The Black Lives Matters organization, reinforced by their Antifa allies, has now declared that the abolition of the police is chief among their demands. This has led to a round of questions—and some mockery. But shortly after the demand was issued, the City Council of Minneapolis began efforts to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, promising a brand-new model for public safety. Other cities have hinted they may do likewise.
Elite media representatives hurried to explain that “Abolish the police” actually meant “defund” and “reform” the police. Never mind that police abolitionists explicitly reject notions of reform. As one Chicago Police and Prison Abolitionist declaration noted:
It is completely sensible to assume that this Settler government would permit and grant certain measures of reform over others to divide and demobilize the People. We imagine if they are to “defund” or “disband” the police, we will see the intensification of fascist paramilitaries and private armies form up to retain the fundamental oppressive apparatus. This after all was the central function of white citizens’ militias and fraternal orders for the last two hundred years, to which we today now have—no thanks to reformers—THE POLICE.
In other words, if neoliberals think they can support police reform and defunding efforts, then hide behind private security and gated communities, they have another thing coming. No, police abolitionists mean exactly what they say.
In Seattle, the revolutionary Left took things a step further, seizing six square blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill district and declaring the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” after Seattle police evacuated a nearby precinct.
As of this writing, armed Antifa members were seeking to flood into the zone. Barricades were being manned by—among others—members of the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, an armed Antifa group, one of whose members was killed last year in Tacoma after assaulting an ICE facility armed with a rifle and Molotov cocktails. Other leaders of the curious newly formed collective include soundcloud rap artist Raz Simone, whose armed cohort has undertaken to enforce his own brand of order, to the consternation of some of the Zone’s residents.
Despite the colorful antics, this is far from a pipe dream. Antifa has a very clear vision of how it will enforce public order after it has expelled and abolished the police.
They call it Community Self-Defense.
In an essay entitled “Liberatory Community Armed Self-Defense,” Scott Crow— editor of Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense—writes:
Liberatory community armed self-defense is the collective group practice of temporarily taking up arms for defensive purposes, as part of larger engagements of collective autonomy in keeping with a liberatory ethics.
I am proposing liberatory community armed self-defense as a distinct idea borne out of a reassessment, spanning decades, of the historical experience of armed struggle and broader theories of the right of self-defense.
Self-Defense usually describes countermeasures employed by an individual to protect their immediate personal safety, and sometimes their property. Within the US, self-defense is discussed almost exclusively in legal terms relating to “rights” recognized by governments or constitutions, and only occasionally as human rights. By limiting the discussion to the rights attached to individuals, this framing fails to consider community interests, structural violence and oppression, and collective actions. The discourse thus completely neglects the defense of communities as such, and especially leaves out the political demands of people of color, women, immigrants, queers, and poor people.
While traditional policing implies deputized professionals enforcing laws passed by the legitimate representatives and—it is to be hoped—duty-bound to respect individual rights, Community Armed Defense rejects the individual rights upon which the U.S. system is built in favor of the collective communal “rights” of identity politics. It exists not to uphold law, but to enforce the “political demands” of favored groups.
The image of a volunteer fire department but with guns may suit the anarchist ethos, but in fact Community Self-Defense is about establishing revolutionary shadow governance.
Far from simply providing armed enforcement, the term covers a full panoply of activities, providing all manner of services traditionally provided by the government—from food banks and co-op gardens to housing and medical clinics.
This may seem overly ambitious. But for the revolutionary insurgent it is just good policy. And as a tactic, it works. From the Taliban to FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) to the Mexican drug cartels, the language may be different but the model is the same. Create instability, force out the government, and finally replace it. Reports from Seattle suggest that, already, groups are “requesting” $500 per business owner to help support “community protection and security.”
In areas where the logic of revolutionary politics is operative, those who can provide services and a sense of stability, even for a fee, reign. Whether they were the ones who caused the instability to begin with is immaterial. In revolutionary periods, groups that demonstrate even a modest ability to perform this function should not be underestimated.
Attempts to abolish police, including the most recent Seattle Autonomous Zone, may seem risible. They are likely to be short-lived and collapse upon themselves as revolutionary ardor wanes. But they provide a short-term proof of concept, a propaganda victory, and justification for future efforts. Abolition of the police—whether by groups like Antifa, or through elected radical city councils—is now officially on the menu. The establishment of Community Self-Defense and its standards of collective group rights will represent a kind of de facto regime change.