Gangs and Insurrection // on the occasion of the mass arrests in Denver
Last week the Denver Police Department made a mass arrest of 34 black youth and it seems like nobody has blinked an eye.
The 34 suspects were rounded up because, according to the cops, they are suspects in a series of downtown muggings.
Last we heard, 30 of those individuals have been charged with things like assault and robbery--many of them felony charges. The police did not make it clear how they identified and rounded up the suspects, but "most of [them] told police they were associated with either the Rollin' 60s Crips gang or the Black Gangster Disciples gang." The police keep dossiers on gang members; apparently they used their lists to round up individuals, throw them in jail, and begin interrogations.
All this ought to raise some kind of resistance from radicals who are also tracked by the police.
Anarchists, especially, should take notice when this shit goes down, cause we're in gangs ourselves. It's true. All it takes is a crew of folks who have each others' backs to be a gang. Our forms of social organization are atypical, and they are our greatest strength.
Even if you don't think you're a gangster, the cops already do. The police in Denver have been using their Gang Units to track anarchists for years. To them, we're gangs.
Not only were individuals rounded up after-the-fact on the basis of alleged gang membership, they are being held on $1 million bond for each count. That is an impossible sum to raise, and also far higher than the bond that would normally be set for crimes like assault and robbery.
We don't deal with shit anywhere near this serious. Not yet anyway. So why is state repression coming down so hard on gang members, even if they did the shit they're accused of?
Repression of ways of being
It is not so much our individual selves that the state criminalizes, but our ways of being--how we be.
Anarchists charged with conspiracy--facing years in prison for daring to draw breath together. Black youth rounded up for gang membership--for being so bold as to come into a mass.
And it's damn right that proletarian youth getting organized should make any rich fuck quake in his shoes.
It is our collectivity they are making a crime. They know, as we do, when we are weak and isolated, they know that we grow powerful together.
It's true they jail and charge and imprison us as individuals. The legal process separates the individual from her source of strength, ties her up in proceedings of what precise acts she as an individual has committed. But our crimes are for the ways in which our bodies and breathing interact, merge and feed each other, the ways we roll on our enemies. Those are the patterns that their squads and patrols and the eyes of surveillance sweep for, what the warrants yank us out of.
Cause if the proles get together, God help us all.
Crime pays when cops get shot
The 'gang threat' and the War on Drugs have been used as excuses to criminalize urban proletarians, especially black and hispanic youth. Racist policing and incarceration serve the interests of the ruling class in many ways, including the repression of proletarian populations, the reinforcement of class division along lines of race, and the production of a slave work force in prisons.
Criminalization is a process that involves not only the surveillance, policing, profiling, and arrest of specific populations but also the social factors that produce their criminality. We criminals have been produced as such by the government and its laws. What actions and activities we engage in that are defined as beyond or against the law.
For black and Hispanic urban youth, a systematic exclusion from the wage economy has produced high incentives for involvement in illegal economies. In turn, the state brings heavier policing and prosecution on gang members. So while most working people hate their bosses and experience the police as somewhat worse than an annoyance, people with criminal lifestyles see the cops and the state as their number one enemy, while bosses are mostly irrelevant. (In reality, the bosses are behind the violence of the state.) This could be why, when proletarian uprisings have exploded after police shootings or beatings, they have often seen the central participation of gangs and other criminals.
While some on the Left propose that the 'solution' to the 'gang problem' is to reinsert gang members into the wage economy, we believe that would replace one form of oppression with another. Gangs themselves have, in moments of insurrection, expressed quite different desires through their actions--specifically, the destruction and looting of capitalist property. It is not a desire for inclusion in the capitalist system that these express, but a desire to destroy it.
Gangs and insurrection
Gangs have been at the heart of the largest uprisings in the modern United States. We're thinking of the Watts (Los Angeles) Rebellion of 1965, and South Central L.A. again in 1992. These were moments when the U.S. saw insurrections powerful enough to shake the foundations of bourgeois society, times in recent memory when uprisings were put down by massive military force.
