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Thinking for Ourselves

Mundane Evils
Shea Howell

As protests mount in streets, people across the country are engaging in unprecedented efforts to rethink what it means to create safe communities. At the same time, the ordinary machines of governing continue to function, moving from the mundane to outright evil.

It is no secret that a crisis is seen by some as an opportunity to make money and choices that would otherwise provoke public outcry and resistance. During the Detroit Bankruptcy, for example, we saw the rapid whitening of downtown Detroit, mass evictions, and wholesale transfer of public properties into private hands. Much of this happened behind closed doors as people struggled with evictions, water shut-offs, school closures, and excessive property taxes.

Today, as people are demanding the defunding and demilitarization of police, the public bodies most directly related to providing oversight in Detroit are proving how out of touch they are with the city, and how much they are governed by the desire to protect corporate power.

This week both the Police Commission and the committee responsible for public health and safety of the City Council responded to initiatives in ways that should encourage all of us to boot most of these folks out of office.

The current Police Commission was introduced by Mayor Coleman Young in 1974 as an early effort to provide civilian oversight to police abuse. That responsibility has been reaffirmed through various Charter revisions. But over the years, the Commission has become a rubber stamp for police initiatives and has engaged in shady dealings, violating the Open Meetings Act and having one of its own members, Willie Burton, handcuffed and removed during a meeting, because of his efforts to encourage citizen input on the discussion of police use of facial recognition technologies.

This week Mr. Burton tried to get the Commission to acknowledge the growing national effort to demilitarize local police. His efforts provoked laughter from some fellow commissioners. Burton had also called for eliminating the use of tear gas and flash bang grenades. The police have been widely criticized for use of excessive force during the most recent protests.

Also this week the Public Health and Safety Standing Committee met to once again consider the plan offered by President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield to make police purchasing of surveillance technologies transparent. The committee chair, Scot Benson and members Janee Ayers and Roy McCalister have blocked this effort for nearly a year.

The three are not only on the wrong side of history, they are endangering the citizens they are supposed to serve. All three uphold the perspective that police make us safe. As the three continued to dither, finding ways to slow down the simple effort to allow public discussion before the city spends any more money on surveillance technologies, it seems they had no understanding of the shift taking place in the country.

They do not seem to realize that thousands upon thousands of people see the lie and know that police do not make us safe.

They do not seem to realize that thousands upon thousands of people know it is not justifiable to spend millions for policing and almost nothing on health care, recreation, economic development, housing, and quality of life programs.

This moment is revealing more than a broken police system. It is demonstrating that our most ordinary means of governing are in the hands of people whose interests are not to serve the people or provide leadership toward a more humane future. It is definitely time to shake things up.

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Last week, at the site of the Algiers Motel where police murdered three black teenagers during the 1967 rebellion, a group of movement Elders welcomed demonstrators. Here are a few of their speaches.

Wayne Curtis:

First, we say “All power to the people!” Without this power from our neighborhoods we stand little chance of transforming this glocal reactionary capitalist corporate plutocracy. “Glocal” is the transformation of the nation-state into a world of community that’s controlled by the American corporation and other corporations throughout the world. They go past national administrative ability to control within national geographical boundaries. So glocal, like they say, think local, act globally? Well, glocal is acting local and thinking globally, but instead of saying global, I say “glocal” because of our similarities of culture. We have to defeat this corporatocracy on a world level.

What is power? The corporate glocal community believes that power means domination over all biological life, whereas institutional brutality is imbedded into this capitalist glocalized system of governance.

We all say “No!” to this pig terminology of what power is. For the purpose of the complete transformation of this brutal corporatocracy, we say that the definition of power is first our ability to conduct a collective democratic localized discourse to define phenomena, and then make it act in a desired manner.

Our desired manner is that we want justice now. We want an end of this corporate executive administrative act of glocal brutality now. We want an end of all glocalized violence that is being committee on all biological life in general, and black life in particular.

We want to end the violence of unemployment, the lack of shelter, water, and heat.

We want an education that will tell us the historical truth of this American decadent glocal-ran society.

We want an end of all wars for corporate theft of other people’s stuff.

We want land, bread, housing, education, free access to all technology, and a complete end of incarceration.

We will have a glocalized access to the tree of life.

All power to the people!

Frank Joyce:

We are not fighting police brutality. We are fighting a 500 year old colonial system that is degrading and demeaning to us all. It is even damaging to those who think they benefit from it. The role of whites is the same as everyone’s role. It is to fight for a system that is fair to all.

Do you know what would be the best way to defund the police? Defund the Pentagon, that’s what. Territorial conquest is where the militarism comes from in the first place and always has. This is a simple idea. If you want to take apart the culture of violence, start where it begins. Start with militarism and the worship of violence as the solution to any problem.

