Police

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.

(more…)

Letter from Jeju Island


Caption: Villagers and Protestors chant for the release of village leader Kang on Jeju island during the events described below

This letter was sent out by Paco this morning in an email to supporters of the campaign to Save Jeju Island in South Korea. I’m posting it under Paco’s author account here on YAR – TimN

Hello Again,

Things have gotten very crazy around here. Yesterday we had a 10 hour long stand off against around 300 riot police. I apologize for bad grammer and spelling but I’m very tired.

Here is a short summary of the last 23 hours of our still on going struggle. If you want to follow more closely, as well as see pictures and videos, check the facebook links that I gave you before [http://www.facebook.com/groups/Saveprofyang/], or if you are a twitterer follow #gangjung or #savejejuisland (many of the posts are in korean but there are also pictures)

None of this is sensitive information so it can be shared freely.

Shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday the navy/police made what we believe to be a trap to arrest Village Leader Kang. They began assembling an illegal crane in the construction area. This led Village Leader Kang and several activists and village people to the area where they began to argue that this crane was illegal. (more…)

School of the Americas Protest Coverage

I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed right now, on the personal level. Yet I have this perpetual desire to never let the personal woes and difficulties overwhelm the big picture.

So, in an effort to keep things in perspective, I wanted to at least highlight = lift up for prayer everything that is going on down in Georgia right now, as human rights activists, Catholic Worker members, and really a whole bunch of folks (many of them Christians on discipleship journeys that take them to the gates of Ft. Benning after being with people affected by US foreign policy) from across the country gather to celebrate resistance to the school of the americas (WHINSEC) which has trained a number of people in doing the dirty work of US american politics through the last number of decades. check it out at: www.soaw.org .

Please pray for reconciliation and a decrease in militarism. And pass the world along about this celebration of resistance and mercy. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

Facebook as a tool against repression

cross posted from As of Yet Untitled

Last Sunday, a friend of mine got up and shared about the detention of Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian activist and journalist. Phil had roomed with my friend at Wheaton College and was a best man at his wedding. And now he was in secret detention in Egypt. Two days before he was picked up by an unmarked vehicle during a Gaza solidarity protest. The Egyptian police weren’t giving out any information as to his whereabouts. The only information his family could get was confirmation that he was being held.

What could friends in the US do to support Phil? Like many, they turned to Facebook. In recent years, Facebook has become a tool of choice for campaigners around the world, including Egypt. Last October, Wired magazine ran an extensive article on Egyptian activists who were organizing on Facebook to challenge the repression of the Egyptian government. Now, people from around the world joined the Free Philip Rizk group on Facebook.

For those not familiar with Facebook, it describes itself as a tool for mapping social relationship. When friends of Phil began inviting their friends to join the Free Phil group, these friends in turn could invite their own friends to join at the click of a button. Some people replaced their profile photos with a Free Phil banner so that anyone looking at their profile would see the image. By the time I saw the group on Monday morning there were thousands of members. As of today, there are 7,662 members.

But what’s the point of all this virtual organizing? What good does it do? (more…)

Chicago police, racism and the powerlessness of the gun in Rogers Park

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This afternoon I was sitting in my office downstairs from our apartment when I noticed the yelling volume outside had gone up significantly to a low roar. I looked out the window and saw that the number of kids walking home from nearby Sullivan high school had grown to a critical mass. Either something had already happened or was about to.

I walked out the front door and saw that one of Charletta’s big plastic planters was broken, dirt and plants spilled out on the ground. On the corner of Pratt and Bosworth, 30 or 40 kids were milling around. One squad car (car number 9602) was there, but the officer was still sitting in his car, smoking a cigarette.

As I walked toward the corner I watched a swirl of motion erupted as four or five kids took swings with their legs and fists at a sixth boy. As I continued walking toward the corner, the officer sitting in his car did nothing but sit and smoke his cigarette. By now the victim of the attack was on the ground as the other kids took turns kicking him. As I got closer, the officer began to back his car up, almost running over the kid on the ground. Then as soon as it had begun, it ended. The kid on the ground was apparently not hurt too badly as he was also quickly away from the scene.

After it was clear that the violence was over, the officer finally got out of his car. (more…)