Not only were gangs active and powerful in the rebellions, they may have been the reasons they happened at all. It is important to note that each uprising was preceded by a truce made between rival gangs in L.A. In other words, the cessation of violence between gangs somehow opened up an orgy of violence against cops, businesses, et al.
We are not trying to glorify gangs. The role of gangs during the normal (i.e. hellish) functioning of modern society is of course absolutely fucked up. We'll offer no judgment, but will make the observation that in times of normalcy, everyone plays their part in keeping this terrible machine running. That includes activists, leftists, revolutionaries, workers, whatever you think of yourself as. Uprisings, insurrections are massive breaks with everyday life. They are moments--the only moments--when we can all escape and attack normality.
If gangs are not revolutionary by nature, but rise to the occasion of an insurrection, how is it that they have had such a powerful role? And how have their truces sparked social uprisings, while revolutionaries can hardly claim such successes?
This year after anarchist comrades in Oakland fought in the streets in the Oscar Grant riots (January '09), they advised us that we need more preparation, our crews need to get ready to fight when something explodes as unexpectedly as that rebellion did. We need to seek ways to sustain and expand insurrection when it flares up.
We are still on training wheels. Some of the other gangs in our cities, by contrast, are already a war machine. When an insurrection comes, they are organized, trained, materially equipped and mentally prepared.
Furthermore, gang members' relationship to the police is one of militant antagonism. This antagonism is, as argued above, the result of their position in the relations of capital and the state.
Race and class
Media reports have been quick to follow the lead of the police in all sorts of ways. No surprise there. What's really interesting is the media's sensationalizing the assaults in question as "racially motivated."
The gang members are all black and their victims have reportedly been white or Hispanic. The police reported that the gang members used racial slurs in the attacks, but then declined to say how they knew that. The media even quoted a 'victim' saying he was the victim of a "hate crime," because he felt he was attacked for being white.
The liberal objective of proliferating "hate crime" status has been critiqued elsewhere at length--including predictions that hate crime laws would used to claim reverse racism or reverse whatever more often than not--so we won't go into that here. But let's call this kind of crime for what it is. Mugging is not racially motivated. It is motivated by the need for money, which class society creates. There are a diversity of people walking around in LoDo in Denver, and a whole lot of them are yuppies, but we're still talking about random muggings. If it hasn't happened to you, it's happened to ten people you know, and it fucking sucks. It's broke-on-broke crime.
Broke-on-broke crime means people aren't robbing banks, or even stealing computers from art galleries, they're ripping off poor and working folks for the little money or possessions they have.
Nevertheless, if the media can be trusted, none of the assaults targeted black folks. And that wouldn't be surprising. Black youths' consciousness has been formed in an environment where it is very clear that black people are getting fucked over. Nobody likes someone who rips off their own people. But we believe that race alone is a limited, even false, view of who your people are.
The Black Disciples and the Crips have their roots in revolutionary liberation struggles and in black nationalism. Unfortunately, nationalism has limited ability to overthrow the entirety of oppression and class society, because that struggle must be beyond and against borders and nations, and also because nationalist groups reproduce domination and hierarchy internally.
In the context of a white supremacist society, it makes sense for black folks to organize together against white supremacy, even in exclusive ways. But while race-based membership might be useful, race-based violence and crime never is. We need to save the struggle and violence for our real enemies--those who stand in the way of our liberation and self-determination. Hopefully, the "stop broke-on-broke crime" slogan will catch on. Ditto bank robberies, boss-napping, and proletarian rioting and looting.
The solution to inter-proletarian violence is proletarian violence.
One more thing should be made clear. Not all these people who were mugged were working-class. A lot of them were yuppies. Whoever they are, they have enough collective power and clout to bring the state down hard on these gangs. And they get to say stupid shit about "hate crimes" in the paper, while the gang members themselves are silenced.
Nothing here but silencing
What do the 34 individuals have to say?, I would like to know. But there is nothing here but silence.
