Amistad Law Project- Philadelphia, PA

Amistad Law Project- Philadelphia, PA

What is your group, and how did it come together? Were you inspired by, or involved in, protests against recent police killings, such as Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, etc? What about earlier incidents, like Katrina, Oscar Grant, or the Jena 6?

Our group came together to provide legal services to incarcerated people. It quickly became clear that what we wanted–prison abolition–couldn’t be achieved with lawsuits and courtrooms. We want to combine direct legal services and a mass movement to create alternative systems to hold people accountable, free our communities, and fight to for what will make them stronger and more stable.

We’ve been in the mix in the current upsurge against police, but not all in the same ways or at the same moments. We’ve touched base and chatted about different actions and uprisings we’ve participated in, swapped articles and thoughts, but our primary focus has been our commitment to building a movement capable of bringing down the prison walls with our friends and comrades held captive behind them.

The rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore was controversial throughout the nation. What role do you think rioting plays in the movement?

The very reason that we are able to have a written round table about a movement against police terror is that Black people from Ferguson bravely fought back after the murder of Michael Brown. In the face of militarized police violence they defended themselves, refused to concede the streets to their oppressors, and took aim at property associated with Michael Brown’s death as well as property that is a part of the daily immiseration of their lives. Their unruly uprising ushered in the current moment where people across the country and beyond have been inspired to take action. After people fought back in Baltimore in reaction to the murder of Freddie Gray, another wave of more disruptive action took place nationally and, in place of what the media wanted to dismiss implicitly or explicitly as “senseless” rioting, many people instead claimed the term uprising. It could be said that these riots or uprisings were both the spark and the fuel for the present resistance that has taken shape.

Some groups have proposed reforms that they think will help lower the rate of police brutality, such as body cams, campaign zero, sensitivity training for cops, or civilian review boards. Do you advocate for any reforms? Do you think these reforms will be effective?

We don’t advocate for reforms concerning the police and are skeptical about what they’ll accomplish. The primary role of the cops is to control populations, particularly Black and other racially and socially marginalized peoples. Reforms don’t attack this function. We can envision a slightly less violent police force that still keeps struggling people’s backs up against the wall. We could see reforms as a way in which the cops innovate the ways in which they police people.

We resonate with calls to ‘Disempower, Disarm, and Disband’ the police. Simultaneously, we recognize that many people in our communities see the cops as the primary way to deal with safety concerns and the very real violence between people that plays out everyday. We believe we must create living and widespread practices that deal with harm and violence in ways that are restorative and transformative.

The movement has sparked wide-ranging online discussions of strategies for black liberation. What do you think of strategies such as “buying black”? Forming black worker or consumer cooperatives? Strengthening the black family? Are there any other strategies you’re seeing discussed that you feel strongly about, for or against?

We are most inspired by actions and movement that disrupts business as usual–the movement in Chicago that shut down Black Friday, taking over highways and stopping traffic, and actions that have targeted high end, mostly white spaces like Black Brunch, or when people temporarily took over the Apple store and the Gap during a street protest in Philly.

What has been your orientation to the Say Her Name protests? What ways do you see questions of gender arising in the movement? Do you see a revitalization of feminism occurring? If so, what are its features? If not, why?

We know that Black women and queer people are leading this movement and that’s mainly because they’ve been willing to take the most risks. We’ve seen Black women and queer folks (woman identified and otherwise) screaming in the faces of the cops at demonstrations and witnessed men attempt to ‘calm them down’ in order to ‘protect them’ and we’ve seen those Black women and queer folks force those men to fall back. We have witnessed patriarchy and respectability politics from Black men while Black women and queer folks have pushed back against this patriarchy and in the process made the movement stronger, bolder, and more fearless.

Have you participated in any movement conferences (the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland, etc)? What came out of it? What useful functions do gatherings like these serve for the movement?

We went to Law 4 Black Lives this past summer. It was a good place of encounter–to meet and mingle with other activists and organizers in the movement.

What do you feel is the place of nonprofit organizations in the movement? Are they a positive or negative influence, and why?

We believe the movement needs resources, but funding is often how resistance becomes co-opted. As a nonprofit organization, we grapple with how to make our work sustainable without compromising our values, which don’t always mesh with the nonprofit form. There is always a serious problem when organizations put the desires of funders and the careers of paid staff over the needs of those they claim to serve. Everyday working class people in struggle must always be where direction and guidance comes from and that’s where leadership capable of changing society will emerge, not established non-profits.

What relationship should the Black Lives Matter movement have to the established political parties, if any? To the electoral system in general?

If we enter the political system, we will be taken down by that system. We have been inspired to see people challenge and disrupt the electoral system by interrupting candidates’ events and speeches.

What relationship does the Black Lives Matter movement have to other movements in the U.S, like the immigrants rights, prisoners, or student movements? How do they mutually influence one another?

We can see a common thread between the disruptive actions of immigrant youth where they have used their bodies to directly stop deportations and disruptive actions people have taken under the banner of Black Lives Matter, where people have similarly used their bodies to stop business as usual. There are intersections between marginalized communities targeted for detention and deportation and marginalized communities targeted by the cops and the courts; there is also significant overlap for many immigrant communities targeted by both the police and ICE.  There’s great potential for cross pollination between movements of racially and socially marginalized people. We see this especially with those who are locked up in the cages of the carceral state. We are all stronger when we struggle together.

Are there any struggles around the world that you think resonate with the struggle for black liberation in the U.S? Which, and why?

We strongly resonate with the Palestinian people and we were proud to sign on to the Black4Palestine Statement of Black Solidarity with Palestine in 2015. There are so many parallels in our struggles for liberation, as acutely demonstrated when Palestinian activists responded to police repression in Ferguson by sharing methods to combat the effects of tear gas. Another parallel we observe is the backlash against acknowledgement of our humanity. To simply declare that black lives matter in the US inspires gaslit accusations of racism (e.g., “all lives matter”) or veneration of cops (e.g., “blue lives matter”). Similarly, it is troubling to witness solidarity or even mere empathy with Palestinian people being dismissed as anti-semitism or inciting defenses of the IDF as protecting Israel from Palestinians rather than being the repressive arm of the violent Israeli regime.

We also see black struggles in the US as linked to the Dalit women of India and are inspired by their courageous fight against caste and gender based violence.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of right-wing violence, such as the Charleston Emmanuel AME massacre and the shooting of protesters in Minneapolis. How should we orient ourselves to this rise in violence?

We struggled to answer this question. We believe that the movement must talk openly about how we should react to violence and how we should protect ourselves. Questions of violence and safety are complicated. In the Civil Rights Movement, some people were prepared to defend themselves if they were attacked in their homes but didn’t take retaliatory action when people in the movement were murdered. At the same time, the movement itself largely practiced nonviolent discipline. This is obviously both a different moment and movement. We believe that the movement should answer these questions and that these conversations are happening but those final answers haven’t been penned yet.