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The Cooperation Kettle

Buffalo, New York City, Brooklyn, Long Island, NY. Phoenix, AZ. Raleigh, NC. Charleston, Columbia SC. Milwaukee, Madison, WI. Minneapolis, MN. Denver, CO. Eugene, Portland, Salem, OR. Richmond, VA. Seattle, WA. Los Angeles, Berkeley, Scotts Valley, Orange County, CA. Fort Wayne, IN. Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, CAN. Boston, MA. Chicago, IL. Tulsa, OK. Columbus, OH. Tallahassee, Orlando, FL. Salt Lake City, UT. Austin, TX. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, PA. Las Vegas, NV. Boise, ID.

Organizers in every city have the same story to tell: the radical energy brought forth by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor— the radical energy to dismantle our violent, anti-Black, and anti-poor policing system— has been co-opted overnight.

In Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City, protests have been overtaken by unaffiliated activists who have refused to relinquish the microphone to event organizers or have brought their own sound systems to control and direct the crowd.

In Denver, protesters have been led into police kettles by groups that won’t declare their leaders. In Madison and Richmond, events have been staged in surveillance theaters: nonviolent protests appear left alone by cops, only to later discover them watching from rooftops, museums, and vacant offices.

Around the country, the story is the same: radical energy— the kind forcing politicians’ hands to slash police budgets, demilitarize local forces, and arrest murderous officers— has transformed into cookouts, music festivals, and explicitly non-disruptive (not just non-violent) actions. Police have negotiated “police-free zones” where community leaders agree to police their own in exchange for a family-friendly event with activities for the kids.

For days police deployed gas, flash-bangs, and both rubber and live bullets at us. Then suddenly, the violent confrontations seemed to stop. In their place stands the Negotiators and Mediators: a class of often (but not always) brand-new or unaffiliated activists who promise to control and quiet the riots that have proven so effective in forcing change. The Negotiators promise that they can do what the police cannot: control us. They promise to stand between us and the police, and at times have literally done so with their bodies. They have hugged cops in front of us, days after we were gassed and shot at without provocation. They coordinate protest routes with police. They hold vigils for dead cops. They tell us to remain peaceful.

Down the street, the story is not the same. Here in Madison, nonviolent protesters have been grabbed by police snatch vans while dispersing. The violence hasn’t ended, it has been hidden. While the organizers proudly proclaim “No arrests tonight!” black youth sit in jail cells across the country for their civil disobedience at those very events.

You see, for the police there is no such thing as negotiation. There is cooperation, and there is violence. These strategies, perfected and optimized during Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, and other autonomous zone protests, are meant to take from us the one thing we have: our capacity to point out, clear as day, the violence the state wields against us for simply refusing to continue operating in a world where Black people are murdered and imprisoned to grease the machines of our economy and country.

These tactics were described at length in the Army’s Civil Disturbance Operations (2005).

“Working relationships between commanders and protest group leaders are increasingly seen as the best means for preventing bad outcomes in a crowd situation. This is called the negotiated management model of crowd control… Open dialog helps develop working relationships between commanders and protest group leaders… It also allows authorities and commanders to tell group leaders what they are prepared to do and how they might respond to certain crowd behaviors… Negotiations may also encourage more moderate leaders to do things that will support the commander...

Commanders should make a concentrated effort to maintain a working relationship with the leaders of protest groups. Communication also means persuasion. Commanders should make a concerted effort to win over demonstration leaders… They should encourage demonstrators to protest in an acceptable way and, if possible, offer favors to get them to do just that.

Working relationships between commanders and protest group leaders often result in protest groups policing themselves. This is one of the basic premises of negotiated management.

p. 2-7 (emphasis added)

The police, who are themselves constantly militarizing through trainings designed to simulate war and military acquisition programs such as 1033, have unsurprisingly begun drawing from the psychological warfare tactics of the Army themselves. As one dear friend said, the police are like any other abuser: they shoot at you one day, and then beg you to let them change the next. “I just want to be different. I kneel before you. I want to change.” Bullshit.

In this all, we can’t ignore the role of the Negotiator class. As Fanon argued, their cooperation leads us straight into yet another kind of kettle: the open arms of the police who promise hugs but deliver brutality. He writes,

“This idea of compromise is very important in the phenomenon of decolonization, for it is very far from being a simple one. Compromise involves the colonial system and the young nationalist bourgeoisie at one and the same time. The partisans of the colonial system discover that the masses may destroy everything. Blown-up bridges, ravaged farms, repressions, and fighting harshly disrupt the economy. Compromise is equally attractive to the nationalist bourgeoisie, who since they are not clearly aware of the possible consequences of the rising storm, are genuinely afraid of being swept away by this huge hurricane and never stop saying to the settlers: “We are still capable of stopping the slaughter; the masses still have confidence in us; act quickly if you do not want to put everything in jeopardy.” One step more, and the leader of the nationalist party keeps his distance with regard to that violence. He loudly proclaims that he has nothing to do with these Mau-Mau, these terrorists, these throat-slitters. At best, he shuts himself off in a no man’s land between the terrorists and the settlers and willingly offers his services as go-between; that is to say, that as the settlers cannot discuss terms with these Mau-Mau, he himself will be quite willing to begin negotiations. Thus it is that the rear guard of the national struggle, that very party of people who have never ceased to be on the other side in the fight, find themselves somersaulted into the van of negotiations and compromise–precisely because that party has taken very good care never to break contact with colonialism.

Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 61

The Cooperation Kettle is the one we are lead into by our own people, our own community leaders, our own well-intentioned politicians. Perhaps it is their class position gives them a different set of incentives, perhaps they are grifters, perhaps they are paid, and perhaps they are just brand new. The outcome is the same. We are promised a settlement, but we receive only more settlerism, more colonialism, more domination. We are told that training will save us when an abundance of data contradicts. We are told it’s not all cops, when we can see the system of policing converts even the kindest and most well-intentioned recruit into a fearful pig at war with his community and equipped with weapons not even legal for you and I to own.

We have a choice now. We can wait. We can wait until the next Black man dies in a chokehold or the next Black woman is murdered at a traffic stop. We can wait until the next elderly man cracks his skull open on the concrete. We can wait until the next young woman dies from an allergic reaction to the tear gas police are spraying. We can wait until something sparks our rage again.

I say we don’t wait. I don’t have all the answers, but I don’t think we can afford to wait. I don’t think Black Lives Matter if we wait for more death. I don’t know how to retake what we must, I don’t know how we agitate to get back what we had, but I know the present is the only guarantee we have.


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