Shortly after the arrests began, 9News reported that one suspect had called the TV station before turning himself in to the police. They did not report what he said to them. Nor did any news outlet report any statements from the suspects or their families. Contrast this to the arrest of our comrade Ariel Attack in August. In that incident there was one arrest, not 34, and journalists were constantly calling and harassing Ariel's friends, roommates, supporters, family members, and any random 'radical' in Denver, in a desperate attempt to solicit a comment. (They didn't get a statement from anyone except Glen Spagnoli, who felt entitled as a self-appointed representative of Denver radicals to talk shit about the action Ariel was charged with.)
It is no secret that gangs are consistently denied a voice. Why is that? What would they have to say?
The fact is that the few statements that gang members have made publicly have been intelligent, revolutionary, and community-based in content. For example, in the context of the L.A. rebellion, "The Human Relations Conference, against the advice of the police, gave a platform to sixty black gang leaders to present their greivances. To the astonishment of the officials present, the 'mad dogs' outlined an eloquent and coherent set of demands: jobs, housing, better schools, recreation facilities and community control of legal institutions." (Mike Davis, City of Quartz, pg 300).
But the police can't have gangsters' voices being heard. They need to wage a war against gangs, and that would be bad PR.
The silencing of gang members opens up space for others to speak on their behalf. News outlets didn't interview the individuals who were arrested, but they did interview and publish lengthy statements from an 'expert,' a 'representative.' Clearly they will not allow gang members to speak for themselves, but are hungry for a more 'official' perspective. The statements came from Reverend Leon Kelly, who runs a Denver gang-prevention program. To settle any question of what side this Reverend is on, he stated that the arrests "will confirm to these kids that there is a consequence."
If L.A.'s rebellions of 1965 and '92 were both preceded by gang truces, and these rebellions are real threats to bourgeois society, it would follow that the state's interests would lie in the repression of gangs, fostering their infighting, and preventing the organization of another truce.
The evidence supports this thesis. In June of 2009, a former gang member and gang truce organizer named Alex Sanchez was arrested in Los Angeles. He is being held without bond on charges of being a gang member and allegedly being involved in some of the crimes that gang allegedly committed.
If we desire proletarian insurrection, we would be wise to note that it may all hinge on gangs. Those of us who are also criminals, who roll in crews, have some things in common with gangsters. At the very least, we share criminality, ways of being, antagonism to the police and the state, militancy, and a desire to riot and loot. Everything indicates that we need to get organized, and everything seeks to prevent this from happening.
Anarchists need to know our hoods & our neighbors first and foremost. Where are our relationships to the gangs in our city?
We do not mean to argue that relationships to gangs are more important than other reliationships in organizing in our 'hoods, but that organizing our 'hoods is where it's at, and gangs are an important piece of the process. Our 'hoods are where we live, the places that we stand in struggling for liberation. But they are also the places we know the least about.
This is, in part, a recognition of that everything about the insurrectionary process remains to be built. It is also an admission that here we will stand and fight, so let us really begin to learn the territory of the coming battles, and prepare them for war.
War happens elsewhere, we have been taught. In other places, in others' lives. Social peace is the 'reward' that comes with our privilege, our position of world dominance. It is eminently dependent upon war elsewhere, war for others.
But some of us have recognized that something like war is being waged against us every day in the conditions of our existence. In the cops who are arresting, beating and killing our friends and neighbors. In the eviction notice from the landlord. In the fact that we have to work in order to survive. In the paramilitary attacks by racists, rapists, queerbashers, police of every stripe, who we often find living under our own roofs.
We are already at war. The lines have already been drawn. We have yet to recognize where we stand, and we have yet to find each other, our allies. We are divided against ourselves rather than united against our enemies. We have yet to feel ourselves as a force.
The cops, the media, mediators and representatives of all kinds will do everything to prevent this from happening.
So it must be our task.
originally posted at 'til it breaks, a Denver social war blog.