Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Community self-defence from a revolutionary perspective

Today, businessman Munir Hussain was freed by the court of appeal, who gave him a two-year suspended sentence over 30 months in jail. Hussain was convicted in December of attacking an intruder in his home with a cricket bat. With a media frenzy surrounding the case and the broader issue of self-defence against criminals, the Guardian had this to report;
Lawyers say today's judgment that released the man who jailed for attacking a burglar had nothing to do with the law of self defence and everything to do with the unique facts of Munir Hussain's case.

Despite the recent media frenzy about the rights of homeowners to protect themselves from attack, the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, stated clearly that the Hussain case had "nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes.

"This is not, and should not be seen as, a case about the level of violence which a householder may lawfully and justifiably use on a burglar."

Instead, experts say, today's decision was about how harshly someone in Hussain's position should be treated for an act of violence described as totally out of character and one which the court of appeal said "can only be understood as a response to the dreadful and terrifying ordeal and the emotional anguish".

"Munir Hussain accepted that he had not used reasonable force and did not appeal against that," said Paul Mendelle QC, a leading defence barrister and chair of the Criminal Bar Association. "The court of appeal relied upon his impeccable character and the fact it was a provoked unplanned attack, and the very strong psychiatric evidence in this case."
However, there is a point to be made on self-defence at this juncture, especially as the Conservatives have taken the opportunity to announce their "commitment to create a 21st century citizen's arrest."

Although this has become a cause celebré of the right-wing media, the case should be made for the right of ordinary people to defend themselves, their homes, and their communities. As I have argued before, the police are essentially a political force used against the working class in the name of "justice." It only makes sense, in such a context, that we break the "monopoly of defence" and stand up for ourselves.

This has nothing to do with conservative rhetoric about "jailing victims and letting off criminals." I am not calling for an even harsher justice system when the one we have is an instrument for preserving established power. The argument must still be made for restorative justice administered at a community level, and the socio-economic upheaval neccesary to eradicate the source of 90% of crime.

Here, my point is specifically about working class self-defence. The radical left has often justified the use of physical resistance and direct action against threats to working class communities such as fascists, and defending your person, home, and family from intruders is a logical extension of this principle.

Groups such as Neighbourhood Watch are nothing more than gatherings of curtain twitchers, thinking they can make a community safer by putting stickers on lamp posts or acting as killjoys towards local kids. But there is no reason that people couldn't organise their neighbourhood along more radical lines, resisting thugs and repelling burglars without treating all kids as villains or getting embroiled in "keeping up with the Joneses" nonsense. Likewise, we need to advocate a defence of posession rather than or private property, recognising that defending your home and attacking private property are not oppositional acts but both a part of working class self-defence.

Making this a political issue can only lead to repressive nonsense, such as the Tories' proposed "grounding orders" on teenagers, and increased police powers. This is not a call for rampant vigilantism, or for fear-mongering about "youths" and minorities. Such reactionary sentiments should be resisted as forcefully as the idea that we must step back and trust in the police to keep us safe. The right to self-defence does not include the right to murder, and the use of excessive force - such as shooting the unarmed - should still be unequivocally condemned.

Community self-defence is also of vital importance against the same police force who are supposed to exist for our protection. Related to experiences with the American police and judicial system, Anti-Racist Action (ARA) outlines a revolutionary perspective on community self-defence;
First, we must understand that the problem is not simply 'police misconduct,' but the conduct of policing under policies set by civilian administrations and political authorities to enforce colonial and capitalist exploitation. "Good cops" and "bad cops" are simply roles played (often alternately by the same cops) to intimidate and control suspects. Community-oriented policing, far from being a solution, is in fact part of the same militarization, described by its advocates in police journals as "the domestic equivalent of psychological operations in the military, to control the thinking of the population and the enemy."

Second, while demanding effective prosecution of killer cops and financial penalties for abusive and brutal cops, we must recognize that the criminal and civil courts have always been part of the problem. They rely on police "testilying" in their day to day operations, and serve to let both the individual cops and the system behind them off the hook. Cities count multi-million dollar settlements for police killings and abuse as the cost of doing business. Only concerted and unrelenting mass action and resistance can wring occasional victories and concessions from the prosecutors and judges, as the Oakland uprising forced the D.A. to file charges against Mehserle.

Third, we must take direct action on two fronts simultaneously. We need to organize the community to defend and protect itself against parasitism, domestic abuse and other ills that the police falsely claim to deal with, and to organize the community to defend and protect itself against police violence and abuse of power. Projects such as the Watch-a-Pig program of the Black Riders Liberation Party, and the various CopWatch projects that help the community lose their fear of the police, point the way. But they must be combined with resistance to gentrification, with gang peace truce efforts that engage youth in constructive social uplift and community building, with opposition to gang injunctions that criminalize the simple association of youth of color. The prison abolition movement must connect up with the opponents of police abuse. On the basis of self-determination and respect for sovereignty, we must build intercommunal solidarity and resistance. People of European descent have a particular responsibility to take up that struggle, recognizing the leading role of colonized communities. But all oppressed people must come together whenever anyone is violated by the cops, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The link must be made between the militarization of local police forces and of the border with the larger military focus of the Empire globally, and the use of coercive power to maintain domination and economic exploitation of land, labor and resources.

Finally, we must recognize that power concedes nothing without a struggle. The long and debilitating string of failures that have created a crippling sense of defeatism among many oppressed and colonized people inside the US dates from the defeats inflicted by COINTELPRO and the resulting on-going absence of any fighting capacity on the people's side of the ledger. All our actions in confronting police abuse and other social, economic and even environmental ills, must be oriented at rebuilding the fighting capacity of the people. The persistence of police abuse means it is systemic, and the whole society must be changed. We must strengthen our resistance and our resolve to see the struggle through to the final overthrow of a criminal, destructive system and its replacement with a cooperative, sustainable, decolonized social system. This will initiate a dynamic process that will begin to shift the balance of power between the forces of repression arrayed against us and the force of resistance, solidarity, unity and creativity that we marshal.
The most significant failure of the radical left, active on so many issues, has been its inability to offer "a deeper, more committed organizing effort centered on alliance building and sinking roots into communities of resistance." With the momentum of the class war continuing to build, making headway with such effort is now more vital than ever.