I have been fielding a LOT of questions over the last couple weeks, and I realized quickly that I was often saying the same things and looking up the same stuff to share, and that’s not an effective use of my time or energy currently.
I’m hoping I (and you!) can use this document for these discussions wherein these questions are asked, both as a starting place but also so that we’re not using up all our energy on online discussions that are circular and exhausting. Save that energy for the streets, whether you’re out there yourself or supporting from home!
Special thanks to Jackie LaCroix for helping me by doing research, I could not have balanced this with my protest duties otherwise. As I am not paid for this work, by Soros or by ANTIFA HQ, please consider subscribing to my Patreon or sending me some $ on Paypal. Thanks!
“Why can it be problematic to separate peaceful protesters and rioters/looters?”
Trying to condemn “rioters” while praising “peaceful protesters” suggests there’s a right and a wrong way to protest. There are many tactics that are useful and successful in creating change. It also ignores that police often make decisions on when a protest is and is not acceptable, and the media supports them most of the time in their characterization, whether or not that is accurate.
“But why are people looting?”
Well, let’s see. We have record levels of unemployment in part due to a virus that has destabilized an economy reliant on an overworked and underpaid populace denied even basic healthcare. People are poor, stuck at home, and angry at governments that have responded negligently to people’s pleas for protective gear for medical professionals, accessible testing for COVID-19, rent and mortgage relief, worker protections, etc. We also have a society that believes consumerism is the ideal way to move forward in the world and to feel better about yourself. We have a populace who feels disempowered by the police and the government.
It’s kind of the ideal storm for looting.
It’s partially about class issues, and rage about how when people steal bread to eat, it’s considered atrocious, but businesses stealing wages and labor are considered acceptable.
“Working-class people pilfering convenience-store goods is deemed ‘looting’. By contrast, rich folk and corporations stealing billions of dollars during their class war is considered good and necessary ‘public policy’,” points out Jacobin. “…To really understand the deep programming at work here, consider how the word “looting” is almost never used to describe the plundering that has become the routine policy of our government at a grand scale that is far larger…”
The Atlantic covers a lot of reasons why people would be led to looting in situations like this. “In cases where peaceful protests haven’t created change, protesters might feel that looting and vandalism are the only ways to make their voices heard. ‘In Baltimore, they’ve been saying for generations how bad the Baltimore Police Department was, but nobody listened,’ Lorenzo Boyd, the director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven, told me. ‘And then Freddie Gray got killed, and nobody listened. And then they started protesting; nobody listened. But as soon as the CVS burned in Baltimore, the whole world watched.’”
It’s worth noting how many images from the last week and a half are of property damage. I remember being at one of the protests in Berkeley, and seeing a crowd of photographers huddled around one lone trash can, knocked over and on fire, while people were being assaulted by police a block over. This goes to underline the point that it feels like society cares more about property than it does people, especially Black people.
“What about small businesses getting smashed?
Small businesses are often required to have insurance, and many basic insurance plans cover property damage and loss regardless of how it happened. Often, leases will insist on some basic insurance. That said, coverage varies, and if you’re a small business owner, especially in a city, it’s a good idea to look into what exactly your insurance covers in cases of “riots or civil commotion”. Also, due to coronavirus, small business owners should speak to their insurance companies about having premiums refunded.
Many small businesses have made a point of coming out in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, even if their storefronts get damaged. Some have handed out water and food to protesters. Others have come out publicly and said that their business having some broken windows is not as important as a life lost. Fundraisers are being put together focusing on Black businesses and small businesses (if you want to financially support, do some research to find out who is fundraising and how they plan to distribute funds). You can also ask small businesses in your area if they need any help with cleanup (but do not do this without their consent!)
THAT SAID — there can also be some very real anger at small businesses for how they’ve treated employees. Many small businesses don’t offer health insurance or paid leave, for example, something which has come to the forefront during covid-19. There are often fewer recourses for an employee who has been mistreated at a small business to pursue action. Just because a business is small doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily more ethical, or that it’s more diverse-
“2013 data from the Small Business Administration show the same racial and class divides prevalent in all sectors of society. People of color are far more likely to be employees than owners, and owners’ education levels are comparatively high — 39.2% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.2% of their employees and 31% nationwide. Employees are also more likely than owners to have a high school degree or less. The same SBA report notes that the numbers of female and, especially, Hispanic business owners have increased over the years; even so, the idea of the small business as the embodiment of the American dream — at least, for anyone not already highly privileged — simply isn’t supported by the available data.” -America Worships Mom & Pops, But They Can Mistreat Employees Too
Property damage as a sign of protest is a complicated thing with a lot of layers to it! White people who go to these protests to smash stuff are generally disliked, because their smashing is suspected to be more about destruction than about anger at the status quo. Black folks who smash up a big business who denies them health care during COVID-19, which is more likely to kill them, are a little more understandable. Smashing up the precinct that is responsible for yet another black unarmed person’s death? Also understandable.
So, smashing small businesses for no reason is usually frowned on. That said, some businesses are actively racist, so smashing them feels like accomplishing something. Also worth considering? Police are often trying to funnel protesters into areas like Chinatown, where the optics of smashing windows are worse and the impact pits people who would otherwise be aligned against each other. And sometimes, window smashing works to distract the cops from smashing heads, allowing people to escape. So there’s a lot of things happening at once. Opportunism absolutely exists, but it’s generally a lot more complex.
