Revolution #248, October 23, 2011
Interview with Carl Dix about October 22, 2011
Time to Intensify Outpouring of Resistance
The following is from an interview done on October 11 with Carl Dix:
Revolution: Going into NDP, what is it about the situation today you would like to highlight in terms of both the ongoing and accelerating police murder and brutality as well as the need for people to manifest resistance against that?
Carl Dix: This is the 16th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. We formed this group [October 22nd Coalition] because there was an epidemic of police brutality and police murder that needed to be resisted on a nationwide level. And that brutality, that repression, that criminalization, has not only continued, it has intensified. I mean, look at the 2.3+ million people incarcerated in the U.S. And this has been really targeted at especially Black and Latino people. The police brutalizing and even murdering people has also intensified. In Chicago, as of last month, the police had shot 47 people, including people in situations where there was no claim by the police that the people had done anything wrong. But none of the police have been charged with crimes or disciplined in any way for shooting, maiming and even in cases of killing innocent people. Then you have things like the death penalty. The Troy Davis legal lynching very graphically brings that to the fore. Here you have a man who was railroaded into prison based on evidence that was concocted by police. And the Troy Davis case is really a concentration of how the criminal injustice system treats Black and Latino people, in terms of people being thrown into prison on the flimsiest of evidence or no evidence at all, given long sentences, or even given the death penalty.
So all of these things are going on. They’re intensifying. But then the other part of the situation that’s very important and that’s very heartening is the way in which there have been significant acts of resistance. A very important one has been the hunger strike of the prisoners in California. People who are locked down in special housing units that amount to torture chambers, kept in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades, denied human contact. These conditions meet the definition of torture, as far as international law is concerned. These prisoners organized a hunger strike beginning July 1 that involved 6,000 people. The California authorities made a show of negotiating with people and the hunger strike was suspended on July 21. But then when the prisoners saw that the authorities weren’t making any real changes, the hunger strike was started again on September 26 and has involved up to 12,000 prisoners. That’s a very important example of resistance. As well as the response to the Troy Davis lynching. We weren’t able to build the kind of resistance that could have stopped his execution, but there were large numbers of people all around the country and around the world who signed statements, marched in protest, and then marched in outrage after the murder of Troy Davis by the state. And you saw both large numbers of the oppressed who were saying, they’re trying to kill us. But then you also saw people from diverse backgrounds, people from the middle class, white people, who were seeing this, shocked, but also outraged that it was happening, and joining in the resistance. And this is very, very important.
Revolution: I know you’ve been part of an effort around putting a stop to Stop and Frisk, a call has been put out, and there are some efforts leading into NDP to build resistance, to actually stop Stop and Frisk.
Dix: The call to stop Stop and Frisk was issued by Cornel West and me and it came out of a strategy session back in July which discussed how to take the fight against mass incarceration to a new level.
And what we determined coming out of that strategy session, was that there was a lot of work being done to expose this—Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, is a very important work in that vein. And different groups have come together to spread some of that exposure and to work in various ways, either through the courts or through lobbying in the political arena to try to deal with the horrors of mass incarceration.
But we thought that a missing ingredient here is determined mass resistance. And in particular we felt the situation was analogous to the late ’50s and early ’60s in the struggle against Jim Crow segregation and lynch mob terror where a lot of people were being weighed down by these foul and very overt forms of oppression aimed at Black people. But then other large sections of people were not so aware that this was going on. And some of those who were aware bought into the explanations and justifications for it. And what was required to create a situation where things could be changed was a beginning small number of people stepping out and engaging in dramatic resistance. With the Freedom Riders, the students who started the sit-in movements at the lunch counters and other places like that, and there weren’t a lot of them to start with. But they took very determined action, they stood up in the face of repression and delivered a message to the whole country and the world, that we’re not going to take this anymore. And that determined action was a spark that spread throughout the country and launched a powerful movement against the oppression of Black people.
We feel that the situation today is analogous, in that there are people doing a lot of good and important work to expose mass incarceration, to talk about the consequences of it—but that mass resistance is needed to create a movement that can really fight for change around this.
