A conversation about the ongoing uprising after cops murdered George Floyd, COVID 19 and Abolitionism with a few comrades of the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement.
The German version of this interview will be published in the next issue of Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ 孫子兵法.
“Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.”Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth
Riot Turtle: On the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement website is written: “We situate our political movement in the context of the abolitionist struggle against slavery and continue in the tradition, from Nat Turner to the Black Liberation Movement.” In Europe many people don’t know what abolitionism and the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement exactly stands for in the 21st century. Can you explain that?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: Many people, both in the U.S. and abroad, take for granted that slavery in the U.S. ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The truth is that this amendment contained a caveat that permitted the continued use of slavery as punishment for a crime. The result was effectively the transfer of plantations into prisons. The U.S. prison system is, by leaps and bounds, larger and more populated than any other such system in the world; and U.S. prisons are overwhelmingly populated by Black and Brown people. Black and Brown people are often harassed, beaten, and caged for “crimes” that white people— including the U.S. government and major corporations— indulge in regularly and with impunity. The very act of being Black or Brown in the U.S. is criminalized; people are often locked up not on suspicion of any specific act, but simply because of their race. The abolition-in-name-only of slavery that took place in 1865 failed to include a rejection of the white supremacy underpinning it. Lincoln said unequivocally that if he could preserve the Union without abolishing slavery, he would.
Over 150 years later, aside from the ongoing targeting and harassment of Black and Brown people by police, laws themselves in this country— and even architecture— are still designed specifically to criminalize black and brown life. An example: Decades of discriminatory housing practices coupled with the white supremacist assessment that people of color should make less than white people have resulted in many Black and Brown people being homeless. Meanwhile, laws against loitering, as well as installations such as benches with middle-arms and spikes jutting out dangerously from sidewalks, criminalize the simple reality of having no place to go. Similarly, prisons are filled with Black and Brown folks who cannot afford bail, and/or who have accrued some other State debt— both of which are conditions that disproportionately affect Black and Brown people.
All of this was true long before the coronavirus, the spread of which has since laid bare the disparities between white, black, and brown life in the U.S. Two examples: Black and Brown people are getting infected at higher rates than their white counterparts; and, earlier this year, New York City began shutting down its subways from 1am to 5am every morning, forcing countless homeless people onto the streets or into overcrowded shelters. There have been coronavirus outbreaks at prisons around the country; the State has predictably taken no precautions whatsoever to prevent these outbreaks, withholding supplies from prisoners, while the guards spread the disease.
The criminal “justice” system in place in the U.S. today yields the same results of the plantation-based slavery of yore. Black and Brown people are utterly dehumanized by the system— caged and murdered with nauseating efficiency. For this reason, we hold the fundamental belief that the abolition of slavery cannot be accomplished without abolishing both the State and capitalism, as these twin demons serve to perpetuate the oppression of Black and Brown people. White people in the U.S. are deputized into the system of white supremacy, in which property is valued at the expense of humanity. They are expected to uphold this system– in which Black and Brown people are routinely terrorized, murdered, and enslaved– and are often rewarded for doing so.
In discussing abolition with comrades or would-be comrades, we find two strategies of tremendous importance. The first is to embed our analysis in revolutionary history. We study, and encourage others to study, the maroon former-slave societies of the nineteenth-century U.S. South; the Underground Railroad; the Black Panther Party, and the Black Liberation Army, just to name a few. Some members of these groups, as well as countless other freedom fighters, are still in prison to this day. Thus, our work is inextricably tied to theirs, twice over: We are at once inspired by their example and motivated to see them free.
A second important strategy, which relies heavily on the first, is the rejection of false narratives. The U.S. history children are taught in U.S. schools is ripe with false testimony that suggests white people generously handed freedom to Black people at the end of the Civil War. The maroons– who fought for their own freedom, killing their masters and expropriating what they needed before forming their own free societies in swamps and forests– are absent from most textbooks; at best, they are but a footnote buried under many tall tales of benevolent white people. Globally, this false narrative finds expression in a similar form: that of the benevolent U.S. Empire saving brown countries from themselves.
Freedom is not, nor was it ever, something for white people to bestow upon us. It is, and always has been, something that must be taken.
Riot Turtle: After cops murdered George Floyd an insurrection started and was spreading across the US and beyond. Two months have passed since the uprising started. What has changed for the abolitionist movement and people in general since then? Did the perspective change?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: One positive aspect of how the George Floyd insurrection has impacted the abolitionist movement is that there is increased interest in it. As recently as last year, few people outside of our group who we spoke to had even heard of the word “abolition” outside of the 13th Amendment context. Today, curiosity in the movement abounds, as does renewed interest in police abolition among a population rarely impacted by the horrors of imprisonment— middle- and upper-class white people.
However, this has come with its own set of problems. Unfortunately, as usual, liberals have co-opted this radical term and are now using it to demand mere reforms. Illogically, liberal demonstrators often employ the phrases “abolish the police” and “defund the police” interchangeably. How do you defund something that should no longer exist? It’s enough to make you want to bang your head against a wall!
Meanwhile, the State capitalizes on this confusion, hijacking momentum and reorienting demonstrators back into manageable pawns.
Riot Turtle: Is there a parallel to the Ferguson uprising in 2014 and what are the differences compared to the situation now?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: There are some parallels between the situation now and the Ferguson uprising, as both uprisings were sparked by the murders of black people by police: Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. However, this time around, the scale of revolt is much more intense and widespread. Beginning with the burning of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis, police were attacked, cop cars burned, and capitalist businesses looted in cities around the country. Months after the uprising began, revolutionaries continue to attack police— particularly in Portland, OR.
