U.S. Politics and the Economy

Black Community Control of Police

BlackLivesMatter performs a self-humiliation at Hillary Clinton’s hands

By Glen Ford

It is painfully evident from the video of last week’s meeting between a #BlackLivesMatter delegation and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that the organization is philosophically incapable of making demands on the political representatives of the rulers of the United States. #BLM’s leadership is either confused as to the nature of political demands, or has decided to reject the most fundamental lessons of mass movement politics—indeed, of human social dynamics. Political movements are defined by their core demands. The video of #BLM’s closed-door encounter with Clinton in New Hampshire, August 11—after the five activists had been prevented from attending and, presumably, disrupting her campaign event—should become a staple for future political education classes on what happens when would-be movement operatives enter the lion’s den unarmed with political demands: they are humiliated and eaten alive.

#Black Lives Matter does post a list of “National Demands“ on its website, including “that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement,” and that the U.S. Justice Department “release the names of all officers involved in killing Black people within the last five years.” Mixed in with these demands are pledges to “seek justice for Michael Brown’s family,” to develop a network “aimed at redressing the systemic pattern of anti-Black law enforcement violence in the U.S.,” and to “advocate” for a decrease in federal spending on law enforcement, accompanied by an increase in social funding.

The co-mingling of demands and lists of future projects is, itself, indicative of lack of clarity on what constitutes a demand. However, it is clear that the organization’s campaign to disrupt presidential candidates involves only one demand: that representatives of the corporate electoral duopoly “acknowledge whether they believe that Black lives matter,” in the words of #BLM co-founder Alicia Garza, who interviewed on MSNBC on the same day as the New Hampshire debacle.

The main aim of #BLM, besides the huge airplay generated by the confrontations, is to elicit the candidates’ own proposals for changes in the criminal justice system. Julius Jones, founder of the Worcester, Massachusetts, chapter of #BLM and Clinton’s main interlocutor at the New Hampshire encounter, told The Daily Beast:

“Each one [of the candidates] is being made to offer their racial analysis in the United States. We require that they have an understanding so to that list we need to strongly add analysis because we live in a pluralistic society.”

In the logic of #BLM leaders, solicitation of reformist proposals from candidates of the two oligarchic parties constitutes a kind of demand. The group doesn’t even require that candidates endorse #BLM’s own posted, reformist demands, such as decreasing spending on police or releasing the names of killer cops. Instead, the candidates are “made to offer their racial analysis” and to produce proposals tailored by the candidate’s own staffs.

The strategy—if one could dignify it as such—is inherently impotent, which is why corporate lawyer and war criminal Hillary Clinton found it so easy to reduce Jones and his colleagues to school children at an elementary civics class.

Although millions of people have already seen the video, it is important to carefully examine the exchange between Clinton and Julius Jones, since the meeting marks a crucial point in the trajectory of both #BLM and of the larger movement to which Alicia Garza and her colleagues contributed a name. The contradictions of #BLM’s strategy will have profound impact—at least in the near term—on the future of the struggle against state oppression of Black people in the U.S. We need to learn from this disaster.

After about two minutes of rambling by Jones on how “mass incarceration just doesn’t work” and “you [Clinton] have been in a certain way partially responsible, more than most,” punctuated by “uh hums” and nods from Clinton, Jones gets to the point.

Jones: “Now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed that’s gonna change the direction of this country? And what in you, like, not your platform, not what you’re supposed to say, like, how do you really feel that’s different than you did before? Like, what were the mistakes, and how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America, for a moment of reflection on how we treat Black people in this country?”

Clinton, as requested, engages in meaningless “reflection” for a while, then launches into The Lecture:

“ politics, [if] you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf. And, this is now a time—a moment—just like the civil rights movement, or the women’s movement, or the gay rights movement or a lot of other movements reached at a point in time [when] the people behind that consciousness-raising and advocacy, they had a plan ready to go. So that, when you turn to, you know, the women’s movement—we wanna pass this and we wanna pass that, and we wanna do this—the problems are not all taken care of, we know that. Obviously, I know more about the civil rights movement in the old days because I had a lot of involvement in working with people. So, they had a plan—this piece of legislation, this court case—same with the gay rights movement...

“So, all I’m saying is, your analysis is totally fair, it’s historically fair, psychologically fair, it’s economically fair. But, you’re gonna have to come together as a movement and say, here’s what we want done about it. Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium....”

Clinton is belittling #BLM for stepping into the arena without a set of demands. She compares them unfavorably to historical social movements, and succeeds in pulling rank, or seniority, over the young activists in the Black arena, implicitly citing her interaction with past Black movement leaders. Clinton would welcome a list of demands from #BLM, because she knows they would be well within the realm of bourgeois reform, and eminently negotiable. Most importantly, as a lawyer and cutthroat politician, she is acutely aware that the young activists have been trapped by their own practice. They have asked for nothing, and she has given them her time, advice, and a civics lesson.

