by Luke Hauser
I’ve stood in the streets with the Black Bloc – first at Occupy Oakland in 2011, and more recently in Berkeley at the April 2017 hate-speech protest.
As I explained in an earlier installment, I am not part of an organized black bloc group. Mostly I’m a nonviolent anarcho-artistic type. But when the spirit calls, I’ve dressed in black and “joined in” the defense of our streets and parks.
Whatever mixed feelings I’ve had about face masks and diverse tactics have been outweighed by appreciation for the courage of self-organized people facing down riot cops or violent alt-right thugs.
So long as antifa and black bloc types have stood against equal or larger numbers of cops or thugs, I’ve felt righteous about being in the street with them.
A Left-Wing Police Force?
My support doesn’t extend to what I saw in Berkeley on August 27, where dozens of black-clad militants swarmed little clumps of alt-righters (mainly campus Republicans, it seemed) and intimidated them.
As part of their tactical maneuvering, the black bloc folks also made a point of intimidating the other 2000 progressives in the park. Their message was clear: “We are in charge here – don’t get in our way!”
Once my irritation at being intimidated in my own park wore off, I started thinking:
Who else do we know that dresses in identical clothing and assembles in public to intimidate people they disagree with – and coincidentally to intimidate everyone in the vicinity?
Seems like our black-garbed comrades risk becoming the very thing they claim to oppose – the uniformed enforcers of “peoples justice.”
Who Controls the Police?
Is the black bloc a people’s police force? And do we want that?
Let’s not reject the idea out of hand. Let’s think about it.
Suppose we do need our own “police” to protect our cities and our rights, particularly with the alt-right on the rampage. This raises a lot of further questions, such as:
- Who gets to join? Who gets to exclude people?
- Who makes tactical decisions, and who are they accountable to?
- Are people allowed to hide their identity while performing public tasks?
- Do other people have input – when and how?
- What sort of complaint and review processes are there?
Basically – do we want a police or paramilitary group operating independent of civilian input?
How exactly is that an improvement on what we already have? At least if the Oakland Police intimidate me there’s somewhere I can email a complaint.
That’s the bottom line – if a group wants to “police” the streets, we demand openness, accountability, and public input into their operations.
See You in the Streets
I’ll continue to stand with my black-garbed comrades when the situation demands. And I’ll continue to critique any and all protests in the Bay Area as the spirit calls.
Want to respond? Look for me in the streets and we’ll talk.
Luke Hauser is a parajournalist and author of Direct Action: An Historical Novel.
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