The movement to end state violence against people of color and to end systemic racism is no straightforward endeavor. It is not a gift that falls gently from the sky like manna from Heaven. It is a struggle. Like all movements against oppression, New York City’s Black Lives Matter movement has not gone uncontested. The simple yet radical assertion that “Black lives matter” has attracted the ire and derision of those who’d rather keep America’s racial hierarchy exactly the way it has always been. And this is the case for liberal, multicultural New York City no less than the rest of the United States. But who are these enemies of free society? What forces have decided to act as obstacles on the road to liberation? The answer – the usual suspects.
“Cops, TV, Neo-Nazis! All the scumbags work together!” goes a popular Greek anarchist chant. And it is precisely this chant that contains a truth that has seemingly gone unrecognized by Americans in general and New Yorkers specifically. The enemies of NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement are the same enemies of all struggles for liberation – the police, the mainstream media, and the right-wing.
And more often than not, all these “scumbags work together,” sometimes openly, and at times through sheer convergence of interests. The duty of those who wish to demolish White supremacy is to recognize these antagonists for what they really are, and to treat them as such.
This article seeks to accomplish at least part of that duty, specifically pointing out the adversaries of NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement, and outlining the ways they each fight against liberation as well as the ways they collaborate with each other to do so.
Aside from triggering the Black Lives Matter movement through their reckless use of force on Black victims, the police, as they always have throughout history, have also been the first line of defense against any movement against oppression. The very nature of their job requires the police officer to be the protector and guardian of established racial and class hierarchies. From the beginning, NYC’s police have performed this job wonderfully while even duping some protesters to think otherwise.
The Black Lives Matter protester who actually thanks police for “protecting” their rights during an action is seriously misguided. They are not at the protests to protect us. They are there to monitor and control us. Some have pointed to Commissioner Bill Bratton and the New York Police Department’s laissez-faire approach to protesters shutting down bridges and roads as proof of their good will. This view is severely mistaken. During those tense days after the non-indictments of the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the police simply had no choice but to take a hands-off approach. Bratton, as he himself stated, did not want New York to experience “what Ferguson or Berkley are experiencing,” namely burning, looting, and clashes with police. Mass arrests were out of the picture for a state that is still reeling from the financial toll of the mass arrests during Occupy Wall Street. Historical and social circumstances, not any adherence to morals or liberal principles, are what kept the police from being as brutal as they would have liked.
And yet, despite their apparent tolerance of protests, the cops, in many instances, still resorted to force, indiscriminately unleashing their batons, pepper spray, and LRADs (Long-range Acoustic Devices) on protesters. Even at their most benign, the NYPD still remain an inherently violent and oppressive organization. As things calmed down during the winter, Bratton and the NYPD continued their fight against anyone opposed to their violence. Bratton announced, perhaps prematurely, that a new, heavily-armed police unit would be trained to deal with “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities…for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”
Later, after outcry and outrage erupted across social media, the NYPD had to dilute the commissioner’s statement if not retract it, as it announced that there will, in fact, be different, not-so-heavily-armed task forces deployed in each borough, trained to deal with protests. “They’ll handle the demonstrations and protests,” said NYPD Chief of Department, James O’Neill. “They’ll also be able to respond to any sort of civil disorder. They’ll also be able to respond to citywide mobilizations. Nonetheless, Bratton’s initial conflation of the protests with terrorism should illustrate the mindset of the police. To them, the Black Lives Matter movement does cause terror.
Now, Bratton and the NYPD are demanding that 1000 new police officers be added to their ranks. The largest paramilitary force in the United States is not large enough apparently. This also comes after Capital New York reported that edits made to Wikipedia.org articles on Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and other victims of police brutality could be traced back to NYPD IP addresses. So in addition to attempting to re-write history and euphemize their brutality, the NYPD wants money and resources to increase their numbers.
However much they may tout their mythical objectivity, the mainstream media outlets never stick to “just the facts.” They are no neutral observers, especially when it comes to their coverage of NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement.
Whether it’s the New York Times, the Daily News, CNN, or MSNBC, mainstream media outlets, despite whatever right-wingers claim, have merely acted as the establishment’s bleeding heart apologists. Their criticism of police is only for use as literary device. A “few bad apples” are often needed to cook up a good story of police redemption and social progress.
The media mourns the violence inflicted upon Black bodies only after they have been filled with bullets. Until then, the brutality that people of color are routinely subjected to at the hands of the police is not only considered inevitable but is sanctified and glorified. The media tells us that these good men and women in blue are the only thing keeping us from being harassed, beaten, and killed. Meanwhile, the police harass, beat, and kill us daily without any consequence.
During the now infamous NYPD slowdown in late December 2014 and early January 2015, The New York Times editorial board, considered to be one of the police’s most ardent critics, could only muster up the strength to criticize the police for not doing their jobs. The number of arrests had dropped substantially, and parking and traffic tickets, the kinds of low-level offences used by the Ferguson Police Department to systematically extract revenue from Black residents, were down by more than ninety percent.
The Times’ editorial board became apoplectic when this situation, in which poor people and people of color were briefly given a break from the police state they experience all the time, had extended for more than a week. They even suggested that the police, by not subjecting people to the usual amount of violations of their rights, were actually guilty of civil rights violations. For the Times, this situation was “madness” that had to stop. “The problem is not that a two-week suspension of ‘broken windows’ policing is going to unleash chaos in the city,” the Times’ editorial board informed us. “The problem is that cops who refuse to do their jobs and revel in showing contempt to their civilian leaders are damaging the social order all by themselves.” And as the protesters should realize, the social order, with all its oppressive hierarchies, matters much more to the mainstream media than Black lives do.
