notion of defunding the police had become a downright mainstream talking point. Nine members of the Minneapolis city council stood on a stage strewn with that very catchphrase and promised their enraged constituents that they would dismantle that city’s notoriously racist and heavy-handed police force. Portland mayor and renowned pigfucker Ted Wheeler pledged to divert millions in funding from his private army. Even the Democratic Party, who had notoriously given our nation’s police state chainsaws with their Clinton Crime Bill, came to us in dashikis on bended knee and offered us the George Floyd Act if we just calmed down. We shouldn’t have listened. We should have kept the fires burning.
Of course they all capitulated to their lobbyists once we put the torches down. That’s what these people do. The Minneapolis City Council quickly abandoned their efforts to defund the police and a toothless ballot measure claiming to do just that was easily defeated by the Karens of the suburbs who had been strategically terrified with the liberal boogeyman of gun violence in a time of lockdown induced poverty. Mayor Wheeler flipped his wig completely and ended up announcing a $5.2 million expansion of the Portland Police Department he promised to reign in. And the George Floyd Act for Mild Mannered Police Reform died a silent death in the backrooms of Washington as soon as Derek Chauvin was successfully thrown under the bus by the very state that birthed him before being added to the ranks of the Prison Industrial Complex that he once so heartlessly served.
None of this should be shocking to anyone guilty of paying attention to how this nation really works. The suburban bourgeoisie of this country will never purge their class privilege for the people they pet with bumper stickers calling for equality and racial harmony on their Teslas. These people can never comprehend the terror that marginalized people feel when we see those flashing red and blue lights. They can never truly grasp how someone like me, as a gender non-conforming transwoman, has to ask myself every time an armed cop approaches me, “Is this man going to rape me or merely hurl me into a holding cell with a bunch of men free to do their worst?” They’re never going to have to give their sons instructions on how to react to state-sanctioned racial profiling without getting shot. And the state they love will never save us from their own personal security detail, the sacred keepers of the monopoly on the use of force that gives their hierarchy meaning.
The government won’t save us. We have to take the initiative to save ourselves. If the predator class in this country won’t defund the police then we must arm ourselves and defend our communities, be they ghettoes, trailer parks or gayborhoods, by policing the police that prey on them. It wouldn’t be the first time. The Black Panther Party was founded specifically for this very purpose in 1966. After reading about Robert F. Williams’ efforts to create a Black Armed Guard in the Deep South to defend rural Blacks against the state-sanctioned terrorism of the Klan, a couple of students at Oakland’s Merritt Community College named Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale came to the conclusion that their notoriously violent local police force served the exact same function as their hooded southern brethren, brutalizing poor Black folk to keep them in line. So they decided to form an armed militia of their own that would serve the same purpose as Williams’ Black Armed Guard for the ghettoes of inner-city Oakland. Thus Bobby and Huey formed the Black Panthers with a handful of local street toughs, and after educating themselves on the finer points of California’s gun laws, they took up arms and began policing the police.
Clad in black berets and leather jackets, the Panthers would monitor radio scanners and show up wherever the police did, legally armed with loaded shotguns as well as law books. The presence of heavily armed Black men kept the police from taking things too far while Panthers would inform the arrested of their legal rights. It worked. The streets patrolled by the Panthers became safer and their popularity quickly spread their ranks to new chapters across the country. The state was furious and began to make efforts to disarm the poor.
After the Panthers protested these efforts with a heavily publicized armed march on the California State Capitol, then-Republican governor, Ronald Reagan, signed the Mulford Act into law in 1967, banning open carry with the full support of both parties and the NRA, creating a precedent on which the national gun control movement would be constructed to keep poor people of all colors across the nation less armed than the police who bullied them. The Panthers kept up the good fight for as long as they could but they would ultimately succumb to the extrajudicial pressure put on them by the FBI and their deadly Cointelpro program that infested their ranks with saboteurs and entrapped their leaders in bloody ambushes by their allies in local police departments throughout the country.
So what’s changed since 1967? Not enough and a whole lot. The police continue to abuse the Black community and other marginalized people with total impunity, killing on average over 1000 people every year. But the battlefield has changed significantly and somewhat to our favor. Open carry laws have spread across the country with the full support of the Supreme Court and lobbies like the NRA who once supported their destruction. High-powered rifles like the AR-15 are cheap and plentiful, giving civilians the option of fire superiority over their own local police forces. The powers at be have foolishly assumed that only white vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse will take advantage of this playing field but antifascist militias like Black Guns Matter, Redneck Revolt and the Not Fucking Around Coalition aim to prove them dead wrong.
But perhaps the greatest new weapon at our disposal to combat the scourge of the police state is the smartphone. The only reason this country even knows the names of unwilling martyrs like Eric Garner, Oscar Grant and George Floyd is that their tragic deaths were caught on camera by iPhones and other devices. Black, Brown and Queer people have been telling this country for years that we were being abused and often slaughtered in cold blood by this nation’s finest, but seeing is believing and for many young Americans seeing this shocking imagery is what it took to bring them in the streets.
But it’s not enough. Copwatch movements have blossomed across the country in recent years but this still doesn’t change the fact that Eric Garner and George Floyd were slowly strangled to death as unarmed civilians stood by helpless to do anything but beg for humanity from the heavily armed barbarians in blue that kept them at bay. We saw a similar spectacle in Kenosha as cops in tanks sat by and watched as one of their junior cadets shot it out with a poorly armed mob of protesters. This is unacceptable. The only way that people are ever going to be able to take back our streets is if we get organized and arm ourselves with both the rifle and the smartphone. The leadership of the Black Panthers was decimated after they were rendered fugitives by a spat of shady police shootouts that would take years to prove were acts of self-defense. With an arsenal of smartphones at their disposal, these facts would have been proven to the whole world instantly at the click of a button, and with well organized poor communities legally allowed to arm themselves in the open for any blue-clad strangler to see, the cops will have no choice but to think twice before they fuck with us.
The Founding Fathers of this nation may have been a pack of slave raping genocidal plutocrats but they got one thing right when they observed that there was nothing more dangerous to democracy than a standing army and the only real defense against this menace is a well organized voluntary militia. If we the people want to rid ourselves once and for all of the standing armies of the police state, all we have to do is rise up and take back what’s rightfully ours. Our streets. Our peace. Our communities. And all it costs is the price of an ArmaLite and an iPhone.