Commentary | We are at war

Resistance to policing and violence is self-defence

The events unfolding in Egypt are splashed across screens. There is tension, yes, there is resistance, yes, and there is rage. Perhaps most important to what we’re talking about here, there is self-defence against a state that has violently oppressed the Egyptian people for so many years, and against the systems that have perpetuated their oppression.

Again and again we are told that Egypt needs to have an “orderly transition,” that the grievances of the street need to be siphoned off and filtered into representative democratic bodies. It is stated that for the country to function properly there need to be policing and security forces in place to protect its people – to provide security.

But security for whom? And at what cost?

Security fulfills two main functions. First, it protects, perpetuates, and extends profitable flows of goods and services (capital), and second, it keeps people under control.

This is achieved by a security-industrial complex: police, intelligence agencies, border control agencies, correctional services, prisons, detention centers, private security companies, surveillance technologies, data collection agencies – all of which intersect with other institutions such as immigration services and health care systems.

Borders, for instance, manage flows of capital and people. Security facilitates trade, and allows some to move more easily than others. For most, borders are walls. Databases such as terrorist watch-lists gather information as a means of control. Racial and social profiling constructs and criminalizes certain identities that are deemed potential threats to the security of white supremacy and elite domination.

Criminalization is the process through which behaviours or thoughts deemed dangerous or threatening are controlled and repressed. Note that in the legal context, threats to property are as reprehensible as threats to people – begging its own level of analysis.

But let us recognize that as long as the cameras are watching in our hallways and our schools, as long as police are patrolling our streets, and the very notion of “having status” exists, we are all potential threats to security, and therefore potential criminals.

And so, the state launches initiatives such as its anti-gang policing campaigns, the American “War on Drugs,” or the Canadian “War on Crime.” These campaigns and their “security” objectives justify this violent intrusion into our lives.

What is especially compelling about these initiatives is the language of warfare that surrounds them: the state is under attack, so it must protect itself and fight back with all its might.

Surveillance and criminalization are tactics of war – war against dissenters, terrorists. And indeed, people die in this war. Whether it be by crossing borders, protesting, or simply playing in a park – people get killed.

This happens in Egypt, but it also happens here in Canada. The 2008 shooting of Fredy Villanueva in Montreal Nord occurred in the context of one such “high-intensity” policing initiative called “Project Eclipse.”

Surveillance, policing, criminalization and prisons: these form the violent condition from which we all suffer. Like prisoners in a cell, our actions are being monitored, our identities are being controlled. This imposition of control, in the absence of consent, is inherently violent. It is an attack, a tactic of war.

Within this framework, resistance becomes an act of self-defence, a fight for survival.  Protests and clashes with police may be “violent,” but they are inherently self-defensive.

Violent actions and responses to police and state genocide are always repressed, criminalized and dismissed by mainstream media. But if we begin to view violent community responses to police brutality, for example, as acts of self-defence, they gain legitimacy.

We should be fighting back and taking control of security: developing strategies to end violence within our communities, but also combatting the abusive forces that cause us harm in the first place.


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