Street Tactics & Law on the Streets

This time the night was warm compared to the bitterly cold night that we last marched. That night we marched for Eric Garner, a previous night we marched for Mike Brown. When we marched for Baltimore, it was warmer and the NYPD was hot. The cops were out in force –  helicopters flying overhead, riot gear, white shirted detectives, street cops, and paddy wagons.

I saw an old friend from law school with the bright green hat of a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer. She is a defense attorney – a kick-ass defense attorney for poor people. She said something to me that stayed for with me for days, she said, “well it’s great that the cops are all here.” Sweeping her hands towards the phalanx of state power, “because when they are here, arrests go down everywhere else in the city. My night arraignments will be slow.”

Let’s break this down. Because the cops are out suppressing protesters, they can’t be in poor neighborhoods, harassing and arresting poor black and brown people like they usually do every day.

This makes me think of strategy and demands. People collectively, deliberately putting their bodies in the way of the fascist state is a successful tactic, not just for the public statement but because it actually helps more people of people of color to survive, even just for one more night. When a poor person gets arrested for bullshit “quality of life” violations like jaywalking, street performing, jumping a turnstile – this one arrest will lead to a cascading, catastrophic series of interactions with the State. So even one night, where the police have left poor people’s streets and apartment buildings, to police us at Union Square, is priceless, it is a life saved.

The recent Black-led rebellions that have arisen using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter have been criticized sometimes for their lack of demands. As if more civilian review boards or the election of the right politician will save Black lives. Actually, putting their bodies in the streets, and in streets that are used by white, middle class consumers, changes the balance of power, Even if just for one night.

Street protests and rebellions are hard to sustain. But they are not hollow gestures as some people have insinuated. That warm spring night, I saw young people getting important education on tactics and state power, as police got the word from the Mayor that these protests would no longer be “tolerated.” And the huge police presence, momentarily stopped the broken windows policing in poor, black and brown neighborhoods. Accomplishing something that has not been accomplished by litigation or the election of a democractic mayor.