The struggle for justice in the United States – currently centered on racist and repressive policing – has reached a turning point. The police have lost the battle of the story. Their claim to legitimacy as a positive (or at least inevitable) force in society is now broken beyond any chance of repair. This is creating a new landscape with it’s own combinations of dangers and opportunities.
In 1957 the Algerian liberation movement called a general strike. The intention was to demonstrate to the world (and, especially, the United Nations) how much popular support the movement enjoyed. Up until then the French occupiers had positioned themselves as the protectors of the people against a small, isolated terrorist threat. The regime had to exercise some caution, refraining from widespread brutality against the people for fear of losing support. The success of the general strike made clear that it had none. Now that they knew that everybody hated it, it was now free to unleash repression against the entire population. The lines had been redrawn.
We are in a similar moment. The breadth of the movement for Black lives and its rejection of piecemeal reform is signaling the police that there is no middle ground. Those who support them will go on doing so no matter what they do and those who oppose them are beyond hope of winning over. We can expect a fair amount of the pretense to fall away. Their ties to the racist right and embrace of authoritarian practices can no longer be hidden, so why bother. They’ll keep denying them, of course, but with a wink and a nod to their supporters.
Trump’s rise to power can be explained in large part by gnawing white fear of the brown tsunami – that day when white people will become a minority in a country they believe is rightfully theirs to rule.
Before Trump, the elite (including the Republicans) had settled on a strategy of assimilating the lighter-skinned portion of the “Hispanic” population into whiteness. By bolstering their numbers they hoped to shore up the anti-Black majority so vital for the functioning of the system. The neo-fascist upsurge empowered by Trump, in contrast, seeks to deport, exclude and suppress its way to a stable white majority. It’s a defensive strategy, a losing strategy, but devastating in its impacts.
The heightened danger stems from the fact that police will be less concerned about convincing people and more with cementing their existing alliances. Cell phone cameras will intimidate them less and they will feel justified in their attacks on demonstrators – and the media, medics and legal observers.
The opportunities are many-fold. The collapse of assimilation strengthens the basis for Black-Brown Unity. It is increasingly obvious that ICE and the police hatched from the same shell. The loss of police legitimacy allows popular imagination to entertain notions of a very different future. The racial, class and gender impacts of the pandemic has made clear the connections between the suffering in people’s lives so that discussions of police abolition quickly turn to providing stable housing, green spaces, adequate resources and health food and air.
What we are left with is a clash of narratives: one of scarcity, the other of abundance. The right-wing appeal is to fear – fear of loss in a world with little. Of being the losers in a harsh world in which only some can win. Liberation is based on abundance. On a commitment to attend to, learn from and honor our natural world, balancing its fertility and its limits and providing compassionate, fair and sustainable access to its gifts. Their story requires constant triggering of fight or flight instincts, ours speaks to our peoples deepest yearnings. Theirs on breaking relationships and ours on healing them. This is the heart of our struggle.