On Anti-Police Motion in Tucson

When it comes to the scale of resistance, Tucson is not Oakland, CA nor is it Muskegon, MI. We live in a mid-size city that does not pull thousands for demonstrations and where active conflicts with the police are extremely rare. We also do not live in a small town which means that our resistance cannot always take place on a super personal level (though often it does). We live in a city with close to a million people and we have a fairly typical set of social variables that exists in most mid-size US cities. Tucson is average for the US in many ways, and in others it is unique, possible singular in terms of the dynamics that exist due to the border, militarized law enforcement of many stripes, and collaborative paramilitary/white supremacist activity. Any anti-police activity has to take all such factors into account; scale, demographics, idiosyncrasies, and of course, our capacity.

Anti-police activity in Tucson is nothing new. The police are the frontline enforcers of colonial rule and state power. They are our daily oppressors and their threats loom over us with every step that we take towards freedom. The struggles against the state’s violent apparatuses have existed as long as those very apparatuses. To speak honestly of the history of anti-police activity in Tucson and the border region of Arizona, one must look to centuries of Tohono O’odham anti-colonial resistance. Some of these histories are written down (such as the 1751 uprising) and others are alive in stories and traditions. Of the long legacy of anti-police and anti-state struggles that have taken place in this region, we admittedly know very little. This is not because we do not care. Many of us are young but we are studying the histories and hearing more of the lived experiences of those around us. Many of these histories are bloody and murderous, and others may never be given the credit they deserve because they are more about behind-the-scenes neighborhood protection methods that rarely get attention. We simply cannot know all of the pieces of the legacy we carry on, but we draw inspiration from all those that we have (written and oral). One source of inspiration that we recently heard more about is the battles with the police in West Tucson as community members marched on the rich El Rio Country Club in 1969, demanding that land back. Of course, the police fought brutally to protect the elite. Indeed, this is their singular function. It was their singular function in the 1960’s as it was of those who physically enforced colonial rule in the 17th and 18th Centuries, as it is the singular function today of every bastard in blue, green, and every other stripe of law enforcement that roam our streets.

While anti-police activity is not new here in Tohono O’odham occupied territory, there has been a recent increase in visibility and in some specific efforts. This is a struggle amidst a proud, liberal city whose white inhabitants tend to incessantly pat themselves on the back for their compost, their Obama stickers, and the fact that, “Hey, at least we aren’t Phoenix.” The attention put on Sheriff Arpaio in Phoenix allows for Tucson Police Chief VillaSenor and Sheriff Dupnik to appear ‘progressive’ as they make empty statements against SB1070 or sign documents that speak against Secure Communities use of traffic violations to run people for immigration status. For those whose communities are being destroyed by deportation, this means nothing. For the homeless that are being harassed daily, this means nothing. For those who fight to study their roots and defend Ethnic Studies, only to be brutally beaten by the police in the streets, this means nothing. To those behind bars on 29th street, this means nothing. To Jose Guerena who was killed by the Tucson police in his home, this means nothing. BUT, to many who are too dense, or too protected to feel such realities, this means Tucson is still a happy, liberal town that is, at least, ‘better than Phoenix.’ Yet in Tucson, informal racist policies such as ‘police discretion’ allow for Border Patrol to act freely, responding to any call from officers, regardless of 287g, SCOMM, or SB1070 laws of policies, but simply because we are within 100 miles of the border. This is grim situation, unique to border regions, that law officials love to conceal, while all the while winning over the white pawns. Another Tucson trick was Prop 100 last year, which had almost unanimous support due to a focus on ‘saving schools’, when in all actuality much of the money was shoveled into the police department.

TPD response to ethnic studies support, May 3rd, 2011

TPD inside TUSD board meeting, May 3rd, 2011

We watch appalled as the 99%ers shake hands with the police, thank them, and extend their disgusting message that ‘the police are also part of the 99%.’ Those who have refocused our activity against the police are being unmistakably clear that the police are not part of any category that we want anything to do with. We do not seek their allyship, we leave that to the nazis and stand firmly as the enemies of both. We do not seek a nicer master. We seek total liberation. But what does that mean on the ground? It means as much direct and visible resistance as possible and as many viable alternatives as we may need to take care of ourselves without depending on police and prisons. Again, what do those phrases actually mean on the ground? Well… we do not know entirely. We are, however, identifying places where we can be effective, people we can connect with, and where we can act. All the while we are not waiting to figure it all out before taking action.

In the last couple of years we have learned a lot from Migrapatrol Copwatch, who have actively intervened in police activity (specifically regarding deportation), and from protection networks that we’ve seen growing, which are networks of families who create support structures for one another to build more autonomy and to be prepared when law enforcement attacks. We are inspired by such activity and want such models to grow and expand. Yet there are other contributions in the past month that are adding some exciting new pieces to the struggle.

