Police Brutality

The complicity of nonviolence with white supremacy amidst the fires in Minneapolis

Hundreds took to the streets in South #Minneapolis last night to show their disapproval for the recent killing of an unarmed Black man. Many gathered in front of a burning #3rdPrecinct building — the former place of employment of the MPD officers who killed #GeorgeFloyd.

This post was co-written by Tim Nafziger and Mark van Steenwyk in 2017 (see original) in response to the backlash against anti-fascists actions in Charlottesville, Virginian in August 2017. We’re reposting it with a new title because it feels even more relevant today as we watch the white liberal response to the burning of the police precinct building in Minneapolis last night. If you’re not a pacifist, see what happens when you substitute the word “liberal” for “pacifist.” If you aren’t Mennonite, consider what our message might look like to your own community.

This is the second in a series of pieces we’ve co-written. This article builds on our first together in 2010: Oppression analysis on its own isn’t enough: Becoming an Ally

In the last two months, in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, we’ve read many white people in my Mennonite community and others committed to nonviolence reiterating their commitment to peace. In a recent article for Anabaptist historians, Tobin Miller-Sherer describes these “smug and satisfied declarations about the superiority of nonviolence” as “bumptious.” This is a good word because Mennonites are extremely skilled at being proud in a humble way.

Why? Let’s take a closer look.

White Mennonites are eager to love their Neo-Nazi enemies who showed up in Charlottesville on August 12, but Mennonite pastor Isaac Villegas calls us to be more honest about who their enemies are:

Last week a sweet, white woman asked me to pray for her because she was struggling to love her enemies, the ethno-nationalists who paraded through the University of Virginia campus. “Your enemies? I doubt they think of themselves as your enemy,” I replied. “They are your defenders, marching to protect the dominance of your race—of your life and your children’s lives.”

One article we saw being shared frequently in the weeks after August 12, was the story of Daryl Davis, a blues musician who has used his music as a bridge to connect with klan members. Davis has done remarkable and admirable work. However, white Mennonites holding up an individual black man who approached Klan members is problematic because it puts the responsibility back on people of color rather than the white community. In general, focusing on conversion of individual white supremacists focuses on the comfortable individual conversion narrative that is familiar from Mennonite books like Coals of Fire which Tim grew up being read from, rather than looking at the broader social change work we have to do as communities and as society as a whole. This call to the conversion of individual fascists and bigots was a key part of pastor Hillary Watson’s article, “Before you punch a Nazi: A new Anabaptist response to white supremacy.”

An exemplar of this framing and perspective from outside the Mennonite church comes from Harry Boyte’s essay, “Nonviolence after Charlottesville” which makes no attempt to look at the broader issues of systemic racism at work in Charlottesville (let alone in the United States). Instead, Boye complains that activists today are too polarizing. He refuses to acknowledge social location, offer any analysis of oppression or privilege and seems to reject the idea that one might have enemies at all: “One way power leads to polarization is based on the notion that opponents are enemies who must be defeated.”

The problem is that the starting point for these narratives is convincing audience of value of nonviolence, rather than challenging the white moderate, which Martin Luther King identified as the a key need in his Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. The intransigence of white moderates continues to be a major barrier to undermining white supremacy today. As Chantelle Todman Moore put it in an article in The Mennonite in July:

“When we neglect those existing on the margins of our churches, communities and country instead of centering them in the life of the church, our claim to being a peace church becomes simply an intellectual exercise. We can tell you the tenets of nonviolent resistance, pacifism, avoiding war taxes and even why the idea of “just war” is just wrong. But when you take a closer look at our lives, congregations and church structures, you see cycles of physical, social and psychological violence being played out that mostly impact the “least of these” among us.”

Todman Moore highlights the proposed new definition of a peace church that came out of the Hope for the Future gathering. What if white Mennonites used that new definition as a starting point when talking about Charlottesville and the rising visibility of white supremacy for white US Americans?

Being a pacifist shouldn’t be like playing a game of violence whack-a-mole, where we react to every expression of violence as though it were the same. Such a posture usually ends up reinforcing the status quo, because structural oppression almost always “appears” less violent than revolutionary violence.

Instead, being a pacifist should cause us to invest time learning nonviolent ways of responding to oppression and committing ourselves to direct action and fiercely loving acts of solidarity. (more…)

When There is No Peace: Where are the Saints?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, MO from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, LA. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear.

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how W. Florissant Avenue was closed to all thru traffic beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5 second rule” which required protesters to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protesters who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

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Will we standby while Mubarak’s thugs massacre protesters in Egypt?

Egypt angry day 02

Like many of you, I’ve been watching closely as the events in Egypt unfolded this week. When the protests first began on Tuesday of last week it seemed like it might be a brief flare up, quickly repressed like so many others. But momentum grew through the week and the brutality of the police proved ineffective in preventing mass protests after prayers on Friday.

