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Liberals, White Supremacy and the Cosecha GR May Day march

May 6, 2018

White Supremacy permeates just about all institutions in the US, whether we are talking about the state, corporations, religious institutions, the media and non-profits. Some of this is evident to most people, but a great deal of White Supremacy is subtle. In fact, it is safe to say that White Supremacy often is not recognized because it seems so normal.

One way that White Supremacy appears “normal” to the general public is the way the law enforcement operates. As we reported during last week’s May 1st immigrant-led march, there was a tremendous amount of police presence – on foot, on bicycle, on horseback and in cruisers.

The GRPD had sent out a press release earlier that day, with the following comment from Police Chief Rahinsky:

Our goal is for Movimiento Cosecha to be able to communicate its message and exercise it First Amendment right in a peaceful manner,” GRPD Chief David Rahinsky said in a news release. 

A more honest statement from the GRPD would have been:

Do as we tell you and we won’t arrest you during the march. However, any other time we won’t hesitate to stop people, as them their immigration status and arrest them for driving without a license and take them to the Kent County Jail. (The Kent County Jail has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE, to alert them when undocumented immigrants come in so ICE can put a hold on them and take them to detention.)

Why do I say that the GRPD practices White Supremacy? Using the definition of White Supremacy that Elizabeth Martinez uses:

We can then conclude that the main function of law enforcement is to maintain and defend a system of wealth, power and privilege. Those marching on May 1st were challenging that system.

One of the great falsehoods of American society is that the job of police officers is to protect the public. This simply isn’t true most of the time. Sure, police might at times keep the general public safe, but throughout history police departments have functioned to monitor, harass, contain and arrest those who pose a threat to the system of wealth, power and privilege – which have been primarily social movements, often led by communities of color – the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the American Indian movement, the Chicano movement, the environmental justice movement and the LGBTQ movement.

Law enforcement uses two main strategies when dealing with social movements. The first strategy is called the Negotiated Management Strategy, which are also referred to as Command and Control techniques. This is when police attempt to negotiate actions, always with the goal to manage it, which is exactly what happened during the May 1st march.

You saw this during the march in terms of the police presence everywhere, always framed as they were there to keep people safe. However, the result was just the opposite, especially for the immigrant community. The police presence only made people feel anxious, afraid and intimidated. This intimidation was communicated to those of us who were acting as Marshals during the march, when the police WARNED us before the march ever started that they would arrest people if we deviated from the route they create.

The police were also using social media to communicate their own messages about the May 1st march, with both a written narrative and pictures. You can see above that their pictures of cops on horseback seem rather benign, when in fact people felt threatened all day when they were near the horses.

The GRPD posted 11 separate Facebook posts about the May 1st march, but the most egregious post was the one on the right here, which creates a narrative of how great the cops were at keeping the peace, even when the marchers deviated from THEIR attempt to dictate the route.

A second strategy that cops use is called the Escalated Force Strategy. This is where the state uses surveillance, infiltration, negative press, pre-emptive arrests, protest zones and the use of less lethal weaponry to suppress public resistance. Elements of this strategy have been used with Movimiento Cosehca GR, but the likelihood that the GRPD will continue to tolerate disobedience from the movement will result in the increase of repressive tactics.

News Media as a tool of White Supremacy

As expected the major local news agencies were present during the May 1st march. Their coverage of the march was fairly predictable, in that they relied heavily on the police department to provide them with information.

Several news agencies used quotes from the GRPD press release before the march started and they created visual images of the march route, based specifically on what the police said it was going to be.

MLive and the three local TV stations all framed the march as being “peaceful,” which is code in the news media for when protestors don’t do any property damage. What this type of a narrative does is that it completely ignores the inherent violence of law enforcement. The cops were there fully armed with mace, tasers, clubs and guns. The police were intimidating people by their very presence, how they spoke to people and how the officers on horseback made people feel. Cosecha GR had roughly 25 marshals that day, whose job was to keep people safe. They didn’t need the cops to be there. Cosecha GR is a non-violent movement.

In addition, the local commercial news media used commentary from the police department, like this comment from Sgt. Cathy Williams, who said on a report from WOOD TV8:

“We met our goal and that’s the bottom line. Everyone was safe here today. No officers got hurt and no marchers got hurt.” 

The channel 8 reporter also stated up front that the police that they were not getting the cooperation from the marchers the way they wanted. But everyone was safe and no one was arrested. This continues the narrative that the police are there to keep people safe and that we all should obey the cops.

White Liberals and White Supremacy

Another manifestation of White Supremacy were how numerous white people were acting during the May 1st march. First, there were several white people who were gathering signatures for a Michigan ballot initiative. These white signature collectors, who are getting paid to do this work, were asking people, “Are you a registered voter in Michigan?”

First, this says that the white folks collecting signatures were completely unaware of their own white privilege. Did these people not know that as people were undocumented or those with temporary residence status, which the state prohibits from voting? Some people might say this was well intentioned on the part of the white signature collectors, because they thought that those attending the march would enthusiastically sign a petition to increase the minimum wage in Michigan. White liberals need to stop doing this. If you want to support immigrant struggles, then come and support immigrant struggles. White people should not push their issues on immigrants, they should stand in solidarity with them by asking how the immigrant movement what they need.

Another example was White people who identify as socialists who were there passing out their own literature. Some were even asking for contributions for their organizations. Again, if you want to be in solidarity with one of the most marginalized groups in West Michigan, show up for them by not using events like these as a way of distributing your own propaganda. People carrying socialist signs might think it is radical, but in this instance only signs that center immigrants and immigrant rights would be a show of solidarity.

So, while there may be fundamental differences between cops, the news media and white liberals, they all ended up practicing and promoting White Supremacy by their actions.

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