Last Friday in the Emory Wheel, I wrote a column criticizing two signs that had recently been pasted to doors and street signs around campus. One of them was a particularly distasteful sign of a silhouetted woman leveling a gun with the caption “Dead Men Don’t Rape.” The second, however, was more shocking. The title of the poster was “The Police” and it featured a line of officers in full-riot gear. Beneath the title, there was a long paragraph of text obscured by a large tear down the middle. Even with the tear, the large-print caption at the bottom was extremely clear.
“But we know well enough who the killers are. You won’t f*** with us much longer.”
I was taken aback that such a sign would be present on Emory’s campus, so I did some homework to find out who was responsible for this anti-cop poster.
And I found them.
CrimethInc. Ex-Worker’s Collective is a “decentralized anarchist collective composed of many cells which act independently in pursuit of a freer and more joyous world.” A WhoIs search reveals that the domain name is registered specifically to the cell CrimethInc. Far East and a Mr. Scott Ogilvie, and has a P.O. Box address in Salem, Oregon. (I was unable to backtrack that information further when researching this column.) According to the site’s “about” and F.A.Q. pages, the group started in the mid-90’s and its actions are motivated by the desire to break what it believes to be unjust systems of power. “In a society which glorifies their power and our passivity, all thought which challenges this passivity is thoughtcrime. Crimethink is the transgression without which freedom and self-determination are impossible—it is the skeleton key that unlocks the prisons of our age.” Sound familiar? It seems that, 63 years later, we have arrived at George Orwell’s 1984.
CrimethInc. has a web site filled with books, magazines and free articles for the individual seeking to learn more about how to effectively fight the power. Books include Days of War, Nights of Love, Expect Resistance, Recipes For Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook, and more. They have a variety of free downloadable PDFs available, ranging widely in length and content: There are more than a few “Do It Yourself” guides to anarchic activity, a manual on effective graffiti and postering tactics (so THAT’S how they pasted their posters on the signs and glass doors!), and one guide in particular that calls voting the least effective form of political representation and advocates for “direct action” as a much more effective means of voicing your political will anytime, anywhere.
And then there’s the store. Not only can you buy the aforementioned books and magazines, but you can also purchase anarchist documentaries, pamphlets, stickers warning against the police state, and CDs, all available by mail which they collate on their homemade mailing table. In all seriousness, they did some beautiful woodwork and staining on that project. My genuine compliments on their craftsmanship.
While there are a great many interesting things on the site, the most relevant portion is about posters. This section sells posters at a going rate of $3 for 25, and features posters that challenge traditional gender roles, standard conceptions of beauty, the capitalist system, the legacy of September 11, and – ultimately – the police.
There is a complete image of the police poster available on the group’s website, with the text that was partially torn and obscured in person now fully viewable. Here is the complete poster contents:
The ones who beat Rodney King, who gunned down Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant, who murdered Fred Hampton in his bed. The ones who enforced Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States. The ones who broke Victor Jara’s hands and Steve Biko’s skull, who disappeared dissidents from Argentina to Zaire, who served Josef Stalin. The ones who interrogated Black Panthers and Catholic Workers, who maintained records on 16 million people in East Germany, who track us through surveillance cameras and phone taps. The ones firing tear gas and rubber bullets whenever a demonstration gets out of hand, who back the bosses in every strike. The ones who stand between every hungry person and the grocery shelves stocked with food, between every homeless person and the buildings standing empty, between every immigrant and her family.
In every nation, in every age, you tell us you’re indispensable, that without us we’d all be killing each other. But we know well enough who the real killers are. You won’t f*** with us much longer.
The poster does a few key things rhetorically:
1) It embraces the anarchist idea that no government or legal hierarchy is legitimate. This allows them to equate all police forces as the same, even though there are clear differences between conditions in the United States and conditions in Soviet Russia. Any form of police enforcement is the unjust execution of power by an illegitimate state actor, and by that standard the police in America are no better than the oppressive police in Russia or in Africa.
2) It upholds the idea that unjust laws are the product of unjust governments. This allows them to claim that police are starving the hungry and exiling the homeless from shelter. The police have a legal and professional obligation to enforce property rights and discourage theft, but illegitimate laws have no moral value. Therefore, the moral claim of a hungry person who needs to eat food is far greater than that of the better-off store owner who has too much food and is protected by unjust property laws and the unjust police that enforce them.
3) It identifies people as victims of police aggression without providing context. Take the case of Amadou Diallo. A brief check of his Wikipedia entry and its linked sources provides a basic version of the story – Diallo matched the description of a suspected rapist in New York, and when four plainclothes NYPD officers approached him he ran up the stairs to his building before pulling out his wallet. Mistaking the wallet for a gun, the officers opened fire and killed him.
Another case is that of Oscar Grant, who was accidentally killed in Oakland, CA when a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer attempted to taze him while he was resisting arrest. The officer accidentally drew his pistol instead of his tazer, and shot Grant while he was on the ground. Again, you don’t need to do more than search Wikipedia and its linked sources for such basic context.
These incidents were no doubt tragic. And other incidents, such as that of Rodney King’s brutal arrest and the death of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago in 1969, are definitely more controversial. But at least some of these cases are likely, in fact, the products of human error – NOT willful murderous activity on the part of police. This, however, does not matter for the anarchist – the police officer acting on behalf of an unjust government and unjust laws will always use force in an unjust way, and any incident that seems remotely controversial is simply more evidence of their brutality and oppressive tactics.
The link in the poster’s bottom left corner redirects brave internet users to one of the many articles on their website. This article, listed in the reading library menu as “F*** The Police”, lists seven “myths” about police legitimacy and gives the reader suggestions about how to best go about f****** the police near them.
This poster has since been taken down from my campus, but I’m partially convinced that more will pop up over time; after all, they are sold in bundles of 25. As the summer ramps up and “Occupy” revamps along with it, this kind of rhetoric will get more and more popular both on and off campus. So if you are a brave soul, I would encourage you to read up on groups like CrimethInc. that promote this ideology. While not everyone at the protests will be there planning to take down the state, and many will likely abhor violence, Doug Schoen’s poll of New York occupiers reported that 31% of the protesters reported a willingness to use violence to achieve their goals. This percentage may vary from group to group, but anarchists are definitely going to be present and will likely be playing active roles.
Knowledge is power, and in this case it will be knowledge that empowers you to understand the Occupy protesters and respond to their activities. Knowledge will be a powerful defense should anarchists come to a city or campus near you. When they do, consider this question: in what way does total anarchy make the world “freer and more joyous?”