Editor’s note: This piece was co-authored by three different writers located in three different cities who have chosen to stay anonymous in this work. The photography included to help tell this story are from Mainline contributor Brandon Mishawn in Atlanta, Ga., but the images simply serve to complement the words provided and entrusted with us here. The images used by no means imply the location of where this piece originated.
A crowd has gathered, full of rage and energy, in a downtown somewhere. A small group, all masked up, runs up to a CVS as the crowd passes and breaks the front window. People run inside to get goods; others stay out and tag the wall. The crowd is moving too quickly. Some abandon the looting to rejoin, others move in to take their share, and suddenly, breaking glass can be heard from other directions as the feeling catches on. Some activist types, convinced that these hooligans must be outside agitators, take it upon themselves to “protect” the protest. A few minutes later, as the crowd nears a police line, an activist grabs someone that they assume hit the store and hands them over to the cops, pointing at the broken window and the graffiti. When others confront the activists for collaborating with the police, they cry that they are just preventing people from sabotaging the movement. We are speaking here of what may be known as the “peace cop.”
As police continue to escalate their violence and the lines between protest, riot, and insurrection continue to blur, we feel that it is appropriate to share some reflections on some internal dynamics displayed in the heat of these conflicts.
The direct encounter with the forces of Order, whether it be the police or elements beyond them, can appear initially chaotic, fitting for a moment when people begin to freely move and act in spaces not usually so permitting. In this environment, revolt can often be cultivated. Police can be forced to retreat, attempts at arrests can be foiled, entire sections of cities can be left to the free activity of a mass, and space for this free activity to recognize itself can open amidst the shattered and charred remains of fixed capital. Though despite the liberatory potential in these moments, there are often conflicting elements within these crowds. Interests are not uniform and agreements on actions against the police are not established. They need not be, as action can be determined in response to the immediate environment.
The forces of Order, seeking to restore a false and fragile equilibrium over the brewing antagonisms, do not always operate through violence. They can speak in the language of protest, invoking a pragmatic winnowing down of demands, in the injunction to make one’s struggles presentable to public sentiment defined by the status quo. In short, they can come from within the crowd, claiming to act in its interest. Conflicts within groups in the process of convergence are to be expected, and such opposing interests drive the energy of the crowd deeper towards antagonisms which both fog the terrain for power and clear the way for direct attack. That being said, however, some of these elements deserve close attention, and we must strategize ways to deal with them in moments where they seek to suppress rebellion.
Unlike our direct enemies, the peace cop may not wear a uniform, though they indeed make themselves identifiable. You will know them for their efforts to engage crowds in structured actions, many of which may be overtly pacifying or diverting. They exert control through the platforms they have already built up, often supported with pre-existing activist and nonprofit infrastructures. You may hear bullhorns, see banners, have a leaflet thrust into your hands; notice those that have shown up to the scene wearing their most radical t-shirts just for the occasion. They often bring a pliable crew on-hand, activated through their volunteer or contact networks. They may be newcomers, coming onto the site of struggle with a predetermined mind of how people should conduct themselves, or they may be familiar mainstays of a local social scene of organizers who might be trying to make sure the night can stay in the control of the veteran activists. They may be Black, white, or any race, but no matter who they are, they will act as the official ambassadors of their identity, substituting their own particular interests for the general will of a group. Their power comes from being loud, speaking over others who are less organized, and generally giving a message and presentation that the media will eat right up. Since they work to affirm present social relations, to restore the desired social peace, they can more easily drown out anything oppositional. They aim to come in and graft the words of a dying order over the real movement in the street that seeks to create something new. Although they may claim to be, they are not your allies.
In a moment when the struggle takes the form of street battles, this character of the “professional organizer” often does not share an interest in directly driving back the police, much less a sincere belief in the capacity of people to do so. They want “reform,” and their careers and subsistence depend on deliverables that can be articulated to funders, so that they can secure a portion of the structurally scarce grant money. This being the case, they may take moments of pause to loudly dominate a space with appeals to a “struggle” at the ballot box, about “accountability” for elected officials, and ways that we can make the present state of things more stable. There is little consideration that when the SWAT vehicles are getting rolled out into the neighborhood, a municipal budget committee meeting is not going to help. It is always in these times, where the mass in the street must maneuver and sabotage police positions, that these professionals will aim to direct a situation, often for a photo opportunity. You may see them collaborate with police, the crowd merely serving as their personal tool to begin a negotiation that nobody has demanded. Police force is met with the shibboleth of the line of peaceful demonstrators calmly submitting themselves to the threat of force, perhaps trying to stage a photogenic moment, rather than the commanding movement of “unruly mobs” that can surround and endanger police positions, forcing a retreat. It is in this sense where peace becomes a fetish, limiting those under its spell to merely imagining a world where police inflict a little less suffering, to be reduced by a certain target percentage every year so long as city council votes to renew the reform program which has been the status quo for decades, rather than one where we have driven the pigs from all arenas of social life.