The New York Daily News proved this when supporting, after the killing of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rather illiberal request for protesters to abstain from demonstrating until the two officers’ funerals had passed. When protesters defied the mayor’s request and continued with their #ShutDown5thAve march, the Daily News, the next day, asked protesters on their cover: “Have you no shame?” A dark irony coming from journalists, alleged defenders of our freedom of speech, shamelessly imploring protestors to not exercise their own freedom of speech.
Even the so-called liberal media is no friend of the Black Lives Matter movement. One should not forget that it was MSNBC, supposedly one of the more sympathetic media outlets, that helped prop up Al Sharpton as one of the leaders of the movement. MSNBC, ironically aided by the right-wing, placed their employee, Sharpton, a former FBI snitch and opportunist par excellence, at the head of a movement founded on a radical critique of police. This tactic of placing co-opted leaders at the head of potentially radical movements is a textbook example of how revolutionary rage is stymied. As Malcolm X noted, the so-called leaders like Sharpton aren’t there to inspire us, they’re there to control us and keep us passive.
And though each mainstream media outlet has, in their own ways, helped preserve the current social order and its systemic oppression of black and brown people, they all collectively engage in the glorification of the police as an institution, and in the euphemizing of their violence. For the mainstream media, the police officer is almost always given the benefit of the doubt, and their victims are almost always demonized as criminals and thugs.
This is especially the case with the New York Post and Fox News, both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. But these two outlets, along with their readers and supporters, are more properly lumped in with another enemy of the movement – the right-wing.
Conservative icon William F. Buckley famously stated that a “conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so.” And true to this role, the right-wing today wants to step in the way of progress and scream “no further!” Many of them would even rather go backwards. As the good old days of open White supremacy are slowly coming to their end. And the Right correctly realizes that the police are the ones who, with brutal violence, defend society against the progress they fear.
The New York Post and Fox News, which are merely the mouthpieces of the Right, have clearly recognized NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement as a force for progress and the advance of history. As a result, these two outlets, as well as other factions of the right-wing, have done all they can to discredit and dismantle the movement. For these media outlets, every Black Lives Matter protest in NYC is merely an angry mob trying to defame the always-innocent police. The editor of the conservative National Review, Richard Lowry, in an op-ed run in the Post, couldn’t heap enough scorn upon the protesters after the Millions March for daring to block traffic and interrupting New York City’s usual orgy of consumerism. He even derided the protests for involving “coercion and illegal acts.” The police who attempted to arrest Eric Linsker on the Brooklyn bridge for the nefarious crime of throwing trash, on the other hand, were only “there to ensure that the protesters’ civil rights weren’t violated,” according to Lowry. In other words, the cops who beat, taser, pepper spray, and use LRADs on protesters are only trying to defend their (the protestors that is) freedoms. But the protesters demonstrating against actual violations of civil rights at the hands of police are the bullies committing “illegal acts.” In the vein of Malcolm X’s thinking, if you’re not careful, the Post and Fox News will have you loving the oppressors and hating the oppressed.
To their credit, the protesters have realized this and have acted accordingly. During the #ShutDown5thAve march, protesters loudly chanted “Fuck Fox News!” as a Fox News correspondent attempted to report from the protest, forcing them to go off air. There was also a small demonstration outside of the NewsCorp building on 2 January.
But along with the right-wing media, right-wing politicians like former mayor Rudy Guiliani, and right wingers on the streets and online have made their own attempts to smear the movement. Giuliani has always been a notorious apologist for police brutality. It was under his watch that Amadou Diallo was shot forty-one times, and Abner Louima was brutally sodomized with a plunger at the hands of the NYPD. He defended the police in the midst of these two acts of brutality, and today he is still willing to defend police violence. But in addition to claiming that Eric Garner was merely “a criminal” who “wouldn’t be dead today” had he not “resisted arrest,” Giuliani claimed that the protests were simply about an irrational hatred of police.
“The protests, even the ones that don’t lead to violence – a lot of them lead to violence – all of them lead to a conclusion: The police are bad, the police are racist,” said Giuliani. “That is completely wrong. Actually, the people who do the most for the black community in America are the police.”
This ridiculous line of thinking ultimately trickles down into the masses, and appears again in the form of right-wing trolls at protests and on social media. These are the people who scream “don’t resist arrest” at protesters chanting “Black lives matter!” They are the people who derail the conversation by insisting that instances of violence within communities of color is the real problem, rather than the police who systematically commit violence against people of color. And so, from the media and political personalities at the top of the right-wing hierarchy to the poor saps at the bottom who parrot right-wing talking points, the entire right-wing has mobilized against the Black Lives Matter movement. But what is to be done?
In the end, all these scumbags work together. They all fight the same war against NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement. They merely operate on different fronts though they also overlap. The media helped police look for the protesters who assaulted two cops on the Brooklyn Bridge while attempting to de-arrest Eric Linsker, essentially doing the police’s work for them. The right-wing helps organize support for the police in the form of pro-cop rallies and lobbies for the policing of communities of color. The NYPD helped out the right-wing by openly feuding with de Blasio, and supporting so-called “tough-on-crime” policies.
If NYC’s Black Lives Matter movement is to continue as the weather gets warmer, the protesters must realize that these antagonists will not go away on their own. The cops, the media, and the right-wing are attacking the movement from all angles. The movement must be defended.
Protesters must realize that cops aren’t there to protect their rights, the media (even the so-called liberal media) are there only for a story, and the right-wing wants nothing less than the indefinite continuation of oppression. Changing the rhetoric of the protests or de-intensifying the tactics used will not turn these enemies into allies. The protesters must simply accept these opponents and learn to love the battle against them. Only then can we hope to clear these obstacles from the path to liberation.