Fifty years ago some of us tried to turn on an alarm clock for white people. For fifty straight years they mostly turned over and hit the snooze button. Young white people today—and some of older ones too, are not hitting the snooze button now. They are waking up. Let’s keep that alarm button on full blast so they don’t go back to sleep.

At no time in my life, as Michelle Alexander put it today in the New York Times—have we had as good a chance to get this right. It is a thrill to see so many who are just now experiencing the beauty of and the thrill being in this movement.

They say elders are not supposed to give advice. I disagree, I do have one piece of advice. For every action there is a reaction. There is a straight line from the Algiers Motel to the murder of George Floyd and so many others. There is a line from the election of Barack Obama to the election of Donald Trump. There is a line from making superficial reforms to the resurgence of white supremacy over and over and over again.

There will be strong pushback to whatever comes from this moment. There are times and places when some people can play the short game. We do not have that luxury. The long game is the only one open to us. That is why we must take care of ourselves and take care of each other every step of the way.

Shea Howell:

I am glad people are gathering tonight to mark the tragedy that happened in this place. The forces of violence that swept through here, continue today. But today we see new power arising in our communities. Across the country people are moving us closer to creating communities of care and compassion.

Police forces are being defunded. People are asserting power in the streets and creating change. Real community safety is emerging. Here, in this place of violence, as you gather to remember those lost, to acknowledge the efforts of all those who have struggled to bring into being a new world, you are surrounded by ancestors and elders who join you with love. Here in this place, let us also gather in hope, that in the midst of all the loss of these decades, we are reaching a real turning point. That long arch of the universe is finally bending toward justice and we can imagine a new future together.


A Speech from the Suburban Silence is Racist Violence Car Caravan Last Week in Metro-Detroit.

Hello everyone. My name is Lauren Schandevel. I’m the Macomb County Organizer for We The People – MI, an organization devoted to building multiracial, working class alliances across the state. I grew up in Warren, about 30 minutes away from here, and I live there now. Warren was a notorious sundown town back in the day — meaning Black workers were expected to be out of the city by nightfall, or else be subjected to violence by police, organized militias, and armed vigilantes.

We are taught that that particular chapter in history is over — but, like all of history’s chapters, the words bleed from one page to the next. Today, you won’t see government-issued signs posted around town, telling Black people to leave before dark — you may, however, see a Black person pulled over while driving around Birmingham or Royal Oak at night, accused of being suspicious or an outsider.

Contemporary police departments evolved from slave patrols and night watches. I’m not saying that to be hyperbolic — that is the history, and knowing our history is an important first step to changing our present.

There has been a lot of talk this week about how to move forward, how to heal — but the healing cannot happen until the wound has been dressed. Our movement has two paths:

We can follow the lead of Black activists and work to defund and eventually abolish the police.
We can settle for less, and ask for police regulation and oversight.

For those of you who are just now hearing calls to abolish police, the first option may scare you. If police aren’t around, who will keep us safe from rapists and murderers? I promise you the fight for police abolition was not born overnight — it is the product of decades of scholarship by the likes of Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Alex Vitale and others. These scholars and activists challenge us to imagine a society where our basic needs are met — a society where neighbors know and care for one another, a society where we teach our children about consent so they don’t rape, a society where the school shooter has access to mental health care so he doesn’t kill. It may seem far off from our current reality, but the more we chase it, the closer it becomes.

In the coming weeks, people in power will offer you an easy way out. They will call for banning chokeholds, they will call for more training, they will call for body cameras. Let me tell you why those reforms will never be enough.

First of all, proposals for police reform imply that there’s some amount of police violence you have to or must be willing to accept. But more importantly, we know that in places where we’ve tried reform, it hasn’t worked.

The officer who murdered Eric Garner did it with a banned chokehold.

Salt Lake City Police killed Patrick Harmon in 2017 after two years of implicit bias training.

And just 6 days ago, Louisville Police killed David McAtee and left his body in the street for 12 hours. The body cameras didn’t capture it, because the officers turned them off.

In two days, my city council will pass a budget allocating $46 million — almost 40% of our general fund — to the police department with the hope that more rules and more expensive training programs will make us safer. But as police budgets expand, budgets for other things shrink. Like schools. And mental health services. And drug treatment programs. All of which are far more effective tools for keeping us safe than any body camera.

So if you take something away from today, let it be that racism is more than just good and bad behavior — it is the culmination of policies that make up systems, like the education system or the criminal justice system. And policies change as our priorities change. Are we, as suburbanites, willing to prioritize the lives of Black and Brown people over a false sense of security? Are we willing to send our children to college instead of juvy? Are we willing to invest in programs that rehabilitate people over programs that punish them? If you’re here today, you’d better be here for the long haul fight ahead. Because we’re in it now, and there’s no going back.


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