In the past month there have been at least 2 rounds of anti-police graffiti that have gone up around the city. We saw many “Fuck the Police” pieces pop up overnight. When many of these were buffed, others popped up which read “Oakland, Tucson, Greece. Fuck the Police!” and “ACAB”. Additionally, there have been several rounds of wheat-pasting of anti-police flyers and posters. The first week of February there was an Anti-police outreach night and a group of people walked down the sidewalks of the two busiest downtown streets with a banner which read, “The Police Are Not Your Friends” handing out flyers titled the same thing. The flyer included information about police murders in Tucson and Arizona, state prison statistics, and visions of a world without police and prisons. About 400 flyers were handed out, including some flyers for an upcoming anti-police demonstration that would be happening two weeks from then. The overwhelming majority of people encountered were ecstatic to take the flyers and joyous yells of “Fuck the Police!” were a testament that the liberal, cop-loving crap is not true of all of Tucson.

Then, on Friday, February 17th a March For a World Without Police took place down the same two busy downtown streets on a friday night. The small crowd of about 35 people took 4th Ave with giant banners reading, “For a World Without Police or Prisons” “Prisoners of the State, You Are Not Forgotten” and a banner held backwards for those behind to see which read “Fuck the Police.” In the past few years the small act of taking the streets on any march in Tucson has led to a quick police response, yet this small group of people successfully took the two busiest downtown roads for a long chuck of time, while hundreds of flyers were distributed, a boombox blasted anti-police jams, and chants of “All Cops Are Bastards, ACAB!” and “Out of the bars, into the streets. Fuck the Police” filled the air. All of the literature distributed was in english and spanish and one of the flyers was a resource sheet of groups to call, instead of the police, with a description of the services they offer. People emptied out of the shops and bars to take photos and almost everyone seemed supportive (except one person who crumpled the flyer up then threw it back at the group). The demonstration was a spectacle, a photo-op, and ultimately it was strangely anti-climactic.

We came away from the night with many questions. The first questions were about that specific demo and why it felt so awesome, yet so eerie?

  • Would it have felt better if there had been some sort of skirmish with the police?
  • Are such conflicts desirable with such small numbers?
  • Was the person trailing behind the crowd on a bike who was taking photos a cop?
  • Was the only police response the helicopter that flew over us at the end and was that response a result of someone finally calling them (meaning that all that those we came in contact with previously were overwhelmingly supportive and no one called until the end)?
  • Were they absolutely terrified of the small group and even smaller numbers dressed all in black and did their non-response signify a dismantling police department? (that one’s a joke)

Other questions are ones we have been addressing for a long time now.

  • How do we build connections with neighbors and other community members so that they don’t resort to calling upon state violence when problems arise?
  • As we build relationships with our neighbors and alternative models, are we sufficiently taking into account diverse needs and daily risks that exist across lines of age, race, gender, ideology and life-experience?
  • How do we connect with other rebels in Tucson who aren’t already ‘plugged in’?
  • How do we change a discourse dominated by the elite of Tucson (we include many of the 99%’ers in the list of elite) to one that matches the cop-hating`fury that we feel around us daily among the multitudes?
  • How do we build alternative models that are viable and take into account real issues of abuse, assault, and crisis in our communities?
  • How do we identify what types of social infractions actually hurt one another and others that only hurt power structures (ie, how do we define violence)?
  • How do we change the ‘crime narrative’ in our Tucson?
  • How do we address the risks that exist if we seek justice in ways not sanctioned by the state (for example, responding to assault and then facing legal consequences)?
  • How do we defend ourselves from people who know that we don’t call the cops and then try to take advantage of that in our community spaces?
  • How do we build momentum in less reactive ways (ie, not only gaining support when the cops kill someone or beat us up in the streets)?
  • How do we effectively connect anti-police efforts to larger anti-prison, anti-state, anti-racist, feminist and queer struggles so as to not get stuck in a myopic gaze with ‘our enemies in blue’?

We want large escalation both in terms of destruction and creation. We want to fan all the flames we see around us against the cops. We also want to be honest about where we are at and what we are accomplishing. There are many inspiring, yet small, successes that have already seen in the last month. Propaganda efforts have been solid, alternatives have been studied and disseminated, and a spectacle of a demonstration has taken place. There have also been failures and we are not satisfied. Much better outreach could have been done for the demo and larger crowds could have created a rowdier show that night. Also, more autonomous actions could be taking place daily.

Finally, we do not wish to posture, nor inversely do we wish to shy away from our dreams. Our reality today is that our rage continues to boil and our dreams are still way up high in the sky. Solidarity with every brave soul crossing borders without permission. Solidarity with everyone the state has put in a cage. Solidarity with rebels in Oakland. Solidarity with rebels in Greece. We seek to give these words meaning and not let ourselves be satisfied with mere rhetoric.


Sincerely yours,
Rudy Rocker

Next Anti-Police Demo in Tucson will take place March 24th, exact time and place TBA.



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