Then on Saturday, the olice left the streets and the media stories began to talk about “looting” and “lawlessness”. It’s clear now that the regime’s hope was that things would get so chaotic that people would beg the police to come back. To encourage this, undercover police joined in the looting and thousands of criminals were released from jail according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Mubarak’s mantra to his own people was that he was the guarantor of the nation’s stability. It would make sense that he would want to send the message that without him, there is no safety,”said Peter Bouckaert, the emergency director at HRW.

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Toothbrush Revolution

Yesterday I was at the dentist‘s and they gave me a toothbrush. Now I hear in the States that‘s not an usual thing, but in Germany it‘s actually really strange and so after the dentist thought she had put her fingers in my mouth long enough and I was allowed to go, I was carrying a toothbrush in the pocket of my jeans and somehow the toothbrush kept coming up in my mind and with it the chorus of a song.
A song my father always sang with us when I was a little boy. It‘s about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he said to kids who also wanted to participate in the demonstrations. He told them they could participate, if they had a toothbrush with them. Because if you get arrested you have to empty your pockets and all is taken away from you. Only your toothbrush you can keep. So keep your toothbrush as a sign of your willingness to go to jail for freedom. The song was written in Eastern Germany and was a famous song amongst Christian youth in the protest movement against the state-socialist regime.

In my head, I heard my eight year old self singing the chorus over and over again, the rough translation would be:”Do you have your toothbrush with you? You will need still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.”

I was really amazed by this, on the one hand because I rarely remember anything from my childhood, but on the other hand because of the radical message this song was giving.

It‘s paraphrasing Jesus, “Take your cross upon you and follow me” into words children can understand and that I still remember ten years after I last sang the song…

To me, taking up my cross or carrying my toothbrush around is a daily struggle because although it feels good to be really critical of the state and school and be the radical guy in school who challenges basically every opinion, my radical activity is usually done there (sometimes I also translate stuff for the German CPT branch…). How can I live a life where it makes sense to carry my toothbrush with me all the time, because I challenge the world so much, that it can’t stand me, it wants to put me in prison?

I sometimes lead Sunday school classes in my congregation at home, and I’d love to sing that song with the kids, but I feel like I have to carry my toothbrush with me for some time, till I can do that.

The last line is:”I have my tooth brush with me and I will still need it. Still today people are put in jail who are against oppression.” – this I will try to do…

This is not a riot: an effective, nonviolent response to attacks by riot police

In my experience, there are few things more intimidating then an advancing line of fully suited, helmeted, baton wielding riot police. They move forward with the full weight of the state behind them (if not the law) and stomp or beat everything in their path with a chilling methodical certainty. Charging riot police are meant to activate our deepest fight or flight instincts. I’ve witnessed both responses, though I’ve always chosen the latter. I never felt like I had much choice as a committed pacifist.

On Wednesday, in London, disciplined climate change activists found a remarkably simple third way. They stood their ground, put their hands in the air and chanted “This is not a riot”.

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Conspiracy to commit civil disorder and “Old tires (for burning)”

cross posted at As of Yet Untitled

I came back today from a weekend away to headlines reporting on multiple raids throughout the weekend of activist convergence spaces at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul/Minneapolis. Here are a few excerpts from reports on the raid:

The police presented no warrant at the time of the raid, but claim that they have a warrant to search the space for "bomb-making" materials. No "bomb-making" materials were found. Rather, the police barked orders for everyone, including a 5 year old child, to get on the floor with their faces to the ground. Everyone inside was put in handcuffs." (Illegal Police Raid on Anti-RNC Convergence Space in St. Paul)

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Settler attacks, domestic violence and tears

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

CPTer Joel Gullege injured

Sunday afternoon when I got word that my friend Joel Gulledge had been attacked by Israeli settlers in At-Tuwani. Joel was escorting some Palestinian children home from summer day camp when they were threatened by a masked settler with a slingshot. Jan Benvie, a friend and CPTer from Scotland, rushed the children away while Joel filmed what was happening. The settler caught up with Joel, grabbed his video camer and began beating him around his head with it while he punched him with his other hand. Joel didn’t fight back, but yelled for help.

This sort of thing has happened before to CPTers in Hebron and At-Tuwani. These have long been the regions where CPTers are most regularly the target of physical violence. Colleagues of mine have had their arms broken and lungs punctured and been stoned by Israeli settlers from the Havot Ma’on settlement.

So the attack itself is nothing new, but this attack hit closer to home for me. Just two weeks ago I said goodbye to Joel near his home on the north side of Chicago. Joel and I hung out together this summer at PAPA festival where he did a workshop on the situation in Israel/Palestine. And now I have the image of him being beaten in the face with his own video camera in my head.
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