Photo by Richard Grant

David McAtee. Tony McDade. George Floyd. Robert Johnson Jr. Sean Reed. Breonna Taylor. These are just a few of the victims of US policing in 2020. Research published last August suggests that police shootings are a leading cause of death for young Black men. According to Fatal Encounters, police have killed 819 people as of June 2020, compared to 1,795 people in 2019. Even with widespread lockdowns in the face of a global pandemic, US police are on pace to surpass their body count from last year.

How did we get here?

American history is a history of white supremacy and class warfare. The legal codification of whiteness was instituted in the 1600s (initially in Virginia) in an effort to erode class solidarity between African slaves, Indigenous people, and poor Europeans. In addition to securing greater loyalty from European settlers for the initial colonial incursions into Indigenous land, white supremacy also featured prominently in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Whiteness emerged as a ruling class strategy for social control, one that has relied heavily on state-sanctioned terror and violence against people of color and Indigenous people, including the development of the modern police force.

Indeed, modern Southern policing traces a direct lineage to slave patrols that “scoured the countryside day and night, intimidating, terrorizing, and brutalizing slaves into submission and meekness,” while Northern police trace their roots to controlling public space—clearing the streets of “street traders, beggars, prostitutes, street-entertainers, pickets, children playing football and freethinking and socialist speakers,”—suppressing Indigenous people, and eventually developing into riot-control forces deployed against increasingly class-conscious workers. Policing and criminal statutes in the US have generally been constructed to serve the ruling class and their interests.

When police put on their uniforms, they surrender their autonomy to the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy endemic to the United States. As instruments of coercive state power, even their personal lives are vulnerable to their obligation to commit professionalized violence. Police are more likely than the general population to engage in domestic violence against their partners, and were charged with 1260 sexual assaults between 2005-2013. 

Their choices to inflict violence—combined with empowerment by the state to do so with impunity—leave scars on their families, the communities they occupy, and the citizenry they’ve been trained to view as inherently suspicious and dangerous.

 

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The War on [some people who use certain] Drugs was born out of a desire to criminalize and control people of color and political radicals. Since long before the War on Terror, the War on Drugs has legitimized the police use of military hardware, “neighborhood policing,” gang-lists, no-knock raids, and near-constant surveillance throughout the US. In the fifty years since passing the Controlled Substance Act, the US has developed this model of occupation and control, and exported it around the world. Drug policy has resulted in the normalization of domestic state-sanctioned violence, disproportionately targeting black, brown, and poor people. The recent move to allow the Drug Enforcement Administration “to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of the protests over the death of George Floyd,” evidences that the ideologies behind prohibition remain entrenched in the US.

Mass incarceration should be understood as a modern iteration of slavery, institutionalized during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era by the Thirteenth Amendment. Punitive drug policies rob individuals of their right to vote via felon disenfranchisement and dilute the collective voting power of people of color through practices like prison gerrymandering. Drug prohibition has been used to reinforce the US’ racial caste system—drug policy reform which does not advance racial equity further bolsters this system.

In recent years, psychedelic medicalization advocates have attempted to peel off psychedelics from the larger project of prohibition, framing such exceptionalism as an achievable policy goal or possible stepping-stone to full decriminalization. This narrative has allowed corporadelic profiteers, like Jamon “JR” Rahn, to openly oppose decriminalization efforts while planning to make millions on drugs that have sent others to prison for life. Meanwhile, the notion that MDMA and psychedelics offer adequate remedies to the enduring traumas of police violence doesn’t acknowledge the structural nature of the problem. Prioritizing police as beneficiaries of clinical psychedelic therapies is a calculated political maneuver that emphasizes healing perpetrators rather than their victims. Such individual solutions are worse than insufficient; they plaster over the need to dismantle oppressive systems that cannot be “healed.”

This is the neoliberal status quo that some psychedelic advocates argue “inevitably” awaits the world of psychedelic medicalization. Even as these insiders make public calls for “racial justice,” they welcome psychedelic pharmaceutical executives like ATAI Life Sciences’ Christian Angermayer, who proudly boasts of serving on Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council. Kagame, who has routinely deployed Rwandan police against “street hawkers, homeless people, sex workers, beggars, and other vulnerable people from the margins of society” to “clean up” the capital city of Kigali. Kagame, who has used police to jail political opponents who have accused him of condoning murders. Kagame, whose police have committed a litany of abuses and murders.

The unwillingness of some within the “psychedelic community” to engage in systemic critique of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, militarism, and other aspects of dominant culture inhibits the potential for meaningful discourse and action. Much of this plays out as what Carla Sherrell and Judith Simmer-Brown have described as “Structural Spiritual Bypassing,” where a confident belief in one’s own “wokeness” results in blindness to the insidiousness of white privilege and to the structural realities of racism. These structural realities connect our struggles against the police from Minneapolis to Kigali, Ferguson to Gaza, Taksim to Tahrir, and beyond.

Rather than engaging in hand-wringing about property destruction, daydreaming of a world where cops are required to take a heroic dose, or hoping that psychedelic business developments might serve as a “welcomed distraction” from current events, we think it’s time to find the others invested in dismantling authoritarian institutions. We condemn authoritarian suppression of public protest and stand in solidarity with all those committed to collective liberation for all people.

“When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
-Frantz Fanon

 

Resources

Bail funds:
Bail Funds/Legal Help by City (live document)
National Bail Fund Network
Black Visions Collective
Communities United Against Police Brutality

Recent and Ongoing Protests:
Mapping US cities where George Floyd protests have erupted
List of George Floyd protests

Organizing and Anti-Racism Resources:
Movement for Black Lives – Week of action June 1-7
Reclaim the Block, a Minneapolis campaign to defund the police, shared a list of community organizations to fund
Surveillance Self-Defense Toolkit (101 article by Wired)
Safety guidelines for protesting in a pandemic
Petition to demilitarize the police via National Defense Authorization Act

Anti-racism resources [1, 2]
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
#EndWhiteSilence 
Campaign launch call Campaign toolkit

 

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