Dead Prez, Da 5 Bloods and Defund Pt.2: What’s Going On
This is part two of a three part series. Parts one and two look at issues and part three will look at ways to proceed.
“I dedicate this next record to the soul brothers of the First Infantry Divisions…”
-Hanoi Hannah, DJ in Da 5 Bloods-
Brooklyn-born movie producer Spike Lee has been one of America’s most enduring beacons of cinematic cultural excellence for more than 30 years. Do The Right Thing, Mo Betta Blues, Malcolm X, and their associated soundtracks were some of the most critical elements of my creative and intellectual development as a Black teen trying to find a cultural identity at the end of the Reagan Years.
I grew up in Virginia Beach, and I remember very clearly the Greek Fest “riots” in 1989 that were ignited primarily in response to over-policing and racist policies at the VB oceanfront. As a young teen, the common link between Greek Fest, generalized police brutality in Virginia Beach, and my emerging Black identity was the music of Grandmaster Melle Mel, Boogie Down Productions (KRS One), X-Clan, and Public Enemy among others. The soundtrack for the Virginia Beach rebellion was Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”, which Lee had used as the main theme in Do The Right Thing, and is re-emerging as a call to action of sorts for this current iteration of the Black Liberation and Uhuru Movement that was sparked 400 years ago. Since that movie was released in the Spring of 1989, Spike has had some hits and misses, but his newest movie Da 5 Bloods (the follow-up to his Academy Award-winning Black KKKlansman) brings him back to task as he takes a look at the story of Black G.I.s and their post-Vietnam realities.
Without getting too much into the details of the movie, one of the many underlying themes was in how each character found meaning for themselves after they returned home from the war. It was clear from the many flashback scenes that they all felt a sense of duty towards helping their communities back home in their struggle from white American oppression when their tour ended. I think that is a sentiment that many veterans possibly feel even in 2020 as they rotate out of the military and into a civilian world that is bubbling with unrest. They carry a very specific skill set above that of a police officer and are typically better trained in tactical design and engagement. Keep this in mind as I sweeerve to the left real quick…
One of the ongoing points of tension in some protesting communities and America at-large is how much interaction the community, Black folks in particular, should have with the police. How much should the community be engaging with the cops to solve the policing problem? Some believe that there is no way to work with the cops as “all cops are bad” so there is a push to maintain a well-defined line between the citizens and the police. There is a clear amount of validity to this perspective as the cops operate as a gang unit often with almost absolute authority. The power dynamic is inherently unbalanced. And the accelerations in force that we have seen in Richmond, among other places, on a nightly basis over the past couple of weeks make that abundantly clear.
But I have seen some things the past couple of weeks that challenge some of the primary assumptions of the non-cooperative approach. One of the main situations towards the liberation of Black people from police tyranny that may require an amount of co-operation with the police is ironically in self-policing our own communities. The Juneteenth celebrations at Marcus David Peters Circle (the landmark formerly known as the Lee Monument) were overseen by a diverse group of organized community members armed with assault rifles watching out for infiltration from white nationalists, several of whom had made drive-bys and online threats of violence against the peaceful Juneteenth celebrations. There were NO cops present and it was a peaceful event. The cops did however try to enforce some parking violations en masse late in the day Saturday but the civilian peace-keepers at the event kept them from physically intervening and resolved the issue internally at the community level with no escalation.
The next day, some people were critical of the arrangements the security group had made for Juneteenth because they were “working with” and communicating with RPD. I know there are more dramatic elements to the relationship between the groups, but the sentiment is what it is. And that wariness is not by any means uncommon. But in this case, I had actually seen that police-community relationship actively working on behalf of the People. When I heard the critique, the validity of the work that was going on (self-policing, community-level problem solving) was being discredited because it was done in coordination with the police and not in antagonistic opposition to them.
