Martintxo Mantxo (A Planeta) – Thanks to Caitlin Schroering
- 2020: not just a pandemic year, but a rebellious one too!!
- For a 2021 without political prisoners – an international update of some of them
- Chilean New Year’s Resolution: RELEASE OF PRISONERS NOW!
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis1. The images of a policeman pressing his knee on his neck while he was completely pressed to the ground went viral. The people’s reaction to the pandemic of police killings of citizens, especially those of minority and African descent, again, caused backlash. Even amidst the covid19 pandemic and restrictions around gatherings of large numbers of people, protesters took to the streets. Not only in Minneapolis, but in cities all over the U.S., large marches took place, with record numbers of people participating. And they were also replicated all over the world. The protests in the U.S. followed one after another, reaching their peak in June and July, but they lasted until October and beyond. Especially because there were more cases of police brutality, more deaths cause by racism at the hands of the police. At the end of the year, the figures are terrifying: 1,000 people have died in the US at the hands of the police2.
Symbols of White Supremacy fall
racism, and the colonialism and slavery that were based on it. More than 150 statues were removed in the USA, among them of Confederate generals, colonists, Columbus himself, etc.
The protests were accompanied by another action: the removal of monuments and elements commemorating racism, and the colonialism and slavery that were based on it3. More than 150 symbols, including 104 statues, were removed in the USA, among them of Confederate generals, colonists, 35 of Columbus himself, 21 of the Indian genocide, etc. Virginia, one of the original states, still retains many vestiges of its support for the Confederacy and slavery. There, 26 symbols were removed.
This tactic was replicated in other places around the world, going viral, to name a few, such as those in Brussels against King Leopold, the toppling of the statue of the Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar in Popayán (Colombia) or the one of Colston slaver in Bristol (United Kingdom) (Four people accused of the latter will be tried on January 25).4
The Minneapolis and U.S. police backslide – over and over again.
In Minneapolis the legitimacy of the police was questioned, even more so when the police also responded very aggressively to protest participants, clearly identified members of the press, and even people in their own homes. According to the Minneapolis-based alternative news agency Unicorn Riot, multiple agencies and institutions coordinated with the police in this crackdown.5
However, despite calls to dismantle the Minneapolis police force, police brutality continued, and even grew, especially at the end of the year. On December 5, police violently assaulted a man of African descent just yards from the George Floyd Memorial.6 On the night before New Year’s Eve, no less, and blocks from the square where Floyd was murdered, which now bears his name, police fatally shot another man of African descent (of Somali origin) parked at a gas station.7
Arrests of protesters reach 14,000
By the end of May police had arrested more than 14,000 people participating in protests in 48 U.S. cities, according to a Washington Post analysis, 400 of them in Washington.8 According to experts, felony charges against BLM protesters have been used as a «suppression tactic» to quell anti-racist protests.9
Some protesters face stacked indictments (numerous charges or captions that the prosecutor uses with the aim of threating to make it impossible for the accused to get off without charges) and even threats of deportation. Others have been charged with neither police assault nor reports or injuries.10
Lee Percy Christian was arrested in early October for «unlawful assembly» following a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Phoenix. He was jailed without bail (he had charges pending from previous demonstrations)11. Derrick Ingram was charged with felony second-degree assault in June after he allegedly shouted in a police officer’s ear with a loudspeaker at a protest.
Kevin Alfaro uploaded on Twitter a photo of a police officer taken at a Black Lives Matter protest with the caption «bitch», after he felt police had been biased toward a group of white supremacists countering a BLM protest12. A month later he was charged with cyberstalking, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 18 months.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, a group of 4 people face a life sentence after allegedly throwing paint outside the District Attorney’s offices on July 9.13 The charge was compounded by the prosecutor’s addition that they acted as a gang.
Bike Blocs against the attacks on protesters
One of the cities that saw a great deal of activity against police abuse and racism was Pittsburgh. Due to the big widespread violence from police, in early June several victims sued Pittsburgh and numerous city officials over excessive police tactics, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrations.14 This lawsuit was likely to be the first case to be filed in Pennsylvania over the widespread protests. In Philadelphia, the mayor and police commissioner apologized for using tear gas against protesters.
Patrick Beckhorn participated in these protests as part of that city’s Bike Bloc.26 As the name suggests27, he explains that this group uses bicycles to blockade, but only to protect protesters from possible attacks by police or right-wingers who oppose their demands. In addition to police repression, in many cases very violent, Beckhorn explains that these attacks were also «by non-state actors including right-wing gangs».
But the use of bicycles as parapets behind which to protect oneself is not the only new phenomenon since the assassination of George Floyd. Because this is also linked to another phenomenon, which is the running over of demonstrators, both by police forces and right-wing individuals 15, «which in many cases was permitted or condoned by the police and the state». USA Today counts 104 cases of premeditated hit-and-runs since the start of the protests over the murder of George Floyd, from May 27 to September 5.16 Many of them are recorded and documented.17 Of these, 96 were carried out by civilians and eight by police. The result is two deaths (not counting injuries), in Seattle and Bakersfield (California), and only 39 drivers punished.
The high number of attempts of collective hit-and-run of protesters evidences not only an opposition to an opinion or ideology, but also a legitimization and probably a feeling of immunity, a feeling that legally the punishment will not be high. Considering that it occured under one of the most right-wing governments in American history, Trump’s, these conclusions are logical. Even more so considering the latest events in the assault on the Capitol (10-01-2021). Beckhorn deduces that «in both cases (protesters hit-and-runs and Capitol assault) the right-wing attackers felt legitimized by Trump and the right-wing media.»