Jones tries to gain the initiative, but succeeds only in giving Clinton further opportunity to rule the room.

Jones: “What you just said was a form of victim-blaming. Your were saying that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts...

Clinton: [interrupting] “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. [She steps closer to Jones, her finger stabbing the air.] I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate....”

In the absence of real demands by #BLM (or any evidence of a developed worldview,) Clinton assumes the role of methodical agent of change. #BLM appears to be just another Democratic constituency group—and a rather unfocussed one, at that. We see no evidence of Black movement politics, or competent politics of any kind. When Clinton practically begs them to propose something, the delegation fails to put forward their own reform proposals.

The fiasco can’t be blamed on Julius Jones; he was following the leadership’s policy. On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show, #BLM co-founder Alicia Garza declared that “Black Lives Matter as a network and as a growing movement across the world is at a turning point.” Their goal is “to make sure that our communities are safe, to have the things that we need, and we are here to make sure that anti-Black racism is eliminated, once and for all.”

The MSNBC host asks what #BLM wants presidential candidates to do.

“First and foremost,” said Garza, “acknowledge whether they believe that Black lives matter. And we’ve seen almost all of the major candidates, at least on the Democratic side, saying as much. But, the reality is, we have to go a lot farther.  We didn’t just want to hear fancy slogans. We want to know what will you do to ensure that Black lives matter? What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to implement? And what are you willing to change to ensure that no longer will we live in a country where every 28 hours a Black person is murdered by police, vigilantes or security guards, according to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.”

From the lips of the founder, #BLM is most interested in hearing candidates say the magic words “Black lives matter,” after which it solicits policy proposals from the various campaigns. That’s it. No demands. The host wants clarification.

“Is it incumbent,” she asks, “on those candidates and leaders to answer those questions, as you put it, or is this ultimately a model that will have explicit demands, in the same way that groups like the NRA or AIPAC are scoring votes and making explicit demands? We saw some organizers in certain states say one of the demands would be independent investigations of police brutality rather than having local DAs do it themselves.”

Garza blows off the question of demands, thus demonstrating that even the mild “National Demands” posted on the group’s web site count for little in the organization.

“I think that what is important to be mindful of,” she said, “is that there have been demands for a long time now, and it’s just now that some folks are turning their attention to asking, well, what are the policies solutions, what are the policy implementations that we’re going to be needing, here. And I think what we need to be mindful of is that both requires [that] the candidates are proactive in thinking about what is it that they plan to move, in the same way that they give us the package of issues that they’re going to be working on when they take office. This issue needs to be one of them, and they need to be putting forward practical proposals.”

Instead of making demands, #BLM wants to pick up packages of proposals from the various presidential candidates. For what purpose? Garza didn’t answer the question. Endorsement or “scoring,” as the MSNBC host suggested, are logical uses, but I personally don’t believe #BLM had any firm plans at all for the candidates’ proposals. It’s all about the cameras. But, again, the logic of the process they have set in motion requires them to become part of the two-party elections game —ready or not. The Clinton encounter tells us #BLM is not ready—and, maybe that’s best, since their current path leads inevitably to collaboration and cooptation.

Garza was interrupted by the MSNBC host:

“What do you say to the criticism or concern that shutting down a candidate’s event or disrupting a Bernie Sanders event is not politically effective?”

She responded:

“Well, what I would say is that power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will. And so it is important that we push to ensure that our issues are at the forefront. Certainly, had we not been disrupting, had we not been pushing, had we not accepted business as usual, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”

Garza can quote Frederick Douglass, but she doesn’t seem to understand a word he said.

Lots of folks in #BlackLivesMatter identify themselves as revolutionaries. Nearly all of them claim to want radical social transformation, an end to capitalism. People that are steeped in the Black radical tradition understand that primary demands are those that distill the true aspirations of the people; they are formulated to galvanize the people, not for endorsement by those in power, who would be overthrown if the demands were actualized. Radicals also understand that there is a place for reformist demands, which are crafted to enhance the people’s power relative to the rulers, and to alleviate the people’s pain. But #BLM has eschewed both reformist and radical demands in its current campaign, revealing a loud but empty politics. We wish it were not so.

The Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations has put forward a demand in the Black radical tradition that it believes embodies the logic of the current, incipient movement: Black Community Control of the Police. The Coalition, which holds its national conference in Philadelphia, August 22 and 23, is not submitting this demand to the rulers of the United States, or to any of their candidates for president; it is up to the people how to achieve their liberation from the murderous machinery of the State.

Self-determination is not a demand; it is a right. Black people have the right to control the security apparatus in their communities. To demand that this occur, is righteous.

Black Agenda Report, August 19, 2015