And let’s not forget how public companies looted $1 BILLION meant for small businesses. If you want to be outraged about looting let’s start there.
“Yeah, but, fuck outside agitators, right?”
First, let’s point out how many cops don’t live in the communities they “serve”.
“On average, among the 75 U.S. cities with the largest police forces, 60 percent of police officers reside outside the city limits. …On average among the 75 cities, 49 percent of black police officers and 47 percent of Hispanic officers live within the city limits. But just 35 percent of white police officers do.” — Most Police Don’t Live In The Cities They Serve
There are many many many examples of police straight up attacking peaceful protesters, journalists, medics, etc. Police officers have been caught talking about running protesters over and threatening protesters with the same and also doing exactly that. Using vehicles as weapons was a horrifying tactic used in Charlottesville to kill Heather Heyer and is celebrated by the altright. Cops have shot journalists on camera all over the US, some in the face and head. At least one lost her eye. In fact many protesters have been shot in the eye (and at least one homeless guy), leading one to question if this is a tactic, and if there will be any repercussions for police across the board.
So I mean, all things considered, it would appear that police are outside agitators by every definition of the word.
I mean, just yesterday two cops shoved an unarmed 75 year old man to the ground, where he hit his head and began to bleed. Cops walked right by him, going unconscious on the ground. One tried to stop and was prevented from doing so. And when the two responsible got suspended? 57 cops resigned from a special squad in protest. John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, said the officers were simply following orders, and that getting suspended was “disgusting”.
It’s not “a few bad apples”, it’s the entire system. Cops are a violent gang and it’s past time we treated them as such.
“I don’t mean the police, I mean outside agitators at the protests!”
Ok, sure, it’s horrifying that people may be going to protests in order to sew chaos.
Let’s talk about the white supremacists/Boogaloo Boys who have been doing exactly that, not in support of Black Lives Matter, but in order to try and spur a race war.
White supremacists were caught talking on a Telegram channel about shooting into crowds to incite violence. Boogaloo Boys have been showing up armed at protests. White supremacists even posed as antifascists online in order to sew discord and misinformation. They’ve been very active at Reopen protests, trying to encourage a race war from there, so these protests were an ideal place to manifest their fucked up ideas. Some were finally arrested for trying to start shit at protests, literally for domestic terrorism, what they accuse leftist activists of doing (and media keeps endorsing that claim by putting anarchists and “antifa” alongside white supremacists and Boogaloo Boys. We’ll come back to this.)
That’s not even touching on how often the venn diagram between white supremacists and cops is a whole ass circle. Like this. Or this. Or this. It’s systematic.
“I don’t mean them either! I mean ANTIFA!”
I mean, so far the people caught starting shit online as “antifa” or dressed in black bloc have been white supremacists as cited above but ok, sure, let’s talk about this.
The Minnesota Governor Tim Walz started this rumor and was immediately backed by Minneapolis Governor Jacob Frey, though this was almost immediately disproven. The St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said the same. Mayor Andrew Ginther and Chief Tom Quinlan in Columbus said it too. So did New York, Seattle, San Francisco/Oakland, DC, Austin… I mean, I can go on and on.
Problem is, if you arrest a huge number of people at a protest, you find out that most of those arrested are local. Most government and police officials had to walk their statements back. Turns out, when you brutalize the local populace using their tax dollars, they get mad about it for some reason.
That doesn’t stop the narrative, however, that outside agitators, specifically often called “antifa” or “anarchists”, arrived wanting to sew chaos and destruction. The media and government perpetuated this widely, especially (no surprise) Donald Trump, who will commit to a lie no matter how much proof there is against it. Never mind that anarchists and other leftists are the ones who manifested many of the mutual aid projects that kept people fed and housed and safe during COVID-19.
It’s fascinating that a week ago, I found dozens of articles declaring anarchists as the cause of much of the destruction, and now everyone is scrambling over themselves to say what anarchists and radical leftists have known all along — blaming us is a tactic to distract people from the issue being protested. It’s been used over and over again, to blame both those on the ground and those suspected to be enabling or funding the movement (protesters are still often accused of being “paid by Soros” to cause problems, for example) for as long as resistance has existed.
Never mind that there’s been demonstrations in at least 430 cities and towns so far, in all 50 states, many for multiple days. How on earth do people think we’re able to zip from city to city like that? IS ANTIFA SANTA
Hundreds of people are turning up in rural towns to combat buses of “antifa” that are supposedly coming to fuck their shit up. But those buses never came, cause, folks, we aren’t doing that kind of thing, first of all, and also, WE DON’T GET FUNDING. Jesus.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how absurd this is, or how inaccurate. The lie that outside agitators, specifically antifascists, were organizing these protests has given some support from the fearful for legislation that would criminalize dissent. Trump says he will declare antifa a domestic terrorist group, despite not having any authority to do so. And while it’s nice to see mainstream media beginning to realize that maybe being antifascist is a good thing, it’s important to recognize that this happened before, in 2017, and many of those outlets felt that it was the right move back then.
It’s almost like getting shot by the police made journalists realize that we were not the enemy. But I digress.
The fact is, while this criminalization of dissent is concerning, it’s not the main issue here. As Rose City Antifa says on their Facebook, “Antifascists should not be the center of attention here. We should all be looking for ways we can support the Black community, and specifically the Black youth who are leading this movement. We should help to amplify their demands and show our solidarity through our actions. This is a historic moment to help lift the cause of racial justice.”