Posts tagged Detroit

Street Thugs

From England:

So far, police have arrested more than 1,700 suspects. About 1,000 of those have been charged. Of those convicted some are receiving what seem to be tough sentences.

Take Anderson Fernandes. He faces possible jail time for stealing two scoops of ice cream during a Manchester riot. There are other cases involving petty theft like stealing a bottle of water, a cake and chewing gum.

. . . Politicians and the public [sic] have demanded tough sentences.

And that may explain what seem to be particularly harsh sentences for Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenen. They each got four years in prison for using Facebook to incite a riot, or rather failing to incite a riot.

Both invited their Facebook friends to join in the looting with a “smash down” at an appointed place and time. No one showed up, however, except for police who promptly arrested them.

. . .

But many also feel that harsh punishments are necessary to let offenders know the riots were not a free-for-all without consequences.

Riots and looters trashed the pretty and normally placid suburb of Ealing, west London last week. The day after, I stood in the riot debris and an elderly woman stopped for a chat.

She lamented the state of Britain’s youth and suggested one way to deal with it. They should bring back … execution, she said grimly, drawing a finger across her throat.

— Atika Shubert, CNN World (2011-08-17): Riot sentences stir backlash in UK

I’m reminded of the time that Lyndon Johnson took a brief break from napalming Vietnamese children to get on the TV in July 1967, in order to speak out on the riots in Detroit, and to declare that We will not endure violence. It matters not by whom it is done or under what slogan or banner. It will not be tolerated. Which is why — under the slogan of public order and the banner of the United States government — he sent tanks and soldiers down Woodward Avenue, so that they could massacre unarmed teenagers at the Algiers Hotel, and join the local police in gunning down looters and curfew violators.

Countereconomics on the shopfloor

So lately I’ve been reading through a cache of syndicalist and autonomist booklets that I picked up a couple years ago from a NEFACker friend of mine who was soon to move out of Vegas. Partly for my own edutainment, but also because I am doing some prep work for possibly introducing a sort of Little Libertarian Labor Library to the ALL Distro.[1] Anyway, here’s a really interest passage I ran across in a booklet edition of Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers — a talk by the Detroit auto-worker and autonomist Marxist Martin Glaberman — on the difference between asking workers to vote on an issue and asking them to strike over it, taking as an example the internal conflicts over the union bosses’ no-strike pledge during World War II.

One of the things I want to start with, because it does provide a framework, and is not simply an event from the past, is something I did some work on a number of years ago about auto workers in the United States during World War II, the kinds of struggles that went on on the shop floor, within the union, between the workers and the government, a complex reality. What it revolved around was the struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW When the United States entered World War II, virtually all of America’s labor leaders graciously granted in the name of their members a pledge not to strike at all during the war.

In the first months of the war, the first year, there was an actual drop off in strikes. The end of 1941 through 1942 was a period that put a finish to the late thirties, the massive organizational drives, the sit-down strikes, the violence, all the things that created the big industrial unions. The job hadn’t been entirely done. Ford wasn’t organized until early 1941. Little Steel wasn’t organized, unionized, until the war was well under way, and so on.

Gradually, however, as the war went on, the number of strikes, (by definition all of them were wildcats, all of them were illegal under union contracts and under union constitutions) began to escalate until by the end of the war, the number of workers on strike exceeded anything in past American labor history. What was distinct about the UAW wasn’t just that the wildcat strikes were larger in number and more militant, but the fact that something took place which made it possible to make a certain kind of record. It was the only union in which, because there were still two competing caucuses, leaving rank and file workers a certain amount of democratic leeway to press for their point of view, an actual formal debate and vote took place on the question of the no-strike pledge.

A small, so-called rank and file, caucus was organized late in 1943 and early 1944, to begin a campaign around a number of issues, but the central issue was the repeal of the no-strike pledge. … So[2] they proceeded to have a referendum. This referendum was in some respects the classic sociological survey. Everyone got a postcard ballot. Errors, cheating, etc. were really kept to a minimum. Everyone on the commission thought that it was as fair as you get in an organization of a million or more members. It took several months to do. When the vote was finally in, the membership of the UAW had voted about two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge.