Ferguson was certainly a significant uprising, as well; but this time, there has been a greater sense around the country that revolutionary change is possible and that the momentum is on the side of the people. Beginning with black youth, those in the streets early on adopted a militant attitude and the tactics of direct action (setting fire to vehicles, precincts, etc.) and expropriation. At one point, Trump even had to hide in a bunker, as fires burned directly outside of the White House. Much of Manhattan was set on fire, with high-end fashion stores thoroughly looted. These scenes were unprecedented in U.S. history!
In both cases, the forces of counterinsurgency swept in after the initial stage of revolt to establish non-violence as the only legitimate tactic and re-direct revolutionary energy toward insignificant reforms. Though this has worked, to an extent, to pacify the uprising in much of the country, there is a definite sense that the uprising could re-erupt at any point. The root cause of the uprising—police murdering Black people—continues unabated, and many people around the country are facing eviction, while coronavirus cases continue to spike. Politicians have demonstrated, over and over again, their willingness to sacrifice the lives of poor Black and Brown people in order to “save the economy.” As people become increasingly desperate, and State repression and callousness become increasingly blatant, there is less opportunity for people to forget— for the proverbial dust to settle, as it has after so many previous U.S. uprisings.
Riot Turtle: Did the COVID-19 pandemic and the way the state is handling the pandemic played a role in the uprising?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: COVID-19 and its absurd mishandling by the State definitely played a role in the uprising. Since the beginning of the pandemic, thousands of people have lost their jobs and faced homelessness. Many people got sick themselves and/or had to support family members and friends who were ill. Much of this could have been avoided if more precautions had been taken early on; instead, politicians downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 from the start, telling people not to wear masks and refusing to close businesses. This allowed the disease to spread rapidly.
COVID-19 has been used as an excuse to increase repression against people who are already targeted by the State. Leading up to the revolt, police were routinely harassing Black and Brown people under the pretext of enforcing social distancing or some other COVID-19 regulation. Ironically, police themselves often refused to wear masks, and openly sympathized with the armed right-wing Trump supporters who “protested” for the opening of the economy and against coronavirus regulations. In this context, the State in general and police in particular have lost legitimacy in the eyes of many. Actions like the burning of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis gained widespread support, surpassing both Biden and Trump in terms of popularity.
Now, with coronavirus still on the rise in many parts of the country, the State is telling people to return to work and cutting off pandemic relief, forcing many people to risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to survive. The battle lines have been drawn between the State, which has allowed coronavirus to spiral out of control in pursuit of profit; and dignified revolutionaries, setting fire to the enforcers of white supremacy and looting the businesses that are deemed more valuable than black and brown lives.
Riot Turtle: In June there were riots in Stuttgart (Germany). Many so-called leftwing liberals reacted, saying the Stuttgart riot was not political. Especially the looting. In our opinion this suits our rulers very well. What role do leftwing liberals play in counter insurgency tactics in the US and beyond?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: As noted above, left-wing liberals play an important role in counterinsurgency in that their confusion over radical vs. liberal ideas makes them useful pawns with which the State discourages more radical activity. Sometimes, this is unintentional; however, there are myriad instances in which liberals directly and intentionally inhibit revolutionary activity. Liberals often adopt the role of “peace police” at demonstrations and try to discourage radicals from taking meaningful direct actions such as those taken in Portland and Minneapolis. Liberals also have a tendency to weaponize identity politics. For instance, a liberal (almost always white) might discourage revolutionary activity by claiming that it puts the lives of Black and Brown demonstrators at risk— as if that were not already the case every time we leave our homes. As if that were not the entire point of all of this!
Riot Turtle: Europe was the cradle of slavey. Apart from statues and street names, many of those who were responsible for slave trade are treated with respect for what they have done for their respective nations like Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and many other European countries. Colonialism never really stopped. Today many regions in the south are strangled by loans, trade treaties and arms exports which supports certain factions in regional conflicts. We also see an increase of army deployment by European states in so-called “peace missions”. Do you have a message to people in Europe?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: Frantz Fanon wrote in Wretched of the Earth, “Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.” Colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy (all of which originated in Europe) have taken their ugliest, most extreme forms in the United States. The U.S. empire has been in decline for some time, and is now at its weakest point in the past century. The U.S. is particularly vulnerable at the moment. Attacks on both U.S. state and capitalist targets in Europe can help support the anti-police uprising here and contribute to the ultimate death of America’s white supremacist establishment.
Riot Turtle: Can you also tell us something about the ongoing protests in Portland and the massive repression in Portland?
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement: Trump’s big plan to send in federal forces to quell the uprising in Portland has massively backfired. People have been beating these troops, and have shown no fear. The troops’ presence has brought out even more supporters and militant tactics. This is very encouraging!
Recently, on July 25th, the uprising was sparked once again in many other cities around the country. Police cars and stations, jails, a Department of Homeland Security building, and courthouses were attacked in multiple cities, including Oakland, New York, Seattle, and Atlanta. The resistance to Trump’s fascist “law and order” policy has re-ignited the uprising’s earlier militancy.
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The design on the T-shirt below is from a mural in Stuttgart, Germany. The mural was made after the Stuttgart riots in June 2020. The cop was kneeling on the neck of another protester and had to stop after he was kicked in his back by another protester.