In Defense of Black Bloc at NYC Protests

Published September 28, 2020

In Defense of Black Bloc at NYC Protests

On the Breonna Taylor March

On September 23rd, Breonna Taylor is dead; there is no justice. Another court upholds white supremacy, acquitting the murderers. Days earlier, a call had been circulated in New York City’s activism community for autonomous action at Barclays, emphasizing “No Good Cops, No Bad Protesters, No Megaphones, No Peace Police.” By 8, Barclays was flooded with activists, organizers, and allies numbering close to 1000.

While the language of “No Bad Protesters” and “No Peace police” is common amongst abolitionists, anti-fascists, and anarchists, many within the broader Black Lives Matter movement were shocked to see the Black Bloc. One protester accused the Black Bloc of being outside agitators and inciting violence. Another questioned why the Black Bloc insisted on thoroughly disguising their identity. In the most dramatic incident, one organizer confronted the Bloc while they were peacefully marching with the larger group. The organizer accused the Bloc of putting other protesters in harm’s way and threatened the Bloc with violence if they did not disperse. The threats of violence to the Bloc escalated as other protesters filmed members of the Bloc, producing evidence for the NYPD and the Federal Government that could be used in their ongoing assault on activists. When asked to stop filming, one protester began yelling at the Bloc, accusing them of being white agitators bringing negative media attention to the protest.

Overall, the crowd exhibited a widespread misunderstanding of what the Black Bloc is. Black Bloc is an organizing tactic in which activists dress in black to disguise their identity, avoid surveillance, and minimize the risk of police retaliation. Disguise allows the Black Bloc to de-arrest other protesters without fear of future retribution. While Black Bloc often attack corporate and government property, a broken window or a scorched precinct is nothing compared to the murder committed by the police and white supremacists. Protesters also failed to understand that members of the Bloc also grieve for Breonna Taylor and for the miscarriage of justice. Bloc members are protesters who have shown up at countless other protests and who feel that other tactics are necessary to achieve police and prison abolition.

Black Bloc is a tactic, not an organization. As activist Harsha Walia puts it, “tactics can be effective, they can be ineffective, but inherently they are neither,” so instead they must be evaluated “in specific contexts.” The accusations hurled at the Black Bloc during the march are worth confronting within the larger context of months of protesting since George Floyd’s murder. If we allow disagreements over tactics to divide us, we will not only fail ourselves, but those who are imprisoned and murdered by the state.

Where Have All the Anarchists Been?

Anarchists and anti-fascists have been organizers, allies, and accomplices throughout the George Floyd Uprising. The burning of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis, the bravery in fighting the Department of Homeland Security in Portland, and the removal of confederate statues are examples of autonomous actions in which anarchists and anti-fascists participated. In New York specifically, Black Bloc strategies were applied to keep protesters safe throughout the summer, including during the reactionary curfew, blue lives matter counter protest, Portland Solidarity march, and at Abolition Park. The use of the tactic effectively defended barricades from police attacks, physically protected other protesters, and de-arrested seized protesters.

On the ground, protesters raised four concerns about Black Bloc’s participation: 1) violence 2) risk to other protests of arrest or police violence 3) whiteness 4) negative media coverage. While these activists acted in bad faith by physically and verbally attacking the Bloc and placing protesters in danger by filming, these strategic questions should be considered in good faith as we collectively oppose white supremacy, policing, and prisons.

1. Violence: Critics claim Black Bloc incites violence through vandalism and property destruction.

This criticism can be separated into a question of why property damage is valid and whether it encourages other forms of violence against people. Black Bloc justifies property damage through attacking the connective tissue between white supremacy and capitalism. The Louisville Metro Police Foundation, a private entity raising money for the police department that murdered Breonna Taylor, has board members from Kroger, White Castle, KFC, GE Appliances and public sponsors from Wendy’s, PNC Bank, and the United Parcel Service (UPS). In attacking corporate targets, the Bloc stresses abolishing the police cannot happen without severing the influence of private corporations over our lives. While other activists may question the effectiveness of these tactic, destroying corporate property should never distract from the real violence inflected by police and prisons.