We decided to, in New York, focus on Stop and Frisk, which is an important pipeline to mass incarceration—Stop and Frisk by NYPD—they’re on pace to do 1,900 each and every day, five out of six of them Black or Latino and more than 90 percent of them, the cops can’t find anything to write them up, charge, or arrest them on. So they’re harassing and humiliating a lot of innocent people. And then we’ve also seen cases where these stops escalate to beat downs, arrests, and even people being killed. We wanted to focus on this because it is a burning injustice and we want to tap into what we feel is a supportive mood around resisting it and to link in with people who are trying to deal with it on other levels, whether that’s through the courts, political, the electoral arena, or whatever—out of that to manifest determined resistance and to create a situation where the authorities are forced to back up on this policy.
On October 21, we are going to do nonviolent civil disobedience at the 28th Precinct in Harlem at 123rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. And this action is the launching of such resistance, not a one shot thing. We’re going to carry out this effort, we’re going to take it to different parts of the New York area and launch a campaign of determined resistance to this unjust, illegal and unconstitutional policy.
It began with Cornel and myself determined to do that, but other people are signing on—the head ministers of Riverside and St. Mary’s churches have joined, there are professors and lawyers. And we have developed a pledge to answer the call to stop Stop and Frisk which we’re taking into college and high school classes and getting youth to sign up as well. And this October 21 action is the launching of the campaign, not the one shot of it. We’re going to carry this campaign out, we’re going to take it to different parts of the New York area and launch a campaign of determined resistance to this unjust, illegal and unconstitutional policy.
And through the course of this we’re unleashing various people to take this up in the ways that they see it, understand it and want to stop it. Which then means that the ministers at Riverside and St. Mary’s talk about it in relation to their Christian principles. But then at the same time myself and some others involved talk about things like Stop and Frisk being one aspect of a world that is just an unmitigated horror for the overwhelming majority of people. And that’s not just in this country but around the world and that we are fighting this horror as part of building a movement for revolution, a movement that can get at the system that enforces things like this, that has its police forces out there, enforcing a status quo that has built within it the inequality that Black people and Latinos face—and as part of enforcing that inequality, has targeted Black and Latino communities for very unequal treatment by the criminal justice system.
We are bringing out that things don’t have to be this way, that through revolution we could bring into being a world where we won’t have pigs going through oppressed communities like occupying armies, where those who are maintaining order and seeing to the security of people would actually operate in a way that unleashes the masses themselves to be a part of not only helping to maintain safety and order, but also grappling over what are the ways to do that, what changes to the order need to be made and being unleashed to carry that out—some of the things that are pointed to in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) that the Revolutionary Communist Party released last year.
Not only has this kind of revolution been done before, but because of the work that Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has done— deeply studying the experience of previous revolutionary societies, in the Soviet Union and China, identifying the many great achievements of those revolutions, but also fearlessly looking at where they fell short or went wrong and developing a new understanding of revolution and communism—we’re in better shape to make revolution and go farther and do better than those previous revolutions. The new understanding and new synthesis of communism that Avakian has developed is something that is part of what’s motivating me around building up this resistance to stop Stop and Frisk because what you’re looking at is an illegitimate society and order that’s being enforced. And we need to expose that to people, that so many Black and Latino youth are in prison not because they are making “wrong choices” but that they’ve been criminalized by this system and we need to lay that bare and show the illegitimacy of that. At same time I feel the need to bring forward an alternative legitimacy, a different way that society and the world could be, a society that operates in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, a society that people would want to live in and could flourish in and one in which they would be unleashed and challenged to actually take the reins of power in their hands and to grapple with, not only bring that society into being, but how to further develop it.
Revolution: With all these different fronts that people are struggling around—mass incarceration, the execution of Troy Davis, Stop and Frisk, police brutality, the torture of prisoners—how do you see not only bringing people together who are involved in these struggle, but more than this, stepping back, and understanding why all these things are happening, what are they a part of, and how should we be looking at these different aspects of ways that the system is oppressing people.
