“If you want others to be strong, you must be strong yourself...”

Lessons and Challenges in the Fight Against Police Murder and in Defense of Quentin Tarantino

by Annie Day | November 9, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


There is an important lesson being played out in the firestorm around Quentin Tarantino which has reminded me of a quote from the revolutionary leader Mao Zedong: “If you want others to be strong, you must be strong yourself.”

Quentin TarantinoQuentin Tarantino at the rally. Photo: Phillip Buehler

Tarantino has acted with certitude and courage on a central question of our time: murder by police must stop! He marched in the streets and spoke with clarity before thousands, which has reverberated around the world. For this, he has come under vicious and dangerous attack. In the midst of this, he has continued to bring it back to the central question: the police need to stop killing unarmed people. He has also spoken forthrightly to why he’s under attack: to intimidate him into silence and to send a message to other prominent voices like him to shut up. And he has spoken to the deeper reality of white supremacy (see interview on MSNBC) and mass incarceration as “American slavery part two” (see interview by Michael Slate).

In the face of distortion and slander, in the face of the threat of losing his ability to make his art, in the face of being pleaded with to apologize, to tone down or “walk back” his comments, and even in the face of what are outright Mafia threats: your actions are predictable and we will hit you with a “surprise,” which coming from any other entity would be immediately deemed a terrorist threat... in the face of all this: Tarantino has not backed down.

Under Attack for Taking the Right Side Against Police Terror

During Rise Up October, the question was posed: In the struggle against police terror, which side are you on?

Through fighting against this attack on Tarantino, those sides have been further clarified: Is the problem an epidemic of murder by police disproportionately aimed at Black, Latino, and Native American people backed up and approved by a legal system that rarely indicts and even more rarely convicts killer cops? Or is the problem that those who are killed are “thugs who deserve it,” with the danger to the police exacerbated by those who call out, question, or resist murder by police? Through this struggle, the sides have been sharpened and further delineated while the methods and aims of both sides are being further revealed, and many are being compelled to speak out who had before remained silent.

In the days after Rise Up October, the attacks on Quentin Tarantino grew. Initiated by the aptly named Patrick Lynch, the head of New York City’s Patrolmen’s Brutality Association, a number of other police unions joined in. Then the fascist Fox News went on the attack.

Carl Dix and Cornel West, the co-initiators of Rise Up October immediately issued statements of support and Dix issued a challenge to debate Patrick Lynch (which has still gone unanswered!). Dix took the offensive. On Fox News, he debated both the fascist mouthpiece Megyn Kelly and the notoriously racist ex-cop Mark Fuhrman. Fuhrman took the attack on Tarantino further, saying that he shouldn’t be allowed to film anywhere in the U.S. (This strain was picked up by police unions later in the week). Dix spoke clearly and unapologetically: the problem is murder by police and the fact is that this system is set up to exonerate murdering police. “As a human being with a conscience, Tarantino was right to join the protests and I was proud to stand with him.” (And in a moment that will give heart to all those with a fighting spirit for justice, Dix shut Fuhrman down beautifully.)

Over the next hours, more statements of support came in: from Charles Burnett, one of the most prominent independent Black filmmakers; from First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus; from Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Arturo O’Farrill (who was also on the Advisory Board for Rise Up October); from actor Peter Coyote; from the National Coalition Against Censorship, and more. Novelist Joyce Carol Oates tweeted in support. Prominent actor Ed Asner, who has over the years himself been a major target for speaking out for justice, made a statement. Jamie Foxx took the opportunity at an awards dinner where the cast for the The Hateful Eight (Tarantino’s new film) was being commended to say: “Quentin Tarantino, I want to say this: You are boss, you are absolutely amazing. Keep telling the truth, keep speaking the truth and don’t worry about none of the haters.” For this, Foxx himself came under attack.

At the same time, a call was put out to some of the families of victims of police murder who were part of Rise Up October and over a couple of days, more than 20 statements came in. In the statements, those who lost their loved ones at the hands of the murdering police talk about what it meant to stand beside and fight arm-in-arm with someone of Tarantino’s prominence and stature. What it meant that he listened to their stories and joined the call that this must STOP, not just fighting for justice for their own family members, but to end this once and for all for everybody. In these statements, they talk about the illegitimacy of the attack on Tarantino and how this is part of a bigger attack on those fighting for justice. They commend his courage and challenge others in Hollywood to take the same risks he has.