The conclusion any decent sociologist would draw is that autoworkers on the whole thought that patriotism was a little bit more important than class interests, that they supported the war rather than class struggle and strikes, etc. There was a little problem, however, and this is why this is such a fascinating historical experience. The problem was that at the very same time that the vote was going on, in which workers voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge, a majority of autoworkers struck ….

To visualize it is fairly simple: you’re not voting on the shop floor; you get this postcard, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you’re listening to the radio news with the casualty reports from Europe and the Pacific and you think, yes, we really should have a no-strike pledge, we’ve got to support our boys. Then you go to work the next day and your machine breaks down and the foreman says, Don’t stand around, grab a broom and sweep up, and you tell him to go to hell because it’s not your job and the foreman says he’s going to give you time off and the next thing you know, the department walks out. … The reality is that in a war which was probably the most popular war that America took part in, workers in fact, if not in their minds or in theory, said that given the choice between supporting the war or supporting our interests and class struggle, we take class struggle.

–Martin Glaberman, Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers (1993?)

Glaberman puts this out as a distinction between what workers say in their minds or in theory and what they say or do in fact. I’m not sure that’s right — doesn’t the story about the foreman involve the workers’ mind and beliefs just as much as the story about the kitchen table? — but I think the most important thing here is Glaberman’s attention to the context at the point of decision, and how that shapes what kind of decision a worker thinks of herself as making. Not just the outcome of the choice, but really the topic, whether the worker is asked to make some kind of political choice about what she ought, in some general and detached sense, she ought to value (isn’t Patriotism important?), or she finds herself making an engaged, personal choice about what’s happening — what’s being done — to her and her fellow workers right now, on the margin. There is a lesson here for counter-economists.

Freedom is not something you vote on. It’s something you struggle for. And what’s far more important than trying to figure out how to get people to endorse the right ideology, or, worse, the least-bad set of policies and candidates to each other across the kitchen table, is figuring out how you and your neighbors can best cooperate with each other, practice solidarity and withdraw from maintaining and collaborating with the state. People who would never respond to a smaller-government candidate or a libertarian ideological pitch often will act very differently when you open up opportunities to support grassroots alternatives and withdraw from the day-to-day inhumanities of war taxes, regulations, police, prisons, borders, and the state-supported and state-supporting corporate capitalist economy. Meanwhile, those who talk all day about changing votes, and building parties to more effectively capture a few more votes here and there, and have nothing else to offer, are wasting time, resources, and organizing energy on efforts that are not merely futile, but in fact actively lethal to any hope of motivating and coordinating effective practical action.

See also:

  1. [1]The basic idea: L4 would encompass some of the material we already have (Chaplin’s General Strike, Carson’s Ethics of Labor Struggle) and a lot of new and classic material, with new titles published at regular intervals, all with the basic underlying goal of (1) providing some decent labor-oriented materials for ALL locals, and (2) providing a decent source (mostly, currently, lacking) for IWW local organizing committees and other radical labor efforts to find some decently produced, low-cost booklet-style materials for lit drops and outreach tables, beyond just the IW, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and the relatively expensive books you can purchase through GHQ.
  2. [2][After an inconclusive floor debate in convention. –RG]

Dr. Anarchy Answers Your Rhetorical Questions

Today’s question comes from The Agitator (2011-01-20), about a recent police raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in the suburbs of Metro Detroit:

Dear Dr. Anarchy:

Earlier this month, police in Oakland County, Michigan raided a medical marijuana dispensary in the town of Oak Park. The deputies came in with guns drawn and bulletproof vests, with at least one wearing a mask.

They made no arrests, but they did clean the place out. The confiscated all of the dispensary’s cash on hand and—in a particularly thuggish touch—also took all of the cash from the wallets and purses of employees and patients.

… Under Michigan’s asset forfeiture law, 80 percent of the cash the deputies seized will go directly to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department. The other 20 percent goes to the local prosecutor. Medical marijuana is legal under Michigan law but is of course still illegal under federal law. And apparently there’s some debate about the legality of dispensaries. All of which means this particular dispensary will have a hard time proving it earned the seized cash legitimately. I doubt the patients and employees will get their cash back, either. The cost of challenging the seizure is likely several times more than the amount of money most people carry on their person.

