The right to self defense

We were still reeling from the racist massacre at Buffalo, New York, the slaughter of children in Uvalde, Texas. Then came news of a June 11 attempt by white supremacists to ambush a public Pride in the Park celebration in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Over 30 white men of the Patriot Front came for the attack from states across the U.S., including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The hate group formed after the deadly neofascist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Faces masked and dressed in matching T-shirt, pants and baseball cap “uniforms,” they drew the attention of a passerby, who said it looked like “a little army was loading up” in a van, which carried riot gear, smoke grenades, an “operations plan” and perhaps other weaponry.

The police were called, and they arrested the group. No attack. And here perhaps someone might say, “Oh good, the police were doing their job.”

But this outcome is almost never — never! — what happens when the police are called to an incident involving an oppressed person or group.

Remember the Black vet in the grip of PTSD, out of touch with reality and stripped naked in Atlanta, nothing in his hands — who was shot dead by a cop? Remember when cops tracked down white-supremacist Dylann Roof after he massacred nine African American people at worship in their Charleston, South Carolina, church — and arrested him without harming him at all, even treating him to a Burger King hamburger on the way to jail? These examples are endless. Endless.

Because protecting people is not the “job” of the police. The U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled June 27, 2005, that “police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.” That case concerned a woman who called police after her estranged husband violated a protection order, kidnapped their three young daughters, drove to an out-of-town location and killed them all. The woman had told the cops where he was, and they did nothing. (New York Times, June 28, 2005)

What is the role of police under the capitalist state? To protect property, bosses and reactionary institutions and organizations that sustain that capitalist system.

We cannot rely on the cops for protection from white supremacists, gender bigots, queer bashers, woman haters or disability attackers. Often, it’s cops we are having to defend ourselves against!

As Leslie Feinberg said in “The right to fight back”: “Ever since the violent dismantling of revolutionary Black Reconstruction after the Civil War, the police, in large numbers, are called out to protect the right of white supremacists and fascists to assemble and publicly make their call for racist genocide.” (Workers World, Dec. 7, 2012)

We as workers and oppressed people have the right to defend ourselves. The first line of self-defense — in the streets, on the job — is solidarity with each other. 

The second is to have a plan with each other about what to do if attacked — whether by the boss with intimidation or threats at work, or by white supremacists at a PRIDE Day event. Plan ahead and communicate; be aware; be in solidarity; be prepared. It’s our right to defend our lives.

The best preparation for self-defense is revolutionary consciousness. In “Seize the Time,” Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense said: “We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. . . . We fight capitalism with basic socialism. And we do not fight imperialism with more imperialism. We fight imperialism with proletarian internationalism.”

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