This was not the only form of attack as also «federal police officers abducted protesters in vehicles that were not marked as such and by plainclothes officers who also did not identify themselves as such», he explains. In addition, the protesters have received «heavy legal penalties».
The racial justice movement in addition to making itself heard, suppressing hundreds of racist elements and thereby perhaps changing the historical narrative and receiving worldwide solidarity, according to Beckhorn also achieved «some modest legal changes across the country, radicalized many people against racial injustice and in some cases whole communities learned to organize together against police terrorism».
Countering Police and Reactionary Violence in Utah
Another of the hot spots of supremacism in the U.S. is Utah. Another of those killed by police on the tragic list was a young Latino man, Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in its capital, Salt Lake City, on May 23, two days before George Floyd’s murder. He was shot 34 times because police believed him to be armed. As a result, the protests over Floyd’s death in that city became especially virulent.18 On May 30, the protest was concentrated outside the Utah Capitol, whose exterior walls were completely defaced with graffiti.
On June 27, 2020, the target of the demonstration was the District Attorney’s office. A day earlier, the DA had opined that Palacios-Carbajal’s death was justified. With slogans of «too much blood», liters of red paint were thrown on the building and its plaza, and a glass window was broken19. Now, a group of four people are facing a life sentence after allegedly taking part in the action.20 The charge was compounded by the prosecutor’s addition that they acted as an organized group.
In reaction to the BLM protests, racists created a militia, Utah Citizens’ Alarm (UCA21), which took it upon itself to march heavily armed22 alongside BLM demonstrations in order to, according to their version, intimidate protesters and ensure order. According to them, «they (BLM) hate America (USA, according to the hegemonic American language). They say they want to change America, that is anti-American».
Tension grew with a group created parallel to BLM, Insurgence USA.23 One of its members and founder, John Sullivan, was assaulted in his own home by police officers with unusual violence. According hos own statements he believed he would die. Faced with constant police outrages such as kidnappings in unmarked cars, he decided to show up armed as well. Similar to the 1967 takeover of the Capitol by the Black Panthers, he did the same on July 22, 2020, in a demo,24 in a so-called “show of force” and making use of his American rights (the Second Amendment allowing the bearing of arms).25
However, his initiative was countered by 20 armed UCA members. As was the case 53 years ago, what on one side was a provocation and an unacceptable act, on the other was seen as a necessary act of sovereignty. Again, Floyd’s death and all the events it triggered shows how entrenched racism is in the U.S. on many levels. As well as the contradictions involved in allowing gun ownership.
In Salt Lake City, armed mobs, now called the Bois of Liberty, took to the streets also on January 17, a week after the Capitol was stormed in Washington, to do the same at the government seat in that state, as well as in 7 others. But they were countered by a large police deployment in charge of not allowing events like those in Washington.
1Patrick Beckhorn participated in these protests as part of that city’s Bike Bloc. As the name suggests, he explains that this group uses bicycles to blockade, but only to protect protesters from possible attacks by police or right-wingers who oppose their demands. In addition to police repression, in many cases very violent, Beckhorn explains that these attacks were also «by non-state actors including right-wing gangs».
2Police Have Killed Over 1,000 People So Far This Year (12/15/20) www.newsweek.com/police-violence-killed-over-1000-people-2020-1554804
3See the impressive list: List of monuments and memorials removed during the George Floyd protests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monuments_and_memorials_removed_during_the_George_Floyd_protests
4See more in specific article on imprisonment and repression
8Among more than 400 arrested during protests in the District, most cases involve curfew violations and burglary (17-06-2020)https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/among-more-than-400-arrested-during-protests-in-the-district-most-cases-involve-curfew-violations-and-burglary/2020/06/14/ef7e2e82-ac93-11ea-94d2-d7bc43b26bf9_story.html
13Utah Protesters Who Allegedly Vandalized District Attorney’s Office Could Face Life In Prison https://www.huffpost.com/entry/utah-protesters-vandalism-district-attorney-life-sentence
15A precedent was the Charlottesville attack of August 12, 2017, in which neo-Nazi James Alex Fields drove his car into a group of people demonstrating against a Nazi rally, killing one person and injuring eight. He was sentenced to life in prison but it appears that the sentence was not very persuasive.
16Cars have hit demonstrators 104 times since George Floyd protests began https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/08/vehicle-ramming-attacks-66-us-since-may-27/5397700002
17Watch the considerable number of videos: : https://youtu.be/OAx9m59GZk8 o https://youtu.be/WE3eMEtMTpY
or https://youtu.be/l2m_TWh_08k o https://youtu.be/q-W-7WPWfE4 o https://youtu.be/l2dfCHZ1FQg, etc
19Utah Protesters Who Allegedly Vandalized District Attorney’s Office Could Face Life In Prison https://www.huffpost.com/entry/utah-protesters-vandalism-district-attorney-life-sentence
21Their Facebook page was shut down – it had 15,000 followers. They were promising to protect communities in Utah from «violent protesters and anarchists.»
22Armed groups had already made an appearance against the confinement measures in Michigan on April 30, 2020.
24Obviously, the initiative did not meet with the approval of all those gathered.
‘Panic, Violence and Bloodshed’: Pittsburgh Hit With Class Action Over Police Response to Protests www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2020/06/29/panic-violence-and-bloodshed-pittsburgh-hit-with-class-action-over-police-response-to-protests/?slreturn=20210025151142
26Phone interview made on Jan 11, 2021
27Its name is similar (sounds similar) to that of Black Block, the collective or strategy also created to deal with repression (tear gas, identification, etc) at demonstrations.