In light of all this, Balko asks, So how is this different from armed robbery?

The short answer to the rhetorical question is that it isn’t. The longer answer is that, aside from the gang colors, there are two differences between an official armed robbery like this one, and the stereotypical armed robbery carried out by freelancers.[1] The first difference is that when gangsters without badges rob you, you could in principle go to the police about it and try to get the robbers arrested. But when the gangsters who robbed you are the police, and are happy to arrest you if you complain about the robbery, then who do you go to?

The second difference is that after gangsters without badges rob you, at least they usually let you go on your way; they spend the money on private indulgences, and leave you alone. But when gangsters with badges rob you, they take the money and use it to finance the more raids, more arrests, more brutality, and more efforts to control the behavior of people like you and force you to submit to their insane and arbitrary laws. As Spooner writes in No Treason 6.3.5:

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

So, the only difference between police forfeiture raids and the more stereotypical forms of armed robbery is that police forfeiture raids are worse.

  1. [1]Stereotypical, not typical. Armed robbery by government officials is just as typical as armed robbery carried out by freelancers. It’s just not discussed to the same extent.

Lethal force

(Via Tennessee Guerrilla Women 2010-05-17 and @InjusticeNews.)

By now you’ve probably seen the video of the SWAT stormtrooper raid in Columbia, Missouri, during which a gang of heavily-armed cops violently stormed a house in order to serve a search warrant on a suspected possible nonviolent marijuana user. Turned out that his partner and 7 year old child were also there at the time; so were their two dogs, which the cops went ahead to shoot and kill. After murdering pets, they repeatedly lied about their actions to neighbors and the press, and the story has only come out because the video has been released on the Internet. In any case, if you haven’t read it, Radley Balko’s commentary on the story is mostly right on.

In Tulsa County, Oklahoma, a government police SWAT team on another hyperviolent warrant-serving drug-search shot an nearly deaf biker named Russell Doza at least seven times in the back while he awoke from sleeping in a bed in the clubhouse. They were supposedly storming the clubhouse early in the morning in order to serve a warrant for the victimless crime of selling marijuana and methamphetamines. They didn’t actually find any drugs in the clubhouse, and they didn’t find any of the suspects named in the warrant, but they did find Russell Doza, so three cops — Deputy Lance Ramsey, Corporal Tom Helm, and Sergeant Shane Rhames — shot him in the back, in one arm, and at least twice, point blank, in the back of his head. The cops claim he reached for a gun and just somehow got shot in the back of the head at close range. Even if he did reach for a gun, the cops created the violent confrontation in the first place by storming a private club for no just reason at all, in a failed attempt to discover evidence of a crime that never had any victims to begin with. I have no particular reason to believe that the Deppities are telling the truth, but even if they are, they murdered Russell Doza.

Aiyana Jones

In Detroit, a government police SWAT team on another hyperviolent warrant-serving raid killed a 7 year old girl named Aiyana Jones by shooting her in the neck while she slept on the sofa, in her family’s living room, in their hosue on Lillibridge St. on the east side of Detroit. The SWAT team tstormed the house in the middle of the night in order to serve a warrant for a murder suspect. Who, in press releases after the storming of the house and the killing of Aiyana Jones, was indeed found in the location, within the scope of our search warrant. Except the problem is that the house is a duplex and they got a warrant for the home of a completely innocent family, without bothering to figure out where the fugitive was, and even though they had every reason to be aware that there were children living in the house that they planned to mount a high-risk hyperviolent raid on. They neglected to mention that the house they killed Aiyana Jones in was not the house where they arrested their Suspect Individual; when they got there, the door wasn’t even locked. But the cops were on film, being followed around by a camera crew for A&E’s murder-cop reality action show, The First 48. So what better opportunity to show their stuff? They swarmed the front porch, hurled a flash-bang grenade through the plate-glass window into the living room, and then Officer Joe Weekley, a frequent guest star on several A&E cop shows, shot off his gun and put a bullet into Aiyana Jones’s neck.[1] According to the initial excuses from the police, there was a tussle — no, strike that, there was some sort of contact [sic] between Officer Joe Weekley, and Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones. According to the current police story, while the heavily-armed, professional police Officer Joe Weekley was courageously contacting a 46 year old woman who was confused and upset by a bunch of heavily armed strangers blowing up a grenade in her living room in the middle of the night right next to her sleeping granddaughter and storming into her house, somehow, in a Terrible Tragedy, the gun just discharged, somehow or another, in the midst of all the contact. After shooting her granddaughter to death, police wouldn’t say whether or not Mertilla Jones would be charged with assaulting a police officer.