Why do likeminded anti-racist protesters focus on property damage over the injustices of police and prisons? When a fellow protester yells at the Black Bloc, they shift the march’s focus from the real violence enacted by the police. They do the work of conservative media and the police by focusing on so-called “bad protesters” instead of the repeated acts of violence carried out by the police. Since police violence is always a presence at New York protests, activists would be better served working with the bloc to prepare for inevitable violence from the police.

2. Arrests and police violence: Critics claim Black Bloc incites police violence and encourages arrests

The truth of the matter is the police put protesters in danger, not Black Bloc. What differentiate Black Bloc from more liberal strands of the movement is that Black Bloc acknowledges the violence of the police is always present at protests. From peaceful vigils to sit-ins, the police have been increasing their violent attacks on protesters over the last month.

When an activist critical of the Bloc worries about the risk of arrests, they confuse the victim of state violence for the perpetrator. They betray those engaged in the same struggle by accepting the police’s violent crackdown on activism. With the Trump administration’s escalating violent rhetoric against activists and ongoing violence committed by white supremacists, Black Bloc illustrates the need for collective anonymity for protesters to protect themselves. The federal government targets and encourages right-wing violence against activists. Black Bloc acknowledges the need for safety and privacy against these forces. Given the murder and disappearance of many activists involved in the Ferguson Uprising, such protections are essential for current activists.

3. Whiteness: Critics argue Black Bloc is white people coopting the struggle against police and prisons

To anarchists of color and indigenous anarchists, this is insulting. Many come from oppressed identities, joing Black Bloc because they are frustrated with lack of commitment to liberation amongst other organizers. While many within the Black Bloc are white people, there are contradictions concerning the role of white people in the movement. On the one hand, it is common to urge white people to take the front line at protests to protect black people. On the other hand, when white people take the front line through Black Bloc, they are criticized as coopting the movement. To square the two, Black Bloc should be considered another form of taking the front line, of putting one’s body on the line in the struggle against police and prisons, of accepting the state persecution that may follow.

At the same time, white Black Bloc participants must constantly be self-critical. Racism does infiltrate organizing spaces. Disagreeing over tactics should never escalate to racist attacks on other activists. White Black Bloc participants must turn the advantages accrued from being white against the white supremacist foundations of society. This demands abolishing whiteness within organizing spaces through building transformative justice processes, creating accountability, and stamping out racism in ourselves.

4. Media: Critics argue Black Bloc attracts bad media

At the march, this claim was made by someone filming the Black Bloc. Filming places Bloc members in legal and physical danger from the state. To those who film, know that your camera is a cop.

To those who are concerned with the media, it is worth being realistic. The mainstream media has largely ignored protests in NYC after June. They do not care about the violence the police commit beyond ratings. Right-wing media will demonize the protests regardless of the involvement of Black Bloc. Media coverage is not a means to liberation. In many ways, the media is an impediment, as they allow self-interested leaders to coopt the movement for their own advantage, such as with the #8CantWait campaign that distracted from more radical calls for police and prison abolition. The media is not concerned with presenting a vision of abolition. At the end of the day, the struggle is to build power within communities, to allow people to have control over their own lives, not to get favorable bylines.

Conclusion

As the president and armed white supremacists threaten protesters with violence, activists should not play into right-wing narratives by demonizing the Black Bloc. Instead, the question always concerns whether the usage of the tactic is appropriate to the context. Given the absence of meaningful justice for Breonna Taylor and the increasing police violence in New York City, Black Bloc is a tactical response to police repression, surveillance, and the need to strike against the supporters of white supremacy. Instead of rejecting the tactic outright, other activists should consider how to work with emerging Black Blocs to communicate security and intelligence needs and to truly shut shit down. Black Bloc is an embodiment of “No Justice, No Peace.”

Pressingly, activists should learn from the security culture cultivated by the Black Bloc, the way in which anonymity is prioritized in order to protect other activists from future state repression. While activists uncomfortable with Bloc assume its presence brings violence at protests, the reality is violence is ever present due to the continued existence of the police. The violence against Ferguson activists should force contemporary activists to consider security and privacy.

In the end, we are all involved in the same struggle against police, prisons, and white supremacy. The Black Bloc is another way in which we keep us safe.

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