Dix: The oppression of Black people that has been a feature of this country from the very beginning, but also the ways in which that oppression has changed and been intensified and today, having to do with the fact that the employment in the manufacturing arena that drew a lot of Black people into the inner cities, has been moved around the world in chase of higher profit—so you have this grouping of oppressed people that the system has nothing to offer. And it’s in that context that the criminalization of the youth has intensified, that the massive incarceration has taken off— as the result of conscious policies of the authorities that can be traced back to Nixon back in the 1970s who is reported to have said that the problem is the Blacks and that we have to devise an approach to that problem that doesn’t acknowledge that we’re dealing with Black people. And then out of that comes wars on crime, wars on drugs, that specifically target Black people. So to me, that’s how some of this comes together.
Revolution: Bob Avakian has talked about how the system is waging a counter-insurgency before an actual insurgency. And this relates to what you said about how Nixon looked at the problem of Black people.
Dix: This again comes back to how large numbers of oppressed people are concentrated in inner cities who the system has nothing to offer. And looking back at the 1960s, the system is aware of the way in which the resistance of Black people to the oppression that was coming down on them actually played a big part in sparking off a broader revolutionary movement that rocked the system back on its heels. The authorities are looking at this point for how to deal with that and what they’ve hit upon is actually this approach of what comes down to criminalizing large sections of Black and Latino youth, discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, policies like Stop and Frisk, that target Black and Latino youth especially. And it comes down to treating the youth like they are guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive their encounters with police to prove their innocence. And that’s why we talk about the criminalization of a generation. And it’s also why we talk about a counter-insurgency in advance of the insurgency, looking to trap people up in the criminal justice system, either warehoused in prison, or on parole and probation, and in a mood of feeling like there’s nothing they can do about what is being done to them.
Revolution: One of the things that happened in the '60s is that you had a lot of other sections of society, including middle class forces who learned about and became supportive of the struggle of Black people on the bottom of society. And you don’t have that today in that way. At the time of Attica you had people who were very supportive of the rebellious prisoners and saw the need for that kind of struggle. But now you have people within the Black community who have written these people off. And then you have the system telling middle class people, white people that these people are the worst of the worst, that we should be afraid of these people. There is no sense that they should support this section of society who are being fucked over by the system and who are victims of this mass incarceration.
Dix: That’s a very good point that you raise. In the lead up to the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Attica uprising, I was in Harlem and talking with someone who was about 10 years old during the Attica uprising and what he remembers was that people were in the streets in Harlem throwing rocks at police, chanting “Attica, Attica, Attica.” And that was kind of a sample and a concentration of the mood more broadly in society. But today it is something that is seen a whole lot different. We talked with a woman at a march we held to mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre of the Attica prisoners and her question to us that was direct and blunt was, why should I support those prisoners, they weren’t supportive towards the people that they were robbing, beating, killing, raping. And this was a Black woman who was saying that. And then more broadly in society, among middle class and white people, saying this thing of well, things might be tough in prison, but that should be expected because people did terrible things to get there and then even beyond that there is an endorsement of whatever repressive measure the authorities are taking to keep prisoners and those not in prison, but the people who are looked at as the force of crime, under control.
We actually need to lay bare what’s really at work here, and strip away the legitimacy of this repression that the government is bringing down in many different ways, through the cops and the courts. To show people what is actually at work here is an illegitimate system that’s based on the vicious exploitation of the great majority of humanity and brutal oppression to keep that in effect. And to bring forward another way that the world and society could be, a way that would operate in the interest of the great majority of people, where the means to create all the things that society needs aren’t monopolized by a handful of capitalists, but are in the hands of the people and the people themselves are unleashed to direct that, to produce what society needs and to see that it’s distributed in ways that everybody’s needs can be met. And to grapple over, to interrogate, including the revolutionary authorities, where you think they’re going wrong, to oppose them and to raise a different direction and to struggle over that.
Revolution: On this point about the illegitimacy of the authority of the system—and this relates to the struggle to stop Stop and Frisk, where people both see the illegitimacy of the system but also see an alternative authority, that things could be done in a different way.
