Recently several actions by the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) have targeted local organizers in the movement against police terror. It is clear to us that they are intentionally trying to cultivate an atmosphere of paranoia and create a chilling effect on this growing movement. We have several comments on the matter and intend to take dead aim at these tactics that seek to instill fear and distrust – two elements that are like kryptonite to peoples’ movements.
When a Philadelphia Police Detective recently phoned a sexton at Calvary church they weren’t just talking to the sexton. When a Philadelphia Police Department of Homeland Security Officer recently attempted to speak with a student organizer at Penn they weren’t just trying to speak with that student organizer. When two organizers were followed to their cars on the way home from a town hall meeting, by PPD Civil Affairs, they weren’t attempting to get information about the meeting, which they had just attended. They were speaking to the entire movement. Their message: we are watching you and we know who you are.
The Function of Surveillance is to Instill Fear
Surveillance has always had a dual function. One goal is to gather information. However we know the police aren’t merely interested in documenting movements like academics or sociologists. We would argue that surveillance’s primary function is for its targets to know they are being watched. It is used to instill fear; to get people feeling as if they are always being watched, monitored and scrutinized and that, implicitly, the police, like any other predator, might pounce on those they are watching. It is a powerful psychological weapon and one reason is that it’s viral. Once one person gets visited or gets a phone call or is followed home, other organizers are looking over their shoulder. Its goal is to make people feel isolated and targeted.
In the past we witnessed the Philadelphia Police do the following things:
- Go through people’s garbage in full daylight in full uniform
- Station plain clothes cops across the street from public meetings and take pictures of everyone entering the meeting
- Visit people at their homes to ‘just ask some questions.’
In every case it was clear that they wanted people to know that they were being watched.
Watch Them Back – Resist the Psych Trip with Solidarity
Our response should be to resist this psychological war with our solidarity.
The movement in Philadelphia will never let individuals be targeted and face the authorities alone.
To borrow a phrase: our solidarity is our weapon. We should talk openly more about how we will support each other than how the cops may or may not be watching us or ways to evade their gaze.
They will be watching. But so will we.
We, as a movement, will be watching to see if they try to start any shit with anybody and we will have each others’ backs. We, in the big picture are a powerful network that can mobilize people on the streets, support people in the courts and move ‘unlikely allies’ to our side. We, as a movement, will never let people face the authorities alone.
Our best defense is to build meaningful relationships with each other across organizations and sectors of the movement. Trust, clear lines of communication and relationship building are the inoculation to the viral fear and intimidation that surveillance tries to instill.
Here’s what we can do.
- When individuals are targeted for an interview, a large group should go to the police district and demand to interview that detective.
- If people are being photographed by the cops, a large group of people should take a few hours to photograph cops leaving the station and write down their names and badge numbers.
They are not the only ones that have eyes.
Don’t Fall for the ol’ Divide and Conquer
We have another comment that pertains to a phone call an anonymous Philadelphia cop made to the sexton of Calvary Church. During the phone call, the cops complained about how the organizers were ‘communists.’ This ‘red baiting’ is an old tactic most commonly employed by civil affairs cops in Philly. They try to wedge different sectors of the movement against each other often trying to exploit already existing differences or a lack of familiarity with one another. In the past we have seen civil affairs warn people against ‘dangerous anarchists’ and ‘black hate groups’. The purpose of this tactic is clear: sew distrust, suspicion and fear of other people in the movement.
Our resistance to this tactic should also be clear: don’t trust a thing the cops say and don’t spread their rumors.
Build dialogue amongst different groups and peoples’ movements that fosters understanding and healthy, respectful debate and seeks to understand our differences and even celebrate them. We don’t all wear the same uniform like our oppressors in blue.
Above all we want to make these important recommendations.
- Resist the atmosphere of paranoia the PPD and the state are trying to foster.
- Speak more about how you plan to support others in the movement rather than what the cops may or may not do.
- They are watching but they don’t see everything and most importantly, as we’ve pointed out, the whole point is to get you worried about how they are watching you.
- We say continue organizing boldly against injustice and don’t fixate on their gaze.
- If you are planning on organizing mass civil disobedience do so publicly and without fear. There’s no other way.
- However, if you are organizing a small non violent direct action and you are worried that the success of the action could be jeopardized if the authorities find out, do the planning in person, not over the internet or text.
- Approach building the movement practically and with passion. Talk openly in public forums including the internet just be sensible and don’t discuss matters that are sensitive or could get you caught up in a court of law.
Remember we are organizing a mass movement here. We will beat them in the streets, the courts, politically and socially and on every terrain. We will not let people face the authorities alone ever. We believe that we can win and so should you.
With Warm Regards,
Up Against The Law Legal Collective
PS- We realize that as our movements grow there may be some defections from the police. We openly encourage the leaking of sensitive documents, whistle blowers and ultimately for cops to put down their badges and find meaningful work in service of humanity.