These statements gave all those in this fight further grounding on who has right on their side and clarified the stakes. This isn’t about narrow career or financial concerns, or any of the other bullshit that is heralded in this society as what should be our primary concern. This is about the fact that tens of thousands of lives have been stolen over the last decades under the color of authority in this country and those who kill get away with it time and time and time again. This is disproportionately aimed at Black and Brown people and is the leading edge of a larger genocidal assault.* Further, it is the responsibility of anyone with heart and a conscience to speak out against this.

Tarantino spoke to this powerfully on October 24 itself in an interview done with Michael Slate in the midst of the protest: “One of the things about the movement that actually just means so much is that they have a powerful slogan: ‘Which side are you on?’ If you’re not on our side, you’re on their side. There’s no straddling the fence. There’s no silent majority. There is none of that. You have to take a stand. If you believe it’s murder, then you gotta call it murder. And you gotta call the murderers, murderers.”

What the Courage of Your Convictions Can Inspire

In the days before Tarantino spoke about the attacks on him, lies and rumors were being actively spread that he was going to apologize. This is how it is supposed to work in this society: the great theatrics of the public apology if you go beyond the status quo dictates of what this system finds “acceptable.”

But Tarantino refused to go along. He stood by his comments without apology. He spoke to the way his comments were distorted, but took the offensive, going more deeply into why he said what he said and why he was right to say it. This caused two things to happen: the attack dogs got more vicious and more people joined in support. The actor, writer, and activist Viggo Mortensen spoke up; Michael Moore added his voice; Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo, Gbenga Akinnagbe, and others tweeted in support. The fact that Tarantino did not back down gave many, many people heart and it challenged many others.

What Is Right: Defending Murder by Police or Speaking Out Against It?

On Thursday, November 5, clearly furious that Tarantino continued to “call the murdered, the murdered and the murderers, the murderers,” Jim Pasco, Executive Director of the Fraternal Order of Police  issued an incredibly sinister threat. This will send chills down your spine: The head of the largest police union in the country spoke in clear Mafioso terms: “Our officers make a living trying to stop violence, but surprise is not out of the question.” He went on to say: “Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element... Something could happen anytime between now and [the premiere of Tarantino’s new movie]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable.”

This caused a groundswell of outrage in print and on social media, with many shocked at the lengths the police spokespeople were going to intimidate Tarantino into silence. Most recently, the executive director of the ACLU of Southern California issued an important statement in support of Tarantino. It also forced many to ask the question: The response of the police force to murder of unarmed people is to threaten those who criticize it?

This is very good and shows that, while we have to take their threats seriously, they can also backfire by revealing their true character: all they have to rely on in the end is illegitimate force and violence.

Carl Dix responded: “The Mafia style attack coming from Jim Pasco of the FOP would be cartoonish thuggery if it weren’t so dangerous. Artists need to be able to speak for justice without attacks and retribution... everyone should join us in speaking out against these bullying tactics. We should also understand that like any bully, they become most vicious when they’re exposed. In the face of video after video of unarmed Black, Latino, and Native Americans being tazed, stomped, brutalized, and shot in the back by police—their only answer to those who speak out and criticize is repression and force. Whether it be the tanks and tear gas in the streets of Ferguson or boycotts and bully threats aimed at silencing prominent voices who speak out. We say no to this! We will #SideWithQuentin and we will build a powerful movement of resistance to STOP murder by police.”

Right now: many more need to come forward. Many more—of all nationalities and from many different perspectives—need to speak in defense of Quentin Tarantino’s right to stand for justice without fear of retribution, including many more prominent voices. This is obviously not the safe or easy road, and it is not without sacrifice. It means going against the tide and being made—by the armed enforcers of this system—to pay a price. But this is what is required if we are to open up the air in society for many more to come forward in the fight for justice.

At the same time, we have to accomplish the mission that Rise Up October set out: “...we aim to change the whole social landscape, to the point where a growing section of people all over take ever-increasing initiative and make it unmistakably clear that they refuse to live in a society that sanctions this outrage [of police murder and mass incarceration], and where those who do NOT feel this way are put on the defensive.”

By having each other’s backs, the courage of our convictions and by challenging others—this is not just necessary, it is possible. And it is part of fighting for a world where mothers and fathers don’t have to fear for their children’s future because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or the body they are in.


* See “Then Would You Call It Genocide?” [back]



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