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How People in Power see Social Movements: A Kent County Administrator and the End the Contract with ICE campaign narrative

October 3, 2018

It is always instructive to see how those who hold positions of power view the world.

When talking about historical events, those in power prefer to highlight the “official history” of what took place. “Official history” is the view of history from those in power often seen as the historical winners. This view of history serves those in power and attempts to minimize the role that social movements played throughout history. For example, those in power like to say that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, when in fact the abolition of slavery was done almost exclusively by African Americans who rioted against their slave masters, burned the plantation houses, sometimes killed the master, fled the plantation, sought refugee in the underground railroad or fled the country.

In this example we are led to believe that a politician freed those in slavery, using legal and acceptable means of achieving a goal. Those who actually freed themselves and were assisted by other former slaves or allies, used whatever means necessary to engage in what historian David Roediger calls, self-emancipatory tactics. It is true that Lincoln did present the Emancipation Proclamation, but this was merely a law that supplanted a previous law which made it ok for white people to enslave black people.

A recent example of how those in power view history, can be seen in an interview on WKTV (Public Access TV) with Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt, which you can view here below. 

There are several things worth pointing out about what Britt said, which I want to address.

First, early on in the interview he talks about how the Kent County Jail’s contract with  ICE, “ensures that any detainees are treated properly and fairly.” This is a smart play on words by Britt, but it is misleading, since aren’t all people who are being held in the Kent County Jail treated properly and fairly? In other words, why try to make a distinction? Britt makes this statement up front as a way of putting viewers at easy about detainees, without having to actually address the real harm that ICE does to the immigrant community.

Second, Britt makes the claim that the Sheriff’s Department can’t say no the ICE, because it is a federal law. This is simply not true. One, there are numerous communities across the country that are making the decision to end their contracts with ICE or passing resolutions that will prevent said communities from using any resources that would support or aid ICE to do harm against the immigrant community. Two, Britt’s statement also ignores plenty of historical examples of local governments defying federal laws, especially those used to oppress groups of people.

Third, the Kent County Administrator says that after 72 hours people could be released and that the county wants to make sure that citizen’s rights are protected. Again, he uses language that is deceptive. More importantly, Britt uses the phrase citizen’s rights, which based on the actual reason that the federal government is using ICE to target people in the immigrant community, is because of their status as undocumented. The federal government and ICE do not see immigrants who are undocumented as citizens, which is exactly why they are being targeted by ICE.

Fourth, when talking about the organized effort to get the county’s contract with ICE terminated, Britt uses the good protestor/bad protestor argument. He says there are times that they (protestors) have done a good job during public comment and then there are times that they (protestors) have disrupted and interrupted the County Commission meetings. This good protestor/bad protestor statement is meant to reflect his view (someone in power) views as acceptable tactics and unacceptable tactics.

Fifth, Britt gives his view of the campaign to end the contract, which began in late June of 2018. Britt refers to the People’s Commission Meeting, which was held in September, but pretty much ignores all the other examples since June 28th. Britt also states that, “we don’t want to remove people from the room or arrest people.” However that is exactly what they have done on a few occasions, along with engaging in other tactics to deter public participation – putting up barriers and signs in the commission chambers, sending cops out to intimidate people before they come to the meeting, not allowing people to bring their backpacks into the meeting, etc.

Sixth, the County Administrator says, “it’s odd to me that people would not take the road to working with state and federal legislators.” One, this ignores and dismisses that work that many people in this community have done to change state and federal law on immigration policy. Two, it ignores the fact that many people are still working on changing state and federal policy. Three, it also ignores the rich history of people working to confront local governments as one strategy to change state and federal policy. Confronting local government on policies that are imposed by the federal government is a large part of the Civil Rights Movement, but it has also been a tactic in the environmental justice, anti-war and anti-apartheid movements, just to name a few.

Seventh, towards the end of the interview Britt states, “I’m as concerned as they are…..but ending the contract is not something we can do.”  One, there is no evidence that they are as concerned as those confronting them about the ICE contract. Britt then engages in mansplaining, as if people don’t know what the issue is all about.

Lastly, the County Administrator says we need to resolve this through discourse, by listening and if we want to resolve the issue those protesting need to do so with federal legislators. These final comments by Britt again re-affirms his belief that the County can do nothing about it, plus he places value on discourse, which is just a convenient way of saying that this is a tactic that is respectable. The fact is that members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have had numerous conversations with county officials, commissioners and the Sheriff’s Department, but there has be no willingness on the part of the county to end the contract. If they are unwilling to end the contract, then what is the point of discourse.

As a contrast, WKTV did interview two members of Movimiento Cosecha GR, an interview we are posting here below.

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