This seems a bit off-base to me for a few reasons. The main one being that, as a Black man, I can’t just show up in public with an assault rifle to defend my community if it comes under-fire from white nationalists. I will be “apprehended” or shot first with some possible questions asked later. Black people generally do not have the privilege to “open carry” without suspicion or deadly apprehension in many environments. That is a function not of the policing system specifically, but the Karens, Donalds, Beckys, Tuckers, and Amy Coopers that engage with the cops to enforce racist white nationalist paradigms that criminalize Black personhood even as we exercise our rights as Americans.
That’s one reason why, in the Minneapolis communities that have been ground zero for the unrest, the Freedom Riders have started working directly with the police force to build a sustainable system of integrated-community policing. They are clear that they are not there to replace the police in every capacity, but in conjunction with the Minneapolis City Council’s dramatically revolutionary decision to “disband” the city’s police department with absolutely no plan for what will replace it other than a name, the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. The irony is, many of the most vulnerable residents in Black communities within Minneapolis are criticizing their City Council’s actions because they feel it leaves their communities more susceptible to violence. These sentiments are echoed by similar Black communities that have high levels of violence all around the entire United States relative to talks of drastically downsizing police departments.
I think it is essential for people to understand that in America, it is a disconnect to think that you can “abolish the police” or even defund them (dramatically reduce their numbers) and not have fully armed, ready, and organized local militias that can protect communities from the already heavily armed white nationalists looking to start a Race War. There may be some room for debate around that but if the police were abolished tomorrow, those heavily-armed nationalists would see it as a green light to proceed. And while the police department is rife with white nationalists, there are also people of diverse backgrounds that are actively fighting against the proliferation of those organizations that have much more violent and absolute plans for Black people in America. As Stic Man from Dead Prez said “My enemy’s enemy is my man.” Not to mention, the boys in blue hate rival competition in their territories. They hold down their block. Real talk.
The white nationalist Race War agenda is one reason I think the Abolish, Defund and BLM messages are being co-opted and ignited by organizations with ulterior motives on the back end: Those that are not in this ongoing revolution for the true liberation of the children of the Diaspora, which is what the Liberation Movement is truly about at it’s core. “Defund The Police” rings closest to a Libertarian-type mantra that, in their world, would accompany the defunding and privatization of other public institutions like the post office, health care, public schools (replaced by more private, for-profit options), and emergency response services. As a matter of stating what should be obvious, a de-stabalized social structure does not benefit Black Americans in any way, shape, or form. Having a clear plan for where any defunded monies would go is an essential element to making sure that the money goes to the Black community in a responsible way. The way that Defund is currently presented to the public and the people that actually make the funding decisions, there is no specific request or demand for funding for programming in the Black communities that the Defund movement was launched off of.
Regardless of which angle you look at it from, a reduction of municipal police would require an increase in localized exercising of 2nd amendment rights. As mentioned in part one of this series, policing is primarily a mechanism of wealth protection. And considering that we are in a deep depression that is only getting deeper as the coronavirus wave ripples, this country’s glaring wealth disparity will continue to grow and fuel civil discomfort. And if unemployment, PUA, and other forms of public assistance are discontinued before the economy is back on track, these economic disparities could lead to exponential increases in what I call living crimes, directly associated with immediate survival.
If the power of law enforcement is to move back into the hands of the People, local communities all over the country have to be prepared to carry some of that heavy weight with a plan and infrastructure that is both democratic and effective. And, much like the current police force, there will have to be funds to train members of these citizen patrols on de-escalation techniques, non-lethal engagement, psychological trauma sensitivity, and first-responder type First-Aid.
With all of that being said, (this is where I sweeeerve back on track to close it out…lol) there is a deep well of experience to tap into with Black military veterans that want to serve the actual American public as organizational leaders for community-based law enforcement. Obviously public interest and any parameters on that would need to be evaluated, but it should be a consideration, and possibly a cornerstone in the development of a new law enforcement contract between the police and the American public. The development of collaborative partnerships between properly-trained citizens, community leaders, and relevant political entities is an essential part of dealing with the ongoing oppressive presence of hostile law enforcement in Black communities around the country.