Dix: What we’re going at here is a policy that has taken basic rights away from broad sections of people and very openly and clearly taken it away from Blacks and Latinos, especially the youth. And while they justify it as an anti-crime measure and things like that, we decided to go at it with this nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to strip away that veneer of, well, there is a social good being served by this. It’s a way of baring naked that this is a way in which this system has consciously targeted Blacks and Latinos, and to strip away the veneer of legitimacy that has and expose it as a completely illegitimate thing. But also to bring people together to resist it, not just to talk about how it’s no good, but to bring people together to resist it. And there are youth and students from oppressed areas who are signing up to be a part of this. There are also college students from elite schools, as well as prominent ministers, ministers from churches that are more rooted in the communities of the oppressed, but also churches like Riverside Church which is a prominent church with a large and diverse middle class congregation.
And while we’re ripping away the legitimacy of the current set-up, we’re also bringing a picture of people from various backgrounds coming together and standing together to resist this.
And while we’re ripping away the legitimacy of the current set up, we’re also bringing a picture of something different, of the people, and people from various backgrounds coming together and standing together to resist this. And it gives people a vision that things could be different and it opens it up for people to lift their heads. You get more of a sense of who you’re in this with, what you’re up against, but also what kind of struggle is required to break through.
And this is where we have to really tap into some of the favorable developments right now, the way in which large numbers of middle class people have come out to the Occupy Wall Street movement that is now spreading across the country. A lot of them have not had experience with the way that the police operate in the communities of the inner city. But for many of them, when they hear about that and get an inkling of what gets done there, they are horrified by it and some of them see it as related to the injustices that has moved them to camp out at Wall Street and other places all around the country. Also there is the intense outrage that was sparked by the state murder of Troy Davis and that is creating potential for an outpouring of resistance both around the stop Stop and Frisk and around the October 22, NDP—that it’s very important that we tap into, because as I mentioned before, that some of what’s coming down in the inner cities being a form of slow genocide with the potential that it could be speeded up—but on the other side there is also potential to bring the kind of movement of resistance into being, that could point things in the opposite direction, up against that genocide. And in the midst of that there’s potential for communist revolution to bring into being a whole new world, a powerful pole of attraction. And that’s what we’re working on.
Revolution: Let’s come back around to this year’s NDP. What do you feel it needs to accomplish.
Dix: This year’s NDP must and can tap into the outrage that has come to the surface and bubbled over. The intensifying brutality being enforced in the inner cities is like a slow genocide that could be accelerated. This must be met by unleashing resistance that is broader, fiercer and more determined. And unleashing this kind of resistance around Stop and Frisk in NYC on October 21 and nationwide on October 22 would have a powerful positive impact on the situation. It could speak to very real questions people have. It can bring to the people occupying Wall Street a sense of how the police brutally enforce inequality and oppression 24-7 in the ghettos and barrios across the country. And it can address the question many oppressed people have of whether there are any forces that would stand together with them in fighting the hell the system brings down on them or are they alone in this fight. This resistance could contribute to creating a sense that things really don’t have to be this way among a diverse and growing section of the people.
Doing this will require taking the experience of the oppressed masses with brutality and even murder at the hands of those who are sworn to "protect and serve" out to the people involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and bringing the spirit of defiance that infuses that movement into the communities of the oppressed. A lot of the protesters down on Wall Street have not had experience with the way that the police operate all the damn time in the inner city. But when they learn about what goes down there, they are horrified by it and some of them see it as related to the injustices that have moved them to camp out at Wall Street and other places all around the country. Also there is intense outrage that was sparked by the state murder of Troy Davis, and that must be given expression around stopping Stop and Frisk and NDP.
This is very important because it does contribute to creating a sense that things don’t have to be this way among a diverse and growing section of the people. This will be going up against people hearing and being battered from every different angle in society that this is the way that things are and there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, we’re going to be working to give them the exact opposite message, that there is another way the world could be, and we could bring a different and far better world into being through revolution. And the resistance that gets unleashed on October 21 here in New York with the stop Stop and Frisk and on October 22 all across the country on the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, will give that vision of a different way the world could be a certain dignity of actuality in the way that people join together to resist these attacks.
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