According to the family, the cops are lying. Geoffrey Fieger, a well-known civil rights lawyer in Detroit, has taken on the family’s case, and says that he has a tape which clearly shows the cops shooting blindly into the house from out on the porch, moments after the grenade blew up. I don’t know which is telling the truth, although I will say that the cops have obfuscated, revised, evaded and lied from the start in this case, in a consistent attempt to deny responsibility and create a false appearance of urgency. I have no particular reason to believe that they are telling the truth about this, either, whereas I do have some reason to believe that Fieger probably has the video he says that he has. All that said, it really doesn’t matter what the video shows, or doesn’t. If the cops burned a little girl to hell with an incendiary grenade and then shot her in the neck, accidentally, while storming into a house they had no reason and no right to be in, in order to serve a warrant for a man who wasn’t there, because they couldn’t be bothered to exercise the caution necessary to pick the right unit of the duplex, or to work out some way of catching a suspect whose location they already knew other than a hyperviolent middle-of-the-night paramilitary raid, then they still fucking murdered that little girl. They introduced violence into the situation; they chose a hyperviolent confrontational method which they knew would be endangering the lives of a house full of completely innocent people; if you or I stormed two different apartments on the theory that a dangerous man might be in one of them, hurled explosives, ran around with guns drawn, and we accidentally killed a child in the process, then you or I would be locked up immediately, indicted shortly thereafter, and thrown in prison for years. Because the unhinged maniac who shot a little girl happens to have a badge and a uniform, the shooter has been given a paid vacation from their job. Boss Cop Detroit Police Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee gave a press conference in which he solemnly announced how Very Sorry he was that police just had to gun down a 7-year-old girl in her own home, because of the risk to their sacred hides when Entering a Potentially Dangerous Situation. He wants you to know that this is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude, and that This is every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s also every police officer’s nightmare. I can’t tell you what I think of that, because there aren’t any words that are dirty enough.

In a follow-up post on the Columbia, Missouri raid, Radley Balko posted a letter from a government soldier who took umbrade at his watch-word of police militarization, because the rules of engagement SWAT teams operate under are, in some ways, even looser than those used by counterinsurgency soldiers trying to kill enemy guerrillas in Afghanistan. Balko seriously wonders whether SWAT teams are now more militarized than the military. I’m not convinced, unless the in some ways is doing so much work as to make the statement meaningless. [2] But the mere fact that the comparison might seem plausible is telling. And outrageous. But not at all surprising. How could it be, when every week brings Yet Another Isolated Incident, and when Terrible Tragedy after Terrible Tragedy shows SWAT teams once again storming houses and clubs for no reason other than to protect the investigation of the most utterly trivial and nonviolent offenses, when they consistently use maximal force and freely open fire, even when they know that they may well be in completely the wrong house, even when they have every reason to know that they’re putting children’s lives in danger, and when they brutalize, beat and murder innocent people, over and over again, all with more or less explicit legal guarantees of complete impunity, and the lockstep backing of their departments and their colleagues throughout the government’s criminal system?

Do you feel safer now?

  1. [1]When he’s not shooting 7 year old girls and showing off SWAT tactics on live victims for television audiences, Officer Joe Weekley also drives a tank (Armored Personnel Carrier, sorry) for the Detroit SWAT team.
  2. [2]The process of storming a house in a war zone may offer more opportunities to surrender before escalating the situation to violence; but SWAT teams aren’t firing missiles into apartment complexes from robot aircraft… yet.

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Merry Sunday, everyone. It’s the season for Shamelessness.

Back in Vegas, L. and I are notably absent. Here in Metro Detroit, we’ve been celebrating my brother-in-law G.’s birthday, trudging through the snow, and spending time with the Michigan kinfolks. Tomorrow, we’re off to Ann Arbor.

And you? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.