What is being demonstrated across the world at this very moment is that we do, in fact, have the ability and capacity to win battles against the police.
What is being demonstrated across the world at this very moment is that we do, in fact, have the ability and capacity to win battles against the police. Demands that mediate the direct conflict on the field, such as “Defund Police,” articulate the struggle in terms of actionable policy items that are made for those who see themselves as captains of the unruly mobs; externally-positioned patrols for a new order, disembedded from those of us who intend to fight with their bodies on the line and who grant no sanctuary for property and no quarter for police. In a tactical environment, the concepts that these professional political operatives devise in bi-annual visioning session conferences are rapidly proving themselves obsolete. While we may concede that the social formations who organize these political mediations will persist, the fact of the matter is that they have no traction without the movement of people on the street and the advances against police that gain ground in these struggles. There is no movement forward without the combustion that drives it. Disinvestment is not mutually exclusive from abolition; but abolition is inseparable from the materialization of a direct and naked destruction of the institutions that reproduce the forces of the police and prisons, which exist to stand in the way of us overcoming the conditions of alienation that drive crime, so long as they exist. Reformist mediations will have a shelf life, always situated between the police executions they fail to resolve and the deepening crisis of capital that merely demands more displays of deadly force to protect lifeless assets.
“Peacefully” allowing oneself to be herded into a slaughter pen, marching into a police kettle while chanting, “The whole world is watching!” is no kind of peace.
As we encounter these agents of riot suppression on the terrain of struggle, we must work amongst each other to seek the best ways of driving them out or neutralizing their presence. We may drown the peace cops in noise, encourage newer people to ignore them, derail their attempts at control, and refuse to follow their pleas for an orderly demonstration. We must resist their commands to adhere to policable formations that aim to structure the very territory we wish to expand upon and dominate ourselves.
“Peacefully” allowing oneself to be herded into a slaughter pen, marching into a police kettle while chanting, “The whole world is watching!” is no kind of peace. Those that ask us to peacefully accept arrest must be opposed with a counter willing to defy the conventions of “civil disobedience” with de-arrest, the forceful group liberation of those among us that the police attempt to capture, whenever possible. Peace-mongers that attempt to divide crowds into “good people” and “agitators,” which must be silenced and pointed out to be the self-appointed police that they are. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” is not suitable here, as that would require a cunning that they simply do not possess. They form part of an active effort at recuperation from the nonprofit-industrial complex and peace cops often have a material incentive to place themselves as mediators in accordance with this structural role; but that does not mean that they are two steps ahead or are particularly strategic in how they pull it off. They are a symptom of the insulation that official politics has from people’s needs and their rage. As such, they may be caught out of step with the crowd. Deeper down, they spring from the fear needed to stabilize society; they are a frightened herd that moves in opportunistically to an opening in the social order that does not belong to them, one that they will nevertheless seek to contain and distort the forms of resistance to which they desire to return.
Revolts are precarious matters. They may be sensed in the atmosphere as an imminent possibility, with collective rage on the verge of exploding, but not quite real until the right spark presents itself. Crowds can mingle in an area for several hours before anything really “happens.” Likewise, our peace cops may vacillate between being neutral, a nuisance, and a threat throughout any ongoing process of revolt. In this sense, it is important to maintain a critical distance, to dodge their judicious surveillance and know when a moment to make moves against efforts of peace cops is the most crucial, and not to engage in any untimely scuffles. They may even be taken advantage of as effective buffers, as large enough crowds can use the confusion of conflicting instructions and disparate concentrations of people as cover, so long as they do not dominate the total movement of the night.
Maneuvers towards recuperation will rear their heads throughout any struggle. We need not make the mistake of projecting conditions beyond our control or failures of our own onto oppositional elements. It is a matter of continually spoiling these recuperative efforts whenever possible while understanding that the hubris of the meek may often do this for us. As our own packs form and we seek solidarity amongst many strangers, we must keep our ears open and reflexes sharp, lest we hear the bleating of the fearful in our midst. Police are beginning to reveal themselves as scared; their morale is dropping and they are as exhaustible as any force in this world. The state is not omnipotent. It is not a time for us to back down, nor is it a time for us to be afraid of bold action when the moment makes itself apparent. These elements described above fear this direct conflict, denying its reality. Allowing them to maintain control will only unnecessarily endanger us.
We are an independent women-led publication that provides free coverage to our readers. If you enjoy our work and want to join our mission, donate to help us support the artists and writers who contribute to our platform.