Anti-Racist-Action is a Minneapolis youth-oriented direct action group that fights racism on three different fronts. We confront organized racists/fascists like the Klu Klux Klan and neo-nazi skinheads. We hold counter demonstrations whenever they try to organize. We fight institutional racism created by the state. We do coalition work and have banners, speakers, and people at the demonstrations protesting racist, sexist, homophobic legislation like the crime bill, welfare reform and anti-choice, anti-queer, and anti-immigrant initiatives.
Anti-Racist Action Copwatch has been going out every other Friday or Saturday night for eight months. Our "beat" is on Hennepin Avenue from 9th to 5th Streets in downtown Minneapolis. We have also taken Copwatch to the West Bank, and intend to expand to other areas of the city. Besides watching the police, we talk to people, and hand out information about ARA and what to do if they are arrested. During arrests and traffic stops, we are witnesses to police conduct and intervene as much as possible. When we are loud and threatening enough, the police sometimes will let the person they were arresting go and focus their attention on us.
We carry a camera and often a video camera to remind police that their actions are not going unnoticed. It also gives the people walking around downtown the message that the police need to be watched. If people realize the cops' authority can be questioned they will be willing to question it themselves. It helps build the already existing anti-cop culture. Also, it's a great way to piss off the cops.
Although it's not only white folks who do Copwatch, we are predominantly white. Being seen as "white" can be an advantage. We can get away with things cops would never tolerate from people of color, such as taunting and yelling at them. It is important for white folks to take a stand against the cops, to show we are not all loyal to this oppressive system. A part of what we are doing is trying to shift the repression by police away from African-American teenagers onto us.
We are not the first group of people to realize that cops need to be watched. People have been randomly observing and interfering with police activity since cops have been abusing their authority (always!). The Black Panthers were the first group to organize people specifically to watch the pigs. At that time it was illegal to carry guns as long as they weren't concealed, so the Panthers armed themselves to defend their neighborhoods from police violence and harassment. Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, also armed himself with intricate knowledge of the laws, so he could come back at the cops when they lied about the people's rights. The Panthers proved that standing up to the police and preventing brutality is self-defense.
Anti-Racist Action recognizes the police force as one of the most oppressive institutions in many people's lives, especially people of color and working class people. It's hard to find anyone who hasn't been harassed, arrested, or assaulted by the police. For people of color, especially young men, it isn't even a question of whether or not it's happened, but how many times. ARA sees taking a stand against cops as a move against a type of racism that is slightly more disguised than nazi skinhead violence but is actually more concrete and real. Being beaten up by a nazi is fucked up but at least it's not allowed and encouraged by the law.
The racism and harassment we see from the pigs is blatant. For instance, a group of drunk white men in business suits can stumble along downtown harassing women and "disturbing the peace." What do the police do? Nothing. But any group of African American or Native American men or women will get threatened with detox or jail if they stand on a corner too long. It is just so damn obvious what the pigs' agenda is. They aren't even subtle about it.
The cops do not enjoy our bi-weekly presence. At first they tolerated us. It's crazy how deep white privilege goes... that five white people standing around wearing signs and passing out literature that says "WE'RE ANTI-COP" are still less of a threat to police than five black teenagers just hanging out. But as we kept coming around and kept fucking with them, the pigs decided we had had enough privileges.
One night Selena got a jaywalking ticket for starting to enter the crosswalk on a green light after the `don't walk' sign had started flashing. Just before that happened, MC was held against the wall and searched. He was cited for Unlawful Assembly. The up side of this is that the cops were retaliating because we had intervened in a search of another man, which they let go in order to harass us. The cops were paying us attention instead of fucking with, and possibly assaulting or wrongfully arresting this other man... which is what we want to happen. This man shook my hand and said "thanks" before he walked off.
Some of the different violations the cops have threatened us with, or cited us for are: loitering, littering, obstruction of a walkway, crosswalk bullshit, unlawful assembly, public nuisance. Also, when we have been harassed, the pigs have asked us for our identification, which in itself is fucked up. (Legally, we do not have to show the police our license unless we are operating a motor vehicle. People do need to have I.D. with them if they are arrested, but not otherwise. You do need to provide them only with this information: name and address.) Many of these misdemeanors are written in such a vague way that the pigs have the power to turn any situation they don't like into an "unlawful" situation.
The same man (MC) who was cited for Unlawful Assembly was arrested at an unrelated demonstration by one of the cops we regularly get in confrontations with. As the cop was taking MC away, he said, "How does it feel... now I am watching you?"
The cops also enjoy insulting us through the loudspeakers
on their squad cars, saying things like, "Get a life" or "Get
a real job." One time we saw them pull over a rich white couple,
as we rushed over to observe, the cops announced, "Sorry, Copwatch,
The majority of working class white folks, already pitted against each other and against people of color, are seriously cop-friendly. The response to us by yuppie men and women is nil. They don't see us, they don't hear us.
Many people of color asked the questions, "So, what are you really going to do?" and "What exactly will we do without cops?" Those are both tough fucking questions and are hard to answer in a nutshell to interested passersby.
Abolishing police is the ultimate goal, but this can't happen within the system as it is set up now. If we had a free society, white supremacy and capitalism would sink and we'd have no need for the police. But until we have liberation for all people, police will remain, but these pigs should not be able to exist without fierce resistance, accountability and scrutiny of their "system." So what we're doing now is not only watching the pigs and holding them accountable for their racist and brutal actions, we also write and distribute our ideas, expose and tell truths about the police and system, and try and connect with the public. By offering folks these different "radical" ideas and theory we hope to educate people and spark their resistance to the system.
Copwatch does have lots of work ahead. Besides continuing to think theory and strategy and continuing to do more outreach, Copwatch also needs more bodies to be out in the streets. We also need to learn the laws as they apply to us. The pigs use tactics to discourage us, to cost us time and money, to intimidate or discredit us. If Copwatch people are aware and have the criminal codes memorized or printed on cards they carry with them, we can be more knowledgeable, i.e., threatening, to the police.