At first glance, the SF8 are just another case of police abuse and the corrupt criminal (in)justice system. Our sympathies are with them, as they are with Mumia and Leonard Peltier and hundreds of other political prisoners, but no lasting movement has developed with the kind of strength to affect the outcome of the trial and end their persecution. The community knows the cops are a daily obstacle and are even dangerous, but the community has not seemed ready to get behind a campaign to end it.
There seem to be three models of resistance to police. The first model, which members of the SF8 ascribed to was the Black Panther model. It involved outflanking the police by building community support and conducting armed patrols of neighborhoods to monitor police.
The second model is the “police accountability” model that has been adopted by the Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), a coalition of Oakland non-profit organizations. This aims at reforming the police but essentially leaving them as they are, with some minor changes such as sensitivity training an extra layer of bureacracy in the form of citizen review boards.
The third model is the spontaneous eruption of anger and desperations by those members of the community that deal most directly with the police. Young black and brown men and boys from the hood that are unemployed and involved in informal markets often through gangs have shown what their response to police abuse is: riots and “cop killing.” While these responses are barely worth considering as “models” they are inform the analysis, especially considering that they are the most hotly sought after constituency for both reform organizations such as the non-profit sector (see Ella Baker Center’s “Silence the Violence Campaign”) AND militant community organizers (like the Panthers).
Instead of repeating the same sob story about police “terrorism,” and boring folks with legal details from the case, can we pose this question to working class black and brown communities: out of these three strategies – militant direct action community organizing, liberal compromising non-profit coalitions, random acts of violence – which approach is the most effective? When they answer that the militant direct action community organizing (panther) model is best, can we pose a follow-up question: who’s going to build such an organization to do that work?
Instead of imploring people to act in sympathy for these innocent old men, we should present them with the opportunity to act on their own